Value as Relationality: Feminist, Pragmatist and Process Thought Meet Economics

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This is a working paper version of an essay later published as "Value as Relationality: Feminist, Pragmatist and Process Thought Meet Economics," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 15(2), 2001, pp. 137-151. You may be able to access the published article here.
Value as Relationality:

Feminist, Pragmatist and Process Thought Meet Economics

Julie A. Nelson
Revised, April 2001

Submitted for consideration for the special issue on "Feminism and Pragmatism" to be published in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Shannon Sullivan, editor. I acknowledge the helpful suggestions of Shannon Sullivan and David Lamberth, and the support of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Fellowship for Research on Caring Labor and the Foundation for Child Development. The usual caveat applies.


Religion was the religion of the medieval period, and science the religion of centuries afterward. In the current era, economics seems to hold this role of cultural hegemony. One sees everywhere references to the pressures of globalization and competition, praise of the efficiency and economic-growth inducing effects of free markets, and emphasis on successful marketing--including the marketing of educational "products" to prospective student "consumers." Ethics are often confined to the realm of the personal and perhaps the political; in the realm of the economic, self-interest and profit maximization are treated as inexorable. John Dewey's words from 1929 seem prescient:

That the economic life, thus exiled from the pale of higher values, takes revenge by declaring that it is the only social reality, and by means of the doctrine of materialistic determination of institutions and conduct in all fields, denies to deliberate morals and politics any share of causal regulation, is not surprising. (1929 (1984), 225)

As an economist, I am aghast at the adherence that the idea of a value-neutral mechanistic economic system seems to currently garner. This adherence is found not only among thinkers on the free-market right, but also among many on the political left. While the right side praises market systems, and the old left excoriates them, both sides tend to share the assumption that capitalist markets form an Adam Smith-ian clockwork system or a Weberian "iron cage," with an existence and an inexorable logic that are independent of human moral deliberation and purposive action.

"Market value" hence has a prime place in contemporary cultural discussions of value. According to standard economic thinking, people make choices about what they will pay for, how much they will pay, and where they will work, and the resulting prices and incomes just fall where they may. Politicians are warned against "interfering" with the working of the system, as violating its presumed laws is said to lead to inefficiency and other undesirable outcomes.

One of the important contemporary practical areas in which market valuation is problematic is that of caring labor. Childcare workers, in the U.S.--overwhelmingly female--make, on average, $6.61 per hour for attending to children--a wage less than that for parking lot attendants who attend to parked cars (Center for the Childcare Workforce, 2000). Care workers in other sectors, such as nurses aides and orderlies, are similarly low paid. Higher-paid health professionals complain that the technical and medical aspects of the work are taking over, while the listening and caring aspects are being squeezed out. U.S. policies concerning parental leave are stingy. Caring in a broader sense--caring for the environment, caring about poverty and injustice--also are far from being central cultural and economic concerns. Preserving, sustaining, nurturing, and caring are undervalued in our society, many reasonable observers conclude. With "market values" presumably determined by a mechanistic system, however, and the terms "family values" and "morality" taken to refer to an exclusively non-economic sphere, values and economics are rent asunder. There is no space for discussion of how care could be economically undervalued, or of how markets could possibly permit, much less promote, priorities of nurturing and sustainability.

The thesis of this paper is that pragmatist and process thought, informed by recent developments in feminist scholarship and the sciences, offers a better formulation of the concept of value--one with which pressing issues of social, political and economic import can be more sensibly addressed. Drawing on the work of John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, and others, I will argue that placing human value judgments within the context of a world that is itself vital and creative radically transforms the question. Echoing feminist analysis presented at a social level, these philosophies offer a deeply relational conception of value, that respects the intrinsic integrity of both difference and connection, of both feeling and material outcome.

