Immovable Laws, Irresistible Rights

Natural Law, Moral Rights, and Feminist Ethics

Christine Pierce

Same-sex partnerships. Pregnancy through in vitro fertilization. Ending one's own life in dignity. All are deemed inherently wrong by the standards of natural law ethics, but for many people they represent legitimate life choices that are morally right.

Now a leading feminist critic of the natural law tradition explores the ongoing confrontation between natural law and moral rights to argue that rights constitute a more solid grounding for ethics in human affairs—and for feminist thought. In this volume, Christine Pierce's important essays—including the celebrated "Natural Law Language and Women"—expand, reflect, and refine this central controversy.

“Fascinating and timely, these essays are well-written, well-argued, sometimes humorous, and very persuasive.”

—Claudia Card, author of Lesbian Choices and The Unnatural Lottery: Character and Moral Luck

Reaching back to Aristotle and Aquinas and drawing on modern papal encyclicals and Supreme Court cases, Pierce demonstrates that the natural law tradition, with its doctrine of a supposed hierarchy of natural purpose, has served to mystify women's nature and thereby justify restricting women to a predetermined social stratum. Addressing issues that concern not only feminism but legal theory as well, she defends her views on equality and universalization against a growing postmodern critique and presents rights theory as an alternative to an ethics of responsibility based on Aristotelian notions of friendship and trust.

Through tightly constructed arguments presented in engaging prose, Pierce conveys her deep knowledge of legal philosophy and her passion for rights as she takes on such issues as AIDS, gay marriage, animal liberation, and feminist separatism. She combats the prevailing view of Plato as sexist and explores Sartre's views of "holes and slime." She also examines the work of contemporary authors in ecology, biology, sociobiology, and religion to reveal their reliance on nature for ethical conclusions, and she criticizes recent efforts to root a feminist natural law in Thomism.

With natural law concepts now in fashion with many conservatives and even some Supreme Court justices, Pierce's essays offer a necessary perspective on where current legal and ethical thinking is headed. Immovable Laws, Irresistible Rights is invigorating reading for all scholars, students, and interested readers who seek a better understanding of these arguments and the issues affected by them.

About the Author

Christine Pierce is professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University. Her articles on ethics and feminism have appeared in many journals and anthologies. She is coeditor of People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees: Basic Issues in Environmental Ethics, The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book, and AIDS: Ethics and Public Policy.

Additional Titles in the Feminist Ethics Series