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to ¬delity, as it is in part. It would, quite rightly, leave open the further question
of whether (and to what extent) it is good to be faithful in these ways, whether
it is a good thing to be a good Catholic, a good American, or a good man or
woman in this sense. Relativism forecloses such questions, for to be a good
American, for example, is the only sense in which it is possible for a (cultural)
relativist to understand the idea of being good.
This relativistic understanding of value has a distinctive consequence for
the evaluation of any given life, and a particular bearing on the question of
sex discrimination. According to relativist accounts, a successful life must be
lived according to one™s own standards, be they the standards of one™s own
culture, one™s own religion, one™s own sex, or whatever else value is said to be
properly related to. There is no other criterion of value available. Relativists
believe, therefore, that to live according to the standards of others is the essence
of what it means to be oppressed, for to do so is to live under a regime in
which one is bound to treat as valuable, and hence as one™s own, what is not
valuable precisely because it is not one™s own. Cultural imperialism becomes
the paradigmatic case of oppression because the culture that is imposed, being
not one™s own, is for that reason not good.
This explains the focus of many accounts of sex discrimination on the ques-
tion of oppression. I do not mean to suggest that a belief in oppression entails
a belief in relativism in the way that a belief in equality entails a belief in
value monism. That would plainly be untrue. Tyrants oppress their subjects,
not because they fail to take a relativist view of the values applicable to those
subjects™ lives, but because they use their power to deny their subjects virtually
all the ingredients of a successful life, as those ingredients are objectively under-
stood. Some of those who believe that women are oppressed believe that men are
tyrants in this sense, and so see discrimination as oppressive without subscribing
to relativism. That view is rare, however. The more familiar view is that women
are oppressed because and to the extent that they are not evaluated according
to their own standards, which are a re¬‚ection of their condition as women.
This view is indeed relativist, and so is vulnerable to the criticisms made in the
second section, above, of the attempt to relate value to sexual identity, as well
as to the many more general objections that can be made to value relativism.19

19 From the perspective of those concerned with sex discrimination, these objections include the
fact that for relativists it is not possible for a culture, or whatever value is properly related to,
VI. What It Means to Lead a Successful Life 27

Unlike value monists, relativists rightly recognize the signi¬cance of char-
acter and culture in shaping a successful life, but wrongly conclude that this
signi¬cance follows from the supposed fact that character and culture are the
source of value, rather than being (as they actually are) a possible reason to
pursue one genuinely valuable activity rather than another, namely, an activity
that suits women rather than some other. It is one thing to recognize that concern
for others (for example) is valuable, and then notice that it is a value to which
women may have distinctive or disproportionate access, with all that entails for
women™s success in life, and quite another thing to regard concern for others as
valuable just because and to the extent that it is a quality to which women have
distinctive or disproportionate access.
If there is reason to believe that human value is neither one-dimensional nor
relative, as the weaknesses in these accounts of what it means to lead a successful
life and the extent to which such a life can be undermined by sex discrimination
suggest there is, then an obvious possibility is that value is both plural and
objective. By plural I mean an understanding of value that regards many, perhaps
most, sources of value in life as irreducible to any one more profound source, in
the monistic manner. By objective I mean an understanding that regards value
as a property of the object that is valued (in this setting, a human activity or the
human quality that produces that activity), rather than a re¬‚ection of the attitudes
of those who ¬nd the object valuable, in the relativist manner. Being both
objective and plural, this account of value has a distinctive consequence for the
evaluation of any given life, one that has a signi¬cant bearing on the question of
sex discrimination. In common with other objective accounts, it describes value
in a way that places pressure on the character and qualities of human beings,
insisting that we lead good lives, not merely by realizing ourselves, but also by
ensuring that our qualities and actions conform to what goodness requires. At the
same time, however, and to some extent in common with relativist accounts of
value, it acknowledges the critical, albeit limited, role that a person™s character
and culture may play in determining what is good for them.
If values are plural, so that they differ in kind as well as in degree, it will
often be the case that we are confronted with a choice between two options,
neither of which can be judged to be better than the other because each must be
evaluated according to a different standard, the standard of its kind. This means
that we must often decide which option to pursue when there is reason to pursue

to be mistaken about what is valuable (as would be the case on any objective account), because
the basis of value is not answerable to value judgment itself. Further, any change in the basis of
value (from culture to sexual identity, for example), must be predicated not on the wrongfulness
of sex discrimination (for relativist values cannot be wrong in themselves) but on the existence
of independent grounds to believe that the existing basis of value is mistaken (so that value
is properly related to sexual identity rather than culture, for example). Finally, such a change
can end sex discrimination only if whatever value is newly related to (on grounds unconnected
with the wrongfulness of sex discrimination) is not sexually discriminatory (as existing sexual
identity almost certainly is).
28 the issues