I admit at the outset, however, that I find value a supremely difficult subject to write on, and in fact took on the writing of this paper in the spirit of forcing myself to directly grapple with it. Academic writing is full of implicit or explicit exhortations to do one thing or the other--to maximize efficiency, to pay caring work more, to attend to linguistic relations, to refine symbolic logic, to value this argument and throw that one away, etc. But the issue of why one should do any of these things, not their converse--why any of it matters, are rarely discussed. Terms like "human survival and flourishing" or "growth" only signal towards an intermediate target. Why only human, in an age of ecological consciousness? Is it good to advocate survival for a comatose ninety-year-old on a respirator? What is meant by flourishing? Growth of what, and in what direction? And, exhortations notwithstanding, why should any individual take any of this as her or his own concern or responsibility? The well-trained contemporary secular academic, feminist included, balks at using words evocative of spirituality or religiosity, fearful of seeming weak-in-the-head or of being seen to propound some exclusionary denominational allegiance. The early sections of this paper lay out historical background and somewhat analytical arguments, while the last section of this paper ventures onto this risky ground in drawing out pragmatist insights compatible with process theology.

Feminism and Mainstream Economics

Economics was decades behind the humanities and other social sciences in developing an internal feminist critique. Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics (Ferber and Nelson), was a groundbreaking book in this area, reaching publication in 1993. In it, an in the considerable work that has followed, the masculinist biases of the mainstream neoclassical school of economics have been pointed out.1

Academically-trained economists are not centrally concerned with business management, as many outsiders assume, nor with studying problems like unemployment, inflation, or poverty. Since the 1930's, economics has increasingly been defined as the study of choice in the face of scarcity. The agents who do the choosing are assumed to be rational, autonomous, self-interested, with preferences given in advance. Mathematical modeling of economic phenomena as the outcome of rational choice behavior is the "research" strategy of greatest prestige, with data-related work the poor stepsister. (Qualitative work is completely beyond the pale.) Economists tend to see themselves as neutrally explaining how the economy works. If policymakers use this knowledge for social betterment, that is seen as a separate issue.

To pragmatist scholars, the Cartesian bias of this approach will be glaringly apparent. Feminist scholars will point out that these biases are also masculinist (Keller 1985, Harding 1986, Bordo 1987 ). The economics discipline consistently takes from the traditional dualisms of mind/body, individual/social, rationality/emotion, autonomy/dependence, self-interest/altruism, competition/cooperation, mathematical/verbal, abstract/concrete, detachment/commitment, and objectivity/subjectivity the first, masculine-associated part of each pair. In the process, any concept or tool that might suggest that humans are in any way connected, feeling, embodied, or needy is meticulously avoided. The leading macroeconomist of the 1980's, for example, stated that the puzzle of unemployment is to explain why some people prefer it to other activities (Lucas 1987, 54).2

Unlike in the other social sciences, in which a variety of paradigms may simultaneously be pursued, in economics the neoclassical approach is for the most part the only game in town. Though some intelligent economists still succeed in doing quality, socially engaged research, this is more in spite of disciplinary training than because of it.

The presumed autonomy of "economic man" has been a particular focus of feminist critique. Borrowing the term "separative self" from the work of theologian Catherine Keller (1986), feminists writing on economics have pointed out that the image of the individual who is utterly independent of social influence, and whose bodily requirements are not worthy of intellectual attention, has a flip side (England 1993).. The necessary partner is the "soluble self." The traditional wife, whose identity symbolically dissolved into her husband in the taking of his name, is the caretaker of people in their dependencies of youth, illness and age, the maintainer of social relations and the supplier of food and clothing for the bodies. Freed of the need to attend to such ties himself, "economic man" need only interact at arms length, though markets, with the only necessarily communication being a list of prices. Standard economics, then, is deeply non-relational. All the relational aspects of human life are split off and projected onto the silent, invisible partner, coded female, who is as a result lost in merger, and whose individuality disappears.

The feminist critique in economics, then, overlaps and draws on extensive feminist discussions of the gender-laden dualism of separation vs. connection in psychology, ethics, epistemology, and the history of science (e.g., see Mackenzie and Stoljar 2000 for current work, or the initial groundbreaking work by Chodorow 1978 and Gilligan 1982). Feminists have called into question the Cartesian image of the separative self, pointing out how ethics defined as justice in the abstract ignores ethics as care for concrete, particular others (Benhabib 1987), and how knowledge conceived of as detached veils the embeddedness and embodiment of the knower. The questioning of the supposed universality and neutrality of rational choice models (e.g., Ferber and Nelson 1993) resonates with other anti-foundationalist projects.

