William Thompson and Anna Wheeler: Equality and Utilitarianism in the 19th Century
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This dissertation examines the work of William Thompson and Anna Wheeler in relation to more prominent feminist political theorists of the period. It argues that, read in light of Thompson and Wheeler’s "Appeal of One Half the Human Race" (Appeal), John Stuart Mill’s "The Subjection of Women" (Subjection) represents a step backward in the history of feminist political thought. Mill’s "Subjection" reproduces many of the limitations in Mary Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (Vindication), limitations that had been overcome by Thompson and Wheeler’s "Appeal", which was published in between the publication of "Vindication" and "Subjection". These limitations center on the relationship between women’s access to self-government and happiness, the economy, and the lack of compensation for domestic and reproductive labor. Unlike "Appeal", "Vindication" and "Subjection" limit women’s freedoms by maintaining women’s obligations to perform unpaid labor within the private sphere. "Vindication" and "Subjection" are unable to recognize women’s biological difference without reducing women’s role to that difference. Thompson and Wheeler resolve the tension between capitalism and gender equality by making the case for radically democratic communities of mutual co-operation, where all useful labor, including reproductive labor, is compensated. They use utilitarianism to advance this argument, but some contemporary scholars describe them as conservative utilitarians. I argue to the contrary, that because Thompson and Wheeler’s utilitarianism is ‘indirect’ and is informed by both a rich account of the self and a relational understanding of happiness, that it is not incompatible with arguments for greater social and economic equality.