Should marital relations be non-hierarchical?

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The paper explores an egalitarian norm widely accepted today, which I call the Marital Non-Hierarchy Standard. According to this standard, marital relationships should be non-hierarchical; neither partner may be more dominant than the other. The Marital Non-Hierarchy Standard is exceptional: in almost all associations, including many financial, professional, educational and recreational ones, in almost all spheres of life, some hierarchies, within certain limits, are widely believed to be morally legitimate. I argue that in marital relations, too, some hierarchies should be accepted as morally legitimate. It might be argued that marital relations should be loving, and love requires that lovers will have the same degree of power. However, contemporary analyses of love show that love is consistent with (some) hierarchies. It might also be argued that justice requires that lovers will have equal power. However, theories of distributive justice such as Rawls's, Sen's, Dworkin's, and almost all others allow some marital hierarchies. Thus, both the love requirement and the justice requirement allow some hierarchical marital relationships and conflict with the Marital Non-Hierarchy Standard. Until other justifications for this standard are presented, it is unclear why it should be endorsed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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