Against Marriage is featured in the New Books By Members section of the US Association for Political Theory. You can see the page here.
On 16 April I’ll be doing an AMA – Ask Me Anything! – for Reddit Philosophy. You can join in the fun at 12noon EST / 5pm GMT. Read the discussion here.
I was interviewed by Valentina Saini for her piece “È L’ALBA DI UN’INTERNAZIONALE FEMMINISTA?” on the Italian news site Gli Stati Generali. You can read the piece, in Italian, here.
For those who don’t speak Italian I don’t have a translation of the full article, but here are the answers I gave to Valentina Saini’s questions.
VS: In many countries and regions of the world, sexual harassment in the form of a “pat” on a woman’s “butt”, for example, is seen as something innocent and harmless, nothing one should be especially offended by – many women think so too. Why is that? Is women’s body still something that does not belong exclusively to them – culturally speaking?
A (CC): Women and girls are taught from an early age that one of their most important roles is to be attractive, pleasing, submissive and helpful to others. This education comes from many sources: gendered differences in early upbringing, acceptable social roles for men and women, media portrayals of women that focus on their looks, role-models and stereotypes. It is not surprising in this context of gender inequality that some women internalise the role given to them, and think of their bodies as primarily existing to be appraised and used by others. That doesn’t make it acceptable.
Want to know what books I like? You can read an interview with me by Phil Treagus of The Reading Lists blog here. His questions were fascinating to think about and very hard to answer!
This page gives a simple list of publications. For more information about each work, including abstracts and clickable links, view publications by theme from the drop-down menu above.
* = peer-reviewed
* Chambers, Clare, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017). 226 pages.
Winner of the 2018 David Easton Award of the American Political Science Association (APSA).
—Ethics (January 2019)
—Political Theory (May 2018)
—Fabian Review (May 2018)
—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (February 2018)
—Metapsychology Online Reviews (twice: January 2018; February 2018)
—The Guardian (June 2018)
–The American Conservative (April 2018)
–Times of India (April 2018)
–Association for Political Theory (USA) new books (April 2018)
—Journal for the History of Ideas Blog (April 2018)
–Danny Reviews (March 2018)
–HEPPAS books (25th September 2017)
Chambers, Clare and Phil Parvin, Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (Hodder, 2012). 324 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, Sex, Culture and Justice: The Limits of Choice (Penn State University Press, 2008). 294 pages.
–Times Higher Education Supplement (20th March 2008)
–Philosophy (Vol. 84 No. 1, 2009)
–Feminist Review (91, 2009)
–Res Publica (2009)
–Feminist Theory (Vol. 10, 2009)
–Perspectives on Politics (Vol. 8 No 1, 2010)
Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Party on Cosmetic Procedures (Chambers a member), Cosmetic Procedures: Ethical Issues (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, June 2017), approx. 200 pages.
Articles and chapters
*Earp, Brian D., Clare Chambers, et al, “Medically unnecessary genital cutting and the child’s right to bodily integrity: an international expert consensus statement” in American Journal of Bioethics (2019).
*Chambers, Clare, “Medicalised genital cutting and the limits of choice” in Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery: Interdisciplinary Analysis and Solution, edited by Sarah Creighton and Lih-Mei Lao (Cambridge University Press, 2019).
*Chambers, Clare, “Reasonable Disagreement and the Neutralist Dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence” in The American Journal of Jurisprudence (May 2018)
*Chambers, Clare, “Feminism and Liberalism” in Ann Garry, Serene J. Khader and Alison Stone (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy (Routledge, 2017) pp. 652-664, 13 pages.
–Book cited in The New York Times (2017)
—Reviewed in Hypatia Reviews Online (2018). “The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy presents an exciting, comprehensive, and original pluralist presentation of feminist philosophy that is a much-needed update to existing feminist philosophy companions. Students, scholars, independent researchers, and departments interested in feminism and philosophy would do well to make sure they have access to this volume, and it should be a relevant resource for years to come.”
*Chambers, Clare, “Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble” in Jacob T. Levy (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Classics in Contemporary Political Theory (Oxford University Press, online first 2017) no page numbers, 20 pages.