both and no reason to prefer one to the other. As I have already emphasized, the
dif¬culty that this gives rise to cannot be avoided by treating our character as
the premise for choice among options in life, in the relativist manner. We cannot
con¬ne our search for value in life to that which is suggested by the facts of
our character or culture. We are all familiar with people and cultures, or aspects
of culture, that are narrow-minded, doctrinaire, intolerant, or bigoted. Choices
derived from such characters and cultures are to be avoided, not pursued.
There is more to the story, however. While it is true that character and culture
cannot be regarded as premises for choice among options, since they cannot be
relied on to distinguish valuable from nonvaluable options, it is also true that
they have a genuine, albeit subordinate role to play in resolving the problem
of choosing among valuable options of different kinds. To appreciate that role
fully it is necessary to distinguish between moral and nonmoral qualities of
character, or in other words, between virtues and bare capacities.
Moral qualities of character, such as truthfulness or courage, mendacity
or cowardice, are subjects, not premises, of moral deliberation, for the rea-
sons just given. One does not become virtuous by developing the qualities of
character that one happens to possess, whatever they may be; one becomes
virtuous by ensuring that one possesses, or comes to possess, qualities of char-
acter that constitute virtues. Yet even in this setting, once we have eliminated
from consideration those options that would diminish, or at least that would
fail to augment, our moral character, it remains a question which options and
which virtues we should pursue, and character and culture may offer reasons to
choose one way rather than another. No person can display all virtues, not only
because the virtues are too numerous to embody in a single life, but because they
are (or may be) incompatible with one another. We must choose between virtues,
therefore, and character and culture sometimes provide reasons to choose one
virtue over another (by making that virtue accessible, for example), and some-
times determine the implications of separate reasons to choose one virtue over
another (by making the chooser either conformist or nonconformist with his or
her culture, for example, consistent or inconsistent with his or her character),
implications that give rise to further reasons affecting and shaping the choice
between options and virtues.
Nonmoral qualities of character, on the other hand, qualities such as strength
or suppleness, intelligence or emotion, are not good or bad in themselves
but may be used, with equal facility, for either good or bad ends. Strength
can be used to injure others or to sustain them, intelligence can be used to
foster others or to destroy them. Qualities such as these are neither virtues
nor vices, but vehicles for both.20 What is more, the valuable options that

20 It follows that there is no reason to be proud of characters and types of character that are based
upon qualities such as these, though there is reason to respect such qualities and what they make
possible.
VI. What It Means to Lead a Successful Life 29

these qualities make accessible, and the good ends to which they may be
put, are both manifold and incommensurable, so that the lives of the strong
may or may not be more valuable than the lives of the supple, and simi-
larly for the lives of the intelligent and the emotional. That being the case,
nonmoral qualities of character, unlike their moral counterparts, may legit-
imately function as premises for choice, and indeed in some cases must
do so.
Once we have eliminated from consideration all nonvaluable options, the
question of which valuable options to pursue remains. Valuable options, like
virtues, are too numerous to embody in a single life; they, like virtues, are
often incompatible with one another, and certain valuable options are readily
accessible to certain people with certain characters, or in certain cultures, while
being either accessible with dif¬culty or entirely inaccessible to other people
with other characters, or in other cultures.
So, to take a mundane but clear example, by and large one can ¬‚ourish as a
baseball player only in America or Japan, just as one can ¬‚ourish as a cricket
player only in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, for sports such as these
are profoundly linked to the societies that gave birth to them or subsequently
adopted them. What is true of such sports is true, in varying degree, of most
aspects of artistic, cultural, intellectual, and social life, particular forms of which
¬‚ourish in certain cultures while being marginal or absent in others. In general,
cultural forms are supportive of, and so helpful to, the pursuit of some valuable
activities and critical to the pursuit of others.
Much the same is true of character, however that character may have been
arrived at. So the fact that a person is athletic and impatient may be a reason
for that person to take up sport rather than needlework, assuming that both
are valuable activities, for there is reason to do what one is good at and can
¬‚ourish in, rather than the opposite. Similarly, the fact that one is caring is a
reason to pursue a caring profession, the fact that one is supple a reason to
be a dancer, the fact that one is ¬‚uent in language a reason to be a writer or
broadcaster, teacher or politician, and so on. These reasons are not conclusive,
of course, for they do not in any sense require that a person be an athlete rather
than a needleworker, or a dancer or writer rather than something else. It may
well be that one™s character has other valuable implications, that it suggests
other valuable possibilities. It may even be that there are reasons to defy the
obvious implications of one™s qualities and characteristics, in the short term
at least. Nevertheless, the reason to do what one is good at establishes certain
important implications of choice, for the reason to pursue a particular activity
is very largely defeated if that activity is one that one cannot do well, or at least
adequately.
The role of character and culture in shaping a choice among options may be
summarized, then, as follows. Character and culture are constraints on action,
fostering activities that lie within their margins and discouraging activities that
30 the issues

