All happy families are not alike : a feminist Aristotelian perspective on the good family

Redgrave, Kim (2014) All happy families are not alike : a feminist Aristotelian perspective on the good family. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


In this thesis, the claim that a flourishing family life should be characterised as a social practice, according to Alasdair MacIntyre’s definition of a practice, is defended. Furthermore, it is argued that the social practice of making and sustaining family life pursues certain goods, the achievement of which are constitutive of the family’s flourishing. The argument proceeds through the following stages. In the first part I focus on the Aristotelian premises of the argument and set out MacIntyre’s theoretical framework. I then apply this framework of the relationship between practices and institutions and internal and external goods to the family. In the second part I explore three important contemporary moral theories and how they address what a flourishing family life involves. In doing so, I look at how the Aristotelian approach adopted in this thesis compares to these approaches. The three approaches explored are contemporary liberalism (in particular liberal perfectionism), liberal feminism and feminist care ethics. At the end of this part of the thesis I argue that a synthesis of the Aristotelian framework and the particular insights of care ethics will provide a richer view of what a flourishing family life involves. In the final part of the thesis I provide an outline of some of the goods internal to the practice of life and the different activities and relationships which are constitutive of these goods. I then go on to suggest how families often fail to flourish as a result of the pursuit of external goods as ends in themselves or due to a lack of external goods. The conclusion of this thesis and its original contribution to knowledge is twofold: firstly, that MacIntyre’s contemporary Aristotelianism in combination with the insights of care ethics provides the tools with which we can identify the goods that contribute to and constitute familial flourishing. Secondly, that in order to identify the barriers to flourishing that families encounter, we must first understand what the goods internal and external to the practice are. We must then ensure that the institutions designed to sustain the family subordinate the goods external to family life to the internal goods, which only family members themselves can achieve through co-operative activity with each other.

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