ABSTRACT

Utilitarianism is not only compatible with feminism: historical feminism was, it is argued here, produced by classical utilitarianism. The relationship between them can be traced along three dimensions. First, utilitarianism was a positivist and empirical philosophy that ignored a question which had inflamed argument for centuries: do women have souls? In doing so it excluded one important intellectual justification for the subjection of women. Second, the principle of utility assumed a fundamental equality in the structure of human psychology. Women as well as men, according to this theory, have interests which should be taken into consideration. Finally, the psychological axioms of utilitarianism provided the intellectual and ideological background of feminism and offered a general view of human nature and social life compatible with the political goals of historical feminism.