lie beyond them. Given that they constrain action, they may constrain good
actions, and for that reason cannot be taken as premises for choice. While a
valuable life does not depend upon access to all valuable options, it does depend
upon access to a range of valuable options wide enough to prevent recourse to
those that would diminish the value of a life and the virtue of a character. To the
extent that character and culture either direct us to bad options or unacceptably
limit our access to good ones, then, they must be reformed, not respected.21
Paradoxically, however, what constrains may also enable, by making some
things possible and by providing the perspective from which other things are
imaginable. That being the case, character and culture have a legitimate role to
play in determining the viability of a goal, given our limited capacity to change
either our character or our culture, and in determining the intelligibility of a goal,
given that any change we may make in our character or culture must necessarily
proceed from the character and culture that we now have to some other that is
better. Most importantly, they have a role in determining the rationality of a goal
given, ¬rst, that certain goods are possible or imaginable only within the setting
of certain characters and cultures; second, that there is no reason to exchange a
character or culture that is capable of one set of goods for a character or culture
that is capable of another, incommensurable set of goods; and third, that being
or becoming anything, whether by changing or by remaining the same, requires
reasons that are capable of showing that what it is possible to be is also desirable
to be.22
How are we to choose and lead good lives then, in the face of a host of valuable
yet incommensurable options, and what role do character and culture play in
enabling us to do so? The answer, it seems to me, is that we must enter into a kind
of exchange between what we are and what is good, beginning with what we are
and know ourselves to be, as individual characters and as members of certain
cultures. Knowledge of what we are is a necessary starting point for any inquiry
into the kinds of matters that we might rationally, intelligibly, and viably seek
value in (and hence the kinds of lives that we might lead), and the kinds of virtues
that we might similarly develop (and hence the kinds of people that we might
become). A valuable life is not something to be planned from the sidelines, but

21 Furthermore, any reliance on character as a guide to action is dependent upon the capacity to
distinguish between genuine and presumed characteristics, between what it really means to be a
person of a certain kind and prevailing conceptions of what that means, for while character itself
may sometimes bar access to a valuable life, conceptions of character often do so, because their
usefulness, which is the reason for their existence, tends to be a function of their reductiveness.
See the discussion below and Timothy Macklem, “De¬ning Discrimination”, 11 King™s College
Law Journal 224.
22 As this description may suggest, these three implications of character and culture are interde-
pendent and mutually informing. Limits of character or culture are worthy of respect only where
they are rationally supportable; rational goals are viable and so practical only where they take
account of such limits of character and culture (whether by conforming to them or challenging
them); intelligible goals are those that synthesize the requirements of reason, character, and
culture.
VI. What It Means to Lead a Successful Life 31

something to be explored and considered, imagined and created, from within.
At the same time, just because it is to be explored and considered, imagined
and created, a valuable life is not something to be led within set boundaries
of character or culture, but must be capable of transcending those boundaries
where necessary, so as to accommodate new goods and new implications for
existing goods.
The objectivity of value pluralism, then, means that some human qualities
and characteristics are to be reformed rather than respected. Its pluralism, how-
ever, means that other human qualities and characteristics are not merely the
resources upon which we must draw in order to lead successful lives, but the
resources that enable us to choose what suits us from among what is good. It
seems to me that there are two main implications of these features of value
pluralism for the victims of sex discrimination. First, it might be the case that
the qualities that now de¬ne women as women are morally ¬‚awed, and so are
to be reformed, or at least suppressed, rather than respected. I take this not to
be true. I assume that there are no sex-based moral qualities of character, despite
what many have pretended. Women are not passive or weak-willed, spiteful or
deceitful, scheming or manipulative, and the like, or at least and more precisely,
are no more so than men. Such qualities simply do not form part of sexual iden-
tity. The tendency to think they do, where it does not proceed from bigotry,
is the product of an overly deterministic view of the implications of human
qualities and characteristics.23
Some believe that the possession of certain human qualities commits one
to the pursuit of certain speci¬c human activities. In particular, it is contended
that qualities that have been acquired in circumstances of adversity, by slaves,
or serfs, or more generally, by victims of discrimination, commit all those who
possess them to slavery, serfdom, or the condition of those who are discrimi-
nated against. So, it is suggested, if women are more caring than men (as may
or may not be the case), it is only because a history of sex discrimination has
ensured that women have devoted themselves to the care of others, usually men
and children, and has correspondingly ensured, in the manner described above,
that women have acquired the qualities that ¬t them for that task. Crucially, it is
then suggested that to ask women to acknowledge and respond to their special
capacity for concern is to ask them to commit themselves to qualities that in turn
commit them to caring for others, and so is to ask them to commit themselves
to being discriminated against. After all, it is said, it might well be the case that,
after centuries of serfdom, serfs came to possess the qualities and characteristics
of good serfs. Yet to ask them to acknowledge and respond to those qualities
and characteristics would be to ask them to commit themselves to the continu-
ation of their serfdom. No serf would be so foolish, and nor should women be.

23 In fact there may be certain moral distinctions between the sexes. I have suppressed this possi-
bility as marginal and distracting. See chapter 6, note 9.
32 the issues

To the extent that their character re¬‚ects a legacy of discrimination, that char-
acter should be reformed, not respected.24

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