Chambers, Clare and Richard Marshall, “Sex, Culture, Justice” in Richard Marshall (ed.), Ethics at 3:AM: Questions and Answers on How to Live Well (Oxford University Press, 2017) pp. 296-303, 8 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Judging Women: Twenty-five Years Further Toward a Feminist Theory of the State” in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 3 No. 2 (2017). Symposium on Catharine MacKinnon’s book Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, with response by MacKinnon pp. 1-21, 21 pages.
Chambers, Clare, “Ideology and Normativity” in Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 91 No. 1 (2017) pp. 175-195, 21 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “The Limitations Of Contract: Regulating Personal Relationships In A Marriage-Free State” in Elizabeth Brake (ed.) After Marriage: Rethinking Marital Relationships (Oxford University Press, 2016) pp. 51-83, 33 pages.
–The book is “strenuously avant-garde”. The New York Times (5th April 2016).
–Chambers’ chapter is “sobering and refreshing”. Notre Dame Philosophical
Reviews (2nd May 2016).
–Chambers, “one of the best-known advocates” of the claim that marriage
should not be recognised by the state, contributes a “nuanced and
lucid” chapter that is “among the most interesting contributions in the
volume.” Hypatia (2017)
Chambers, Clare, “The Marriage-Free State” in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society CXIII No. 2 (2013) pp. 123-143, 21 pages.
–Reviewed in Philosophical Dispositions blog (2015)
*Chambers, Clare, “ “The Family as a Basic Institution:” A Feminist Analysis of the Basic Structure as Subject” in Ruth Abbey (ed.), Feminist Interpretations of Rawls (Penn State University Press, 2013) pp. 75-95, 21 pages.
–“All these essays are lively feminist engagements with problems of social
justice.” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (22nd September 2014)
–“This is an extensive and very important collection that covers both the
feminist potential of Rawls’s theory and the major trends in liberal
feminism.” Catherine Audard, London School of Economics
–“This volume provides readers with a series of diverse, refreshingly open-
minded, and very insightful feminist perspectives on the works of John
Rawls. The essays are impressive on their own. Together they expand
the parameters of feminist philosophy.” Marion Smiley, Brandeis
*Chambers, Clare, “Feminism” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies, edited by Michael Freeden, Lyman Tower Sargent, and Marc Stears (Oxford University Press, 2013) pp. 562-582, 21 pages.
–The book is “innovative and much needed… I am not aware of a more accurate
reference book, at least in the English language, in Ideology Studies”
Political Studies Review (9th April 2015)
–“This is a landmark volume… By all accounts, the volume achieves its objective.” International Affairs 90 No. 1 (2014)
*Chambers, Clare and Phil Parvin, “What Kind Of Dialogue Do We Need? Gender, Deliberative Democracy And Comprehensive Values” in Jude Browne (ed.) Dialogue, Politics and Gender (Cambridge University Press, 2013) pp. 198-226, 29 pages.
–The book is an “important intervention into the ongoing conversation about gender and politics.” Perspectives in Politics Vol. 3 No. 3 (September 2015).
–“A model for edited collections, and enormously useful … There isn’t a single weak essay.” Contemporary Political Theory (2015).
*Chambers, Clare, “Each outcome is another opportunity” in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) Vol. 8 No. 4 (2009) pp. 1-27, 27 pages.
*Chambers, Clare and Phil Parvin, “Coercive redistribution and public agreement: re-evaluating the libertarian challenge of charity” in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP) Vol. 12 No. 4 (2009) and Matt Matravers and Lukas Meyer (eds.), Democracy, Equality, and Justice (Routledge, 2009) pp. 93-114, 22 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Inclusivity and the constitution of the family” in Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence (2009, 1) pp. 135-52, 17 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Gender” in Catriona McKinnon (ed.) Issues in Political Theory (Oxford University Press, 2008; 2nd 2011; 3rd ed. 2015; 4th ed. in production), pp. 265-288, 24 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Torture as an evil: Response to Claudia Card” in Criminal Law and Philosophy Vol. 2 No. 1 (January 2008) pp. 17-20, 4 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Masculine domination, radical feminism and change” in Feminist Theory 6 No. 3 (December 2005) pp. 325-346, 22 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Autonomy and equality in cultural perspective: Response to Sawitri Saharso” in Feminist Theory 5 No. 3 (December 2004) pp. 329-32, 3 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Are breast implants better than female genital mutilation? Autonomy, gender equality and Nussbaum’s political liberalism” in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP) Vol. 7 No. 3 (Autumn 2004) pp. 1-33, 33 pages.
—Chosen as part of the Taylor and Francis Women in Philosophy collection at http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/ah/women-in-philosophy#23948
*Chambers, Clare, “Nation-building, Neutrality and Ethnocultural Justice: Kymlicka’s ‘Liberal Pluralism’” in Ethnicities 3 No. 3 (September 2003) pp. 295-319, 25 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “All must have prizes: the liberal case for intervention in cultural practices” in Paul Kelly (ed.) Multiculturalism Reconsidered: Culture and Equality and its Critics (Polity Press, 2002) pp. 151-73, 23 pages.
Shorter pieces for wider audiences
Chambers, Clare, “Blending in and standing out: Comfort and visibility in beauty practices” in Beauty Demands blog (2018)
Chambers, Clare, “Against Marriage” in Aeon (2018).
Chambers, Clare, “Time to abandon marriage?” in Times Literary Supplement (2017). Part of the TLS Ethical Angles Series.
Chambers, Clare, “Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State” in University of Cambridge Faculty of Philosophy Annual Newsletter (2017).
Chambers, Clare, contribution to “Philosophers on the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Ruling” in Daily Nous (2015).
Chambers, Clare “Liberal views” in The Philosophers’ Magazine Issue 61, 1st Quarter (2014). http://www.pdcnet.org/tpm/content/tpm_2014_0064_0080_0085
Chambers, Clare, “Cosmetic Surgery, Culture, and Choice” in UK Feminista Thinkpiece series (2012).
Review essays and book reviews
Chambers, Clare, Review of Angela Willey, Undoing Monogamy (Duke University Press, 2016) in International Feminist Journal of Politics 19 No. 2 (2017) pp. 407-409. 3 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Shlomi Segall, “Equality and Opportunity” (Oxford University Press, 2013) in Ethics 126 No. 3 (April 2016) pp. 851-856. 6 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Anne Phillips, Our Bodies, Whose Property? (Princeton University Press, 2012) in Political Theory 43 No. 1 (February 2015) pp. 111-118, 8 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of G. A. Cohen, Lectures in the History of Moral and Political Philosophy in Philosophical Quarterly 65 (258) (January 2015) pp. 106-108, 3 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Nancy Hirschmann, Gender, Class, and Freedom in Modern Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2008) in Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 No. 1 (2010) pp. 145-147, 3 pages.
*Chambers, Clare, “Assessing Equality”: review of Chris Armstrong, Rethinking Equality: The Challenge of Equal Citizenship (Manchester University Press, 2006) and Stuart White, Equality (Polity Press, 2007) in Res Publica (2008) pp. 141-4, 4 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Anne Phillips, Multiculturalism without Culture (Princeton University Press, 2007) in British Journal of Sociology (2008) pp. 380-382, 3 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Catharine MacKinnon, Are Women Human? And other international dialogues (Harvard University Press, 2006) in Ethics and International Affairs 21 No. 2 (Summer 2007) pp. 261-263, 3 pages.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Seyla Benhabib, The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era (Princeton University Press, 2002) in Political Studies Review 2 No. 1 (January 2004) p. 51, 1 page.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Nancy J. Hirschmann, The Subject of Liberty: Toward a Feminist Theory of Freedom (Princeton University Press, 2003) in Political Studies Review 1 No. 3 (September 2003) p. 373, 1 page.
Chambers, Clare, Review of Will Kymlicka and Magda Opalski, Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported? Western political theory and ethnic relations in Eastern Europe (Oxford University Press, 2001) in Political Studies 50 No. 5 (December 2002) p. 988, 1 page.
