22 Engaging Moral and Political Commitments | Peg O’Connor

I regard my scholarly activity as a means to the end of being a lifelong learner. Scholarship is one way that I continue to grow as a teacher, thinker, and community member. I mostly write about topics that spring from and return to my moral and political commitments. In 2002 I published Oppression and Responsibility: A Wittgensteinian Approach to Social Practices and Moral Theory. In that work, I explore what I call the logic or grammar of oppression, which highlights its systemic nature. Given this systemic analysis, I offer a model of responsibility that moves the focus away from particular actions or inactions toward the broader practices in which these acts have their lives and are meaningful. This account of responsibility allows us to assess the responsibility that those of us who are privileged have for maintaining systems of oppression.

Since the publication of Oppression and Responsibility, I have completed a new monograph entitled Morality and Our Complicated Form of Life: Feminist Wittgensteinian Metaethics. This book has just been accepted for publication by the Pennsylvania State University Press and will be on the Spring 2008 list. Metaethics is the branch of philosophy that looks at questions about the objectivity of morality and moral properties, moral knowledge, and moral truth. My new book is one of the very few book-length feminist treatments of metaethical topics. Feminists, as active has we have been in other branches of ethical theory, are remarkably under-represented in metaethics. It was on the basis of a proposal to complete this manuscript that I was awarded a highly competitive fellowship at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute in academic year 2004-05. At the University of Connecticut, I made two formal presentations to UCONN faculty that were part of the fellowship program in addition to the two invited presentations I gave to the Department of Philosophy and the Women’s Studies Program.

I have published two co-edited books. The first, also published in 2002, is Feminist Interpretations of Ludwig Wittgenstein. This work is part of the Re-reading the Canon series published by The Pennsylvania State University Press. The second edited collection is Oppression, Privilege, and Resistance, co-edited with Lisa Heldke, and published by McGraw Hill in 2004. This anthology represents the most direct connection to my teaching. Lisa Heldke and I developed an interlocking set of readings with a particular theoretical framework over the course of more than eight years of teaching Philosophy 102: Racism and Sexism.

At present, I am working on a co-edited anthology of new essays on feminist metaethics with the tentative title Not Your Fathers’ Metaethics: Feminist Approaches. As I indicated above, there are few works in feminist metaethics, and this would be the first collection of its kind.

While Morality and Our Complicated Form of Life has occupied most of my thinking and writing these last three years, I have always needed to have some satellite projects on seemingly unrelated topics, the themes and approaches of which reveal a pattern. Much of my work is philosophical commentary in response to contemporary events. I write about church burnings, hate speech, gay bashing, and most recently the rise of the Christian Reconstructionists, who argue that the Christian Right has become far too interested in secular and religious power rather than eternal salvation. These are the kinds of essays that engage my moral and political commitments all the while being intensely philosophically interesting. The challenge I am setting for myself as I move into the next phase of my career is to write shorter essays that might have an appeal that is broader than an academic philosophical audience. This is one way that I can be a more engaged community member.

I was also honored to have been a visiting scholar at Binghamton University (SUNY) under the auspices of Philosophy, Politics, and Law Program for several days in October 2005. I gave a formal lecture, visited classes, and spent time with graduate students of the philosophy department. It was here that I gave the paper, “The Rule Made Me Do It,” that enabled me to see a way to argue for an account of the origin and nature of rules that allows for objectivity and just as importantly, does not come with a built-in mechanism for an abdication of responsibility for those rules.