Gender and Value

Compared to the considerable attention given to ethics and epistemology, feminist philosophical literature to date, however, seems relatively lacking in other areas. Discussions of ontology and metaphysics (concerning of the nature of reality) and axiology (concerning value), tend to be focused on the gendered nature of human, social reality; discussion in a more cosmological sense is rare. Certain feminist insights into the role of separation and connection can, however, reach far beyond the realm of social gender relations, and are consistent with worldviews expressed in pragmatist thought.

In earlier work, I designed a simple tool which I call a gender-value compass, that may be useful when considering how to work past typical associations of gender and value (Nelson, 1992). Rather than typical associations of masculinity (e.g. males, as well as characteristics like hardness, precision, etc.) with superiority and femininity (e.g. females, as well as softness, vagueness, etc.), which could be pictured as

Masculine (+)
Feminine (-)

consider what happens when the axes are split:


masculine, positive feminine, positive

Masculine Feminine

masculine, negative feminine, negative


The vertical axis signals value: the top half of the diagram will contain positively valued characteristics, and the two top terms will form a positive complementarity. One top term in isolation, however, will degenerate into the negative term, pictured as directly below, and the two negative terms will form a negative complementarity. For example, in discussions of social science methodology or philosophical debate, where "hard" arguments are preferred to those perceived as "soft," we might contrast a coding of "hard" as M+ and "soft" as F- with an expanded understanding of

M+ F+

strong flexible

Hard Soft

M– F–

rigid weak

"Hard" can mean strong, but strength without weakness gives rigidity. "Soft" can mean weak, but it can also indicate flexibility. An argument that is both strong and flexible is resilient and difficult to refute; one that is both rigid and weak is brittle and easily overcome.3 The gender-value compass is not intended to be a panacea for all ills, but rather I presented it as a simple tool for beginning to break up pernicious hierarchical dualisms.

The separation/connection dualism can be similarly expanded. Rejecting an essentialist view that men are in some way more intrinsically separate from others and nature, and women more connected, it is more helpful to think of the separative self and the soluble self as mythical overlays to a more integrated reality. No one, in fact, could survive (or even be born) completely autonomously, just as giving over control of one's life does not actually erase ones individuality. To capture the idea that we live as persons-in-relation, but have conceptually split this into perverse poles of gendered separation and connection, I put value on a vertical axis and the two modes on the horizontal axis, along with their cultural gender associations:

M+ F+

individual related

separated connected

M– F–

separative soluble

Cultural understandings of "man" as individual, and women as invisible, take only the M+/F- diagonal, and in the process of denying relatedness create the myth of the separative self. An understanding of persons-in-relation, applicable to both sexes, would neither over-value individuality nor over-value connection. Such an understanding of the relationship of separation and connection can offer a way to overcome a cultural devaluation of connected caring, while at the same time avoiding the merger-traps of romanticization of the mother-child immersion or idealization of doormat-like selflessness.

While extended only into the social and inter-personal realm in such feminist thought, this model also contains a way in which to enter more general discussion of ontology and axiology. I suspect that the reason many feminist thinkers have held back from metaphysical exploration is that, traditionally, such discourse had tended to be characterized by a strong tendency towards false universalization and excessive fascination with abstraction. I would argue, however, that some sort of metaphysical beliefs underlie any understanding of the social and natural worlds, that it is better to have these beliefs out in the open, and that one can understand metaphysics to be about the nature of reality without understanding it to be about absolutes and ideals.

Relatedness and Relationality

Terms based on the world "relation" will be used in two senses, here. In the sense in which related is used in the F+ quadrant above, it means a recognition that one is part of a larger whole--not just incidentally, but intrinsically. The notion of the autonomous individuality is so strong in liberal economic and political thought, that advocating a recognition of relatedness (as do cultural feminism and communitarian philosophy), can be seen as a pure counteractive. Yet what I mean by relationality is something more: it is the recognition of the integrity of both individuality and relatedness, both separation and connection, in co-creation and in tension with each other. That is, relatedness in its pure and extreme form, without individuality, is merger or solubility of the one into a unitary whole. It is not, then, relatedness that is valuable in itself, but relationality, which is the balancing of the contrasting modes.

At this point, I will drop the top vertical bar in the compass introduced previously, and drop as well the explicit reference to gender. Resistance to changes in gender roles and the resistance to relationality in a more widespread sense are, I believe, deeply intertwined. In a more abstract sense, one might use the following more general and abstract diagram of separation and connection:



Separated Connected

disjunctive unitary

Relationality is a dynamic tension, a refusal to settle into either extreme, a dialectic.

A lack of attention to relationality is an old theme in philosophical thought, and well illustrated in the debates of the 1930's, when pragmatism was in the process of being eclipsed by British empiricism and analytical philosophy. Bertrand Russell, a leading critic of pragmatist thought, was, according to his biographer, fond of saying that "there were...just two types of philosopher: those who think of the world as a bowl of jelly and those who think of it as a bucket of shot.” (Monk, 1999, 21). Jelly and shot pellets are good images for describing pure unity and pure disjunctiveness, respectively. Russell apparently could not get the point that pragmatist philosophers rejected these as the only alternatives.

John Dewey in The Quest for Certainty (1929 (1984)) contrasted the results of both extreme views, in relation to the question of values. In the bucket-of-shot approach, which Dewey called "empirical," values are seen as simply personal, subjective enjoyments. That is, saying something is good is just another way of saying we like it. If all is instead, jelly (or perhaps even better, crystalline) in its unity and order, we get the notion of eternal value—the Good, the True, the Beautiful. Dewey labeled this the rationalistic approach, pointing out that such notions are seen as derived from ultimate reality, and discovered by reason or religion.

The two extreme approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the values implicit in contemporary economics demonstrates. Assuming a jelly-like cohesion, neoclassical economics takes precision and mathematical elegance to be self-evident methodological values, and efficiency and individual freedom as eternal and universal economic values (for the upholding of which market systems are praised). On the other hand, details of consumption and production—including factors like health, nutrition, and literacy--are left by economists to the shot-pellet realm of “consumer sovereignty” (i.e., the idea that agents are the only judges of their best interest). Neoclassical economists generally find the notion of "need" to be much too subjective and vague for practical use. That some people choose to be smokers, or anorexic, or illiterate, even if the means to not be so are available to them, is taken as evidence of the subjective, psychological nature of values.4

In a negative complementarity of universalization (of mathematics) along with an atomization (of needs), the discipline of economics has lost contact with the spirit of broader inquiry and the goal of sustainable and flourishing life. The positive complementarity of relationality, of noticing that people are both individually distinct and exist in intimate relation and co-creation with their social and natural worlds, is conspicuously missing.

Relational Ontology and Axiology

Pragmatist philosophy, on the other hand, strains towards a more satisfactory resolution. John Dewey "was fond of saying that whereas the British empirical tradition invariably defined man in psychological terms, and the idealist tradition in terms of mind and reason, his view aimed at conceiving man in biological terms…an organism" (Smith, 1983, 126-7, emphasis in original). Over and over again in pragmatist thought, the theme of what I have called relationality is stressed. Dewey uses the rhetoric of organism and environment. Charles Saunders Peirce's firstness-secondness-thirdness scheme is a prime discussion of individuality and relatedness: thirdness "is that which is what it is by virtue of relation to something else" (Neville, 1992, 32). William James' radical empiricism posited that "the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as 'real' as anything else in the system" (1904(1977), 195). The immediate flux of life is, in James' words, "both as a whole and in its parts...of things conjunct and separated...come as separate in some ways and continuous in others...some sensations coalesce with some ideas, and others are irreconcilable..." and so on (1905(1977), 215; see also Seigfried 1999). The operative word here, I suggest is and, whereas the usual empiricist and rationalist alternatives give us only or.

Rather than engaging the traditional epistemological problem of how a thinking subject can come to know an external object, pragmatist thought posits a reality in which there are no tightly bounded subjects and objects, and therefore no gap to be bridged, but which yet does not fall into undifferentiated wholeness. Pragmatism takes reality to be made up of events or experiences that are fundamentally energetic, relational, and creative.

Feminist philosopher Linda Alcoff has recently echoed such a view, arguing for an "ontology that sets up no absolute separation between human beings and the world but sees us as always already in the world, engaged in practical activities, encumbered with myriad beliefs and commitments, and constitutively linked in various complex ways to that about which we are seeking to know" (1996, 12-13). 5 Such a view can help move feminist thought away from the old dead-end of traditional epistemological debate. But the idea of fundamental relationality can be pushed further, opening additional areas of discussion, some of which have been addressed in pragmatist thought. What is there in "that about which we are seeking to know" that is hospitable to, or isomorphic with, our human "commitments"?

Dewey's discussion of value gives value an operational definition, as "whatever is taken to have rightful authority in the direction of conduct" for the living organism (1929 (1984), 204). Here, too, relation has a central role. Humans do not grasp some eternal value, but neither are values simply enjoyments: Dewey wrote that "enjoyment becomes a value when we discover the relations upon which its presence depends" (1929 (1984), 207, emphasis added).6 The fact that "[q]ualitative individuality and constant relations, contingency and need, movement and arrest are common traits of all existence" is "source both of values and their precariousness" (1929 (1981), 338).

While I earlier rather nonchalantly gave the compass diagram positive and negative value poles, here I want to begin to suggest that the coincidence of positive value and relationality is more than mere coincidence and assertion. Relationality includes the pull of a person "out of themselves" on the one hand, and the support of the whole for the uniqueness of the individual, on the other; the generation of meaning that comes from situating something--like this paper, if it works--in a context, but adding novelty as well; the artistic use of similarity and difference in heightening contrast.

But if what matters is getting relationships right, what does "rightness" mean? Does this just throw one back into matters of personal preference, or appeal to final and ideal harmonies, at another level?

A Source of Value?

Dewey's concept of "ends-in-view" sought to situate human purpose and meaning, without any appeal to eternal ideals or teleological end-states. His emphasis was on values (plural) and valuations, on the process by which particular enjoyments are, through intelligently directed experimentation, experience, and reflection, found to be valuable. An "end-in-view" a plan designed to solve a predicament (1938 (1986), 169), as contrasted to an ends-in-themselves or hierarchies of fixed values, which he saw as simply "hypostatization of the recognition that there is a good to be sought" (1929 (1984), 211). While he emphasized that ends-in-view are fallible and change with circumstances, his faith in human intelligence, science, and democracy are high. We cannot say what value is in advance, but through our capacities of human appreciation we recognize values when we get there. No ontological or metaphysical notions of value are needed.

Yet such a human-centered view need not be the only response to the old empiricist and rationalistic alternatives. If humans are really deeply embedded in and constituted by their environment, then if humans have purpose this must be a characteristic shared in some way with the larger environment. It only makes sense to judge some actions as better, and others as worse (on anything beyond individualistic self-serving accounts), if the universe itself is such that our judgments matter.

William James, in contrast to Dewey, had much more to say on the subject of religious sensibilities, and a more modest faith in human intelligence. In a noted passage, he wrote, "I firmly disbelieve, myself, that our human experience is the highest form of experience extant in the universe. I believe rather that we stand in much the same relation to the whole of the universe as our canine and feline pets do to the whole of human life. They inhabit our drawing-rooms and libraries. They take part in scenes of whose significance they have no inkling" (1907 (1991), 131).

Alfred North Whitehead's organic philosophy (or process thought) is sometimes discussed along with the work of the pragmatists. Like Dewey, Whitehead rejected the idea that attention to value required belief in a "final order" (Whitehead 1929 (1978), 111), but like James, his writing did not shy from discussion of powers commonly thought of as religious. He used words like richness, quality, importance, intensity, harmony and contrast in discussing value. Like the pragmatists, he pointed to the relationality as central: " the upholding of value intensity. Also no unit can separate itself from the others...yet each unit exists in its own right." (1938, (1966) 111). Unlike the pragmatists, however, Whitehead explicitly took his metaphysics of experience and relationality "all the way down," to physics and atomic particles. Human selves and societies were for Whitehead an emergence, a higher level of complexity of organization, of experience taking place everywhere. In Whitehead's metaphysics, there is in the universe a "lure for feeling" that through creative advance leads towards increasing intensities (quoted in Sherburne1966, 31). While he calls this "God," it is quite unlike God conventionally conceived of as omnipotent, unchanging, and representative of an eternal ideal and a final perfect state.

Conceiving of the source of value as a "lure" is more consistent with a view of value as relationality, than is Dewey's human-centered approach. There is still something disjunctive about Dewey's positing that human communities have purpose, without seeing this as a characteristic shared with a larger-than-human whole. Perhaps he thought that such an extension would necessarily involve positing eternal ideals, but the "lure" idea has no need of assuming any such ideals or unitary end state. The idea of "lure" is one of directionality, of having, in any moment of experience, a factor of "pull." We are used to thinking of going in some direction as synonymous with heading towards some defined end. But in a process and experiential ontology the directionality in the present need not be related to an end state; the world can move in a more valuable direction, rather than a less valuable one, even if the path is being made as it is walked and goes on without destination. Values can be larger than humans, without taking away the real moral responsibility--the need to make "genuine moral judgments" in truly problematic situations (Dewey, 1938 (1986), 169). Values in this case are like ends-in-view in that they deal with a plan or action rather than an end ("The end-in-view of the man [sic] who sees an automobile approaching him is getting to a place of safety, not safety itself" 1938 (1986), 168, emphasis in original), but, unlike in Dewey's formulation, are not limited to human intelligence.

Creative and Created Good

Henry Wieman, who was influenced by Whitehead, perhaps makes the clearest distinction between value per se and reflective human appreciation. For Wieman, the good that can be always sought is characterized as follows:

When good increases, a process of reorganization is going on, generating new meanings, integrating them with the old, endowing each event as it occurs with a wider range of reference, molding the life of a man [sic] into a more deeply unified totality of meaning…The several parts of life are connected in mutual support, vivifying and enhancing one another…This process of reorganization we shall call the 'creative event.' It is creative good… (1946 (1995), 56)

In contrast to creative good, created good is the accomplished fact of the creative event, and the subject of human appreciation. To Wieman, created good is not enough, and in fact can become "demonic" if it becomes the target itself, becoming seen as good in itself and usurping the place of the ongoing creative event. Nationality becoming nationalism, or sexuality becoming excessive, are two of his examples. One might want to add to these, from an economic point of view, the way in which Smith's idea of markets freed from the stranglehold of monarchs has warped, over the centuries, into a neoliberal ideology of markets "free" of all social, moral, and ecological context and restraint.

Thus far, the analysis is not so different from Dewey's idea that ends-in-view (like created goods) should not be hypostatized, as the end-in-view for one situation may be quite inappropriate for dealing with the next predicament. The difference is that Wieman treats the human capacity for appreciation as faulty: we do not necessarily know value when we see it, and thus, even aided by inquiry and learning, our planning is not a reliable guide. In a passage which might remind feminist readers of discussions of the white and middle class biases of the early women's movement, Wieman wrote:

Our lives, our plans, and our persons must be broken to gain access to the depth of creative power where alone hope can securely take its stand, because our plans..are too self-centered; too much confined to the concerns of our own local group, our own culture, age, race, class, and vocation [note: he fails to mention gender]; too biased by the perspective of our own place and person. If our envisioned plan…were carried on to continuous success…it would be the imposition of death…no matter how righteous and noble our plan and order of life may seem to be... (1946, 115-16)
Treatment of any particular created good as good in itself will in the end lead to disillusionment, according to Wieman. The creative event, described in language of openness, communication, and relationality, is the source of good.

Directions (For Better Or Worse)

Feminism, pragmatism, and the discipline of economics, as well as the academy and the economy themselves, are created. They are complex outgrowths of the activities of myriad historical events, people, and organizations. Whether they do better or worse is not a matter of them approaching or falling away from some ideal. There is no roadmap for where to go; no ideal--of equality, or perfect markets--by which conformance can be measured. One--and all-- are left, with intelligence, "lures," tools of inquiry, and sensibility, to choose and act in a situation of challenge and adventure, of suffering and possibilities of melioration. Perhaps there is already a patron saint for the sort of feminist-pragmatist-economic activity I envisage. Garrison Keillor, in his radio show, tells us stories of the church of "Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility."

The promise is great. The recent issuing and re-issuing of books and articles on pragmatist thought, including pragmatism and feminism (including this volume), and topics at least on the approach to pragmatism and economics (Toulmin 1999, Rosenthal and Buchholz 2000)-- is a sign of new energy flowing towards this alternative. Meanwhile, the era of academic self-censoring on spirituality may be drawing to a close. A general cultural upswing in this area is being signaled by an increased volume of publishing and increased offerings of programs concerning mind-body awakening and spiritual renewal. A Nobel Laureate economic historian, no less, is claiming that we are on the verge of a period of spiritual renewal (Fogel, 2000). Pragmatist and process thinkers offer a philosophical vision that can undergird feminist attempts to redefine social roles beyond the separative and the soluble, the uncaring market and the carer-as-doormat. In return, feminist thought offers pragmatist philosophers a field of social, embodied behavior that illustrates, expands, and sometimes critiques its concepts of relationality. I believe that feminist theory and historical analysis also offers some explanation as to why the earlier surge of pragmatism died out. Pragmatism is perceived as "soft" as compared to the (presumably) more certain and rigorous character of analytical philosophy. As long as uncertainty, flux, and modest goals are coded as feminine and therefore inferior--downgraded as compared to certainty, timelessness, and mastery--pragmatism fights an uphill battle. Pragmatism is vulnerable until the valuations themselves are changed, psychologically, socially, politically and economically, as well as intellectually.

The traps are also many. Some interpretations of pragmatism, particularly in the "linguistic turn" deny the very relationality that I have characterized as being at its core (see, e.g., discussion in Kloppenberg 1998). Alcoff (and many others) raises the danger of feminism facing a poststructuralist derailment (1996). In a particularly disturbing development, Richard Posner, a leader in the field of law and economics and a believer in free market ideals, may be currently the major economics-discipline-related voice in (so-called) pragmatist discussions (1998). The Process-Philosophy listserv, far from reaching out into the pressing issue of the day, in recent discussion seems more inclined towards discussion of how many "actual entities" can dance on the head of a pin. Academics still find ways to reframe the issues in terms of rationalistic eternal laws or empiricist radically isolated subjective selves. Religion is continually fraught with issues of authoritarianism on the one hand and self-absorption on the other. Everyone can find a reason to shift responsibility to someone else. In such a way are our "created goods" bled of their value, and we are turned away from dealing with the thorny questions of working out the relational predicaments at hand.

Caring is undervalued in our current culture, precisely because it typifies exactly the relationality that is denied. Caring--for children, for the ill and elderly, for the environment, about poverty and injustice--challenges the line traditionally drawn between markets and politics seen as mechanistic and value-free, and moral and spiritual concerns characterized by subjective sentiment and immateriality. The realization that our actions have value, independent of our appreciation of it, decenters the market, decenters the human, and revitalizes the world.


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1 The subsequent variety of work is evidenced in many publications, including Peterson and Lewis (1999) and the journal Feminist Economics.

2 For such insight, Robert Lucas was rewarded with the 1995 Nobel prize in Economics.

3 These ideas are further developed, with explicit discussion of the metaphorical nature of the exercise, and expansion to examples concerning methodology, reason/emotion, detachment/commitment and others, in Nelson (1996).

4 Economist Amartya Sen’s “capabilities” approach to examining and promoting well-being, developed in part along with philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian approach to ethics, offers the most adequate attempt to date to overcome the typical economist’s distaste for dealing with issues of value (Nussbaum and Sen 1993, Nussbaum 2000). As innovative and helpful as this approach is, however, I believe it still tends to give somewhat short shrift to relational aspects.

5 While acknowledging the work of pragmatist philosophers and feminist epistemologists, Alcoff gives more weight to Hegelian phenomenology in the formation of her view. While this is not the place to go into a thorough history of ideas, the sort of process and relationality apparent in pragmatist thought can also be found in aspects of Buddhist and Taoist thought, developmental psychology, object-relations theory and other intersubjective and experience-centered approaches.

6 While this quote refers simply to "relatedness" in the sense used earlier, rather than relationality, when taken in context--it appears in a discussion of empirical (individualistic) theories of enjoyment--I believe it can been interpreted as "relationality." Should such an emphasis on relatedness occurs within a discussion from which individuality is absent, however, it would have to be taken as signaling merger.

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