This report was written by the Working Party on Cosmetic Procedures, of which I am a member.
There has been increasing demand for invasive cosmetic procedures in the UK, prompting questions about potential risks to users and the lack of regulation and professional standards in this area. This report explores ethical issues in cosmetic procedures with a particular focus on the role and responsibilities of health and scientific professionals and others in responding to demand for invasive non-reconstructive procedures that aim to enhance or normalise appearance. It engages in detailed ethical analysis and makes recommendations affecting all parts of the sector.
You can read the report here.
Richard Smith writes in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) blog that he is persuaded by the arguments of Against Marriage. You can read the full article here.
“Chambers is against marriage on the grounds of equality and liberty. Women are not equal with men within marriage, and the state by attaching a bundle of rights and duties to marriage creates a hierarchy of relationships with marriage at the top, making unmarried couples and single people inferior. Much of the population, including my wife and I, thinks that “common law wives” have similar rights to married women, but in fact they have none. By bundling rights and duties together, marriage (and civil partnerships) restrict autonomy; if they weren’t bundled people might choose different combinations of rights and duties.
“There is a need, Chambers accepted, for the law to regulate relationships, particularly to protect the vulnerable, but neither marriage nor civil partnership, which all the speakers criticised as being “one size fits all,” need to be that mechanism. She pointed out that parenthood might be a better basis for regulation than marriage, not least because parent-child relationships are more durable than couple relationships. Tatchell advocates a model whereby people would select “any significant other” (perhaps a best friend, sibling, or lover) and then choose among a menu of rights and duties. Such an arrangement would lead to greater equality and autonomy. All three speakers agreed that something along those lines would be better than either marriage or civil partnerships.
“And at dinner afterwards, my wife and I, despite being married for 40 years, agreed.”
Marriage is an odd mix of sex, religion, and politics. Our speakers ask what marriage is and whether there is there any distinctive moral value in it. Should the state promote it? Is it possible to have an ‘equal’ marriage, or is marriage fundamentally an oppressive institution? Should marriage be rejected in favour of civil partnerships, or something else, or perhaps nothing else?
You can watch a video of the event and listen to the podcast here.
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Cambridge
Sir Paul Coleridge
Former high court judge and Chairman, The Marriage Foundation
Activist and Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation
Fellow, The Forum
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, King’s College London
Convened by Dr Clare Chambers (Philosophy) and Dr Duncan Bell (POLIS)
University of Cambridge
Michaelmas Term 2017
All sessions are held on Fridays at 1 – 2.30pm in the Bawden Room of Jesus College. This is in West Court, which can be accessed either via the main entrance of Jesus College or directly from Jesus Lane.
Refreshments will be served at the close of formal proceedings. There are no precirculated papers and all are welcome.
6 Oct: Tom Shakespeare, University of East Anglia: “The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: making use of the stilts?”
20 Oct: Avia Pasternak and Jeff Howard, UCL: “Criminal Acccountability, Restorative Justice, and the Moral Standing of States”
3 Nov: Katrin Flikschuh, LSE: “Philosophical Racism”
17 Nov: Bernardo Zacka, University of Cambridge: “When the Rules Run Out: Informal Taxonomies at the Front Lines of Public Service”
Lent Term 2018
All seminars will be held in Upper Hall, Jesus College. Please note that this is a different room from that used by the Seminar in MT. Upper Hall is in the old part of Jesus College, enter via the Porters’ Lodge.
The seminars are held on Fridays at 1 – 2.30pm, followed by refreshments. There are no pre-circulated papers and all are welcome.
**Please note also that the third Seminar this term deviates from the fortnightly pattern, to accommodate a speaker coming from overseas.**
19th January: Cecile Laborde, University of Oxford. “Liberal Egalitarianism and the Critique of Religion”
2nd February: Heather Widdows, University of Birmingham. Title TBC.
9th February (NOTE DATE): Sam Moyn, Yale University. “The Doctor’s Plot: How Philosophizing Human Rights Began”
2nd March: Herjeet Marway, University of Birmingham. “Procreative Justice and Genetic Selection for Non-Disease Traits: The Case of Fair Skin”
I’ll be launching and speaking about Against Marriage at Blackwell’s bookshop, Oxford on 16th November 2017, as part of the Oxford University Press Festival of Philosophy. Register for the event here.
I am currently writing about the distinctions between cosmetic, cultural, and clinical surgery.
One working paper, “Cultural v. Cosmetic v. Clinical Surgery: Challenging the Distinction” argues that cultural elements pervade both cosmetic and clinical surgery.
Another paper, “Medicalised genital cutting and the limits of choice”, is in preparation for a major inter-disciplinary volume on female genital cosmetic surgery.
I am planning a major new research project titled Intact: The Political Philosophy of the Unmodified Body.
This academic research connects to two further projects:
I am a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Working Party on Cosmetic Procedures, due to report this summer. This major report is aimed at policy makers and stakeholders. It identifies the ethical issues arising from the increasing use of invasive cosmetic procedures, and makes recommendations for regulation and other measures. The Working Party consists of experts from Philosophy, Psychology, Medicine, Nursing, Surgery, Law, Anthropology, Sociology, and Advocacy / Activism. It has been collecting evidence and deliberating for nearly two years.
I am speaking on “The ethics of cosmetic surgery” at the Royal Society of Medicine event “Changing the image of cosmetic surgery: patients before profit” in October 2017. Find details here.
I am speaking on “Should the State Recognise Marriage?” at the University of Cambridge Alumni Festival on 22nd September 2017. Details are here.
I was a keynote speaker for the Annual Conference of the ASPP at the University of Sheffield in June 2017, talking about my book Against Marriage. You can find details of the conference here.
The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) published my piece “Time to abandon marriage?” as part of their Ethical Angles Series (2017). Read it here.
In this chapter I challenge the idea that an appeal to choice exonerates Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (FGCS). My argument proceeds in five stages. First, I consider the normative role that choice plays in liberal society and philosophy. Second, I note that UK law does not treat choice as adequate for accessing FGCS. Third, I consider the relationship between choice and the concept of normality. Fourth, I consider choice in the context of cosmetic surgery generally, and analyse the distinctive features of FGCS. Fifth, I consider the policy implications of my analysis.
You can find the book here.
In Political Emotions: Toward a Decent Public Sphere, edited by Thom Brooks (Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming).
In The New Religious Intolerance Martha Nussbaum sets out an impassioned plea against that intolerance, which she sees as a pressing but almost entirely European problem. Although there are differences between European nations, Nussbaum argues, Europeans in general have a variety of problematic attitudes to religious diversity that are not found in the USA. These include “fear and mistrust,” inconsistency, “a concern for homogeneity that leads them to commit some errors in public argument that are troubling,” the desire that immigrants “fit in,” greater anti-Semitism than is found in the USA, and a refusal to debate, let alone embrace, “the free exercise of religion”. In place of this European foolishness “the American solution is urgently needed.” The New Religious Intolerance is thus at once a critique of the ‘European’ way of dealing with religion and a defence of the superior American way. Events since Nussbaum published NRI suggest that both Europeans and Americans have grounds for deep soul-searching and self-criticism concerning attitudes to immigration and diversity. In this paper I offer a critique not of the political implications of Nussbaum’s account, but rather of its philosophical underpinnings. My argument proceeds through analysis of her critique of a legal ban on the burqa which has been implemented in various ways in France, Belgium, and Italy
This paper investigates the possibility of what Sally Haslanger calls ‘ideology critique’. It argues that ideology critique cannot rely on epistemological considerations alone but must be based on a normative political theory. Since ideological oppression is denied by those who suffer from it is it is not possible to identify privileged epistemological standpoints in advance.
This paper investigates the possibility of what Sally Haslanger calls “ideology critique.” It argues that ideology critique cannot rely on epistemological considerations alone but must be based on a normative political theory. Since ideological oppression is denied by those who suffer from it is it is not possible to identify privileged epistemological standpoints in advance.
Feminist Political Quarterly (Vol. 3 No. 2, 2017).
The title of this paper is “Judging Women”, a phrase that can be understood in three senses. First, when is it acceptable or necessary to make judgements about what women do? Feminists may be wary of subjecting women’s choices and actions to criticism, but the paper argues that such criticism is implied by a feminist perspective on patriarchy, a perspective which is necessarily critical. Second, when can women engage in the act of judging? The paper argues that being judgmental is popularly considered a vice, but only when done by women. Feminism should insist on women’s right to judge. Third, how are we to judge who counts as a woman? The paper investigates the commonalities and contrasts between feminism and trans issues, and discusses the concepts of essentialism and transphobia. The focus throughout is on MacKinnon’s work, which offers profound, sustained, rich analysis of these questions but does not fully resolve them.
You can read the paper here.
Clare Chambers, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017)
Winner of the APSA David Easton Award 2018.
Available now from all good bookshops! Use the code AAFLYG6 at www.oup.com to buy the book at 30% off.
Read the book on Oxford Scholarship Online here.
Follow the full coverage of the book, including links to reviews, articles, and other material, by clicking on “all posts on marriage” at the bottom of this page.
Against Marriage is a radical argument for the abolition of state-recognised marriage. Clare Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage violates both equality and liberty, even when expanded to include same-sex couples. Instead Chambers proposes the marriage-free state: an egalitarian state in which religious or secular marriages are permitted but have no legal status.
Part I makes the case against marriage. Chambers investigates the critique of marriage that has developed within feminist and liberal theory. Feminists have long argued that marriage is a violation of equality since it is both sexist and heterosexist. Chambers endorses the feminist view and argues, in contrast to recent egalitarian pro-marriage movements, that same-sex marriage is not enough to make marriage equal. Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage is also problematic for liberalism, particularly political liberalism, since it imposes a controversial, hierarchical conception of the family that excludes many adults and children.
Part II sets out the case for the marriage-free state. Chambers critically assesses recent theories that attempt to make marriage egalitarian, either by replacing it with relationship contracts or by replacing it with alternative statuses such as civil union. She then sets out a new model for the legal regulation of personal relationships. In the marriage-free state regulation is based on relationship practices not relationship status, and these practices are regulated separately rather than as a bundle. The marriage-free state thus employs piecemeal, practice-based regulation. Finally, Chambers considers how the marriage-free state should respond to unequal religious marriage. The result is an inspiring egalitarian approach that fits the diversity of real relationships.
Against Marriage is “political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”
Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, in Fabian Review
“This is a distinct and important contribution to an increasingly crowded field of liberal political philosophy on marriage and the state and, perhaps most interestingly, to our understanding of the liberal project broadly. … Where other liberals seek more vigorously to balance competing demands of freedom and equality, or emphasize freedom, Chambers hews rigorously to an egalitarian position. You won’t find another book that does this so effectively or by way of such productive engagement with existing scholarship. Laying out the egalitarian case in such clear and compelling terms, Chambers highlights the challenges it presents to the liberal side of her liberal feminist equation. In so doing, Against Marriage leaves us wondering just how tenable the liberal feminist project is.”
“Chambers leads us to these questions by bringing us to the edge of the liberal feminist frontier. This alone would make Against Marriage a distinct and important contribution. But, of course, Chambers does more. She offers a compelling vision of why and how to move beyond marriage and points us in the direction of work that needs to be done. All with the grace and graciousness of an analytical philosopher running at full throttle.”
Tamara Metz, Political Theory
“Clare Chambers provides a clear, lucid and timely argument against state-recognized marriage based on the liberal principles of liberty and equality.
“Throughout, she is masterful at anticipating and responding carefully to potential objections to her arguments and proposals. Her anticipation of objections demonstrates a familiarity with a wide swath of literature from and conversations with both feminist and non-feminist scholars of marriage and family, both critics and advocates of marriage, and representatives of a range of liberal (and some illiberal) theoretical approaches. And her responses to those who might disagree with her proposals reveal a two-fold carefulness: as a philosopher, she is thoughtful, deliberate, precise, and meticulous; as a feminist, she is attentive, concerned, and compassionate — considering not only the philosophical justifications for her proposals but also their practical fall out for women and other vulnerable populations.
“I highly recommend Chambers’ book as an important scholarly and pedagogical resource. It is beautifully crafted and makes an important contribution to the literature in liberal political theory and, more specifically, to the philosophical literature on marriage and family. Chambers’ arguments against state-sponsored marriage are clear, persuasive, thorough and timely, as are her critiques of the most oft-supported alternatives, namely marital contracts and civil unions. Her discussions of recent feminist literature on marriage clearly delineate the differences among theorists and between their positions and her own. Finally, she models respect for her philosophical interlocutors through fair treatment of their positions and demonstrates respect for her readers through carefully crafted prose, clearly laid out arguments, and frequent summaries and reminders linking sections and chapters together. It was my distinct pleasure to read this book and be provoked by its arguments into a better understanding of both liberalism’s promise and its limitations with regard to its support of diverse forms of relationship.”
Shelley M. Park in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
Introduction: “The Marriage-Free State”
Chapter 1: “Marriage as a Violation of Equality”
Chapter 2: “Marriage as a Violation of Neutrality”
Chapter 3: “A Liberal Defence of Marriage?”
Chapter 4: “The Limitations of Contract”
Chapter 5: “Regulating Relationships in the Marriage-Free State”
Chapter 6: “Marriage in the Marriage-Free State”
Part One, “Against Marriage,” sets out objections to marriage regimes. Chapter 1, “Marriage as a Violation of Equality,” makes the foundational egalitarian case against marriage. It starts with a historical overview of feminist objections to marriage and notes that feminists tend to criticise marriage for being both sexist and heterosexist. This two-pronged attack looks puzzling. How can it be both bad for women to be married and bad for lesbians and gays to be unmarried? The discussion continues with an analysis of whether same-sex marriage is egalitarian. It concludes that, in a marriage regime, same-sex marriage is both required by and insufficient for equality. Finally, the chapter argues that reformed versions of marriage such as civil union still enact inequality between those who have and those who lack the relevant status. It follows that the abolition of state-recognised marriage best meets the myriad egalitarian objections to the institution.
Chapter 2, “Marriage as a Violation of Liberty,” considers liberal objections to marriage. Perfectionist or comprehensive liberals should reject state-recognised marriage as limiting autonomy in the service of an unappealing and restrictive model of human perfection. But political liberals should go further, and reject state-recognised marriage as prima facie incompatible with neutrality. The chapter clarifies the nature of political liberal neutrality, and establishes that there are many reasonable conceptions of the good that are not compatible with the state recognition of marriage. This fact means that marriage is not a neutral, political institution, and that promotion of it is an act of perfectionism.
The chapter then discusses the idea that political liberalism might be compatible with policies that are prima facie non-neutral if those policies can be supported by public reason. Political liberalism is ambiguous between two forms of neutrality: strict and lax. Strict neutrality allows state action only if sufficiently weighty public reasons can be adduced in favour of a policy; lax neutrality permits the state to act just as long as some public reason can be given. If political liberalism is to be an interesting philosophical approach it will defend strict neutrality, so any public reasons offered in support of state-recognised marriage must be weighty enough to overcome the non-neutrality of that institution.
This line of argument continues in Chapter 3, “A Liberal Defence of Marriage?” This chapter considers and rejects five potential liberal arguments in favour of marriage: arguments that, if successful, might work as public reasons for political liberals or might make marriage into an attractive account of human flourishing for perfectionist or comprehensive liberals. These arguments are based on communication, gender equality, care, the interests of society, and children’s interests. The chapter argues that, while these arguments do highlight legitimate public goods, they fail to show that state-recognised marriage is a necessary or acceptable way of achieving them.
If marriage is no longer to be recognized by the state, what should replace it? Part Two, “The Marriage-Free State,” answers this question. Many theorists defend relationship contracts. Some argue that enforceable relationship contracts should be available alongside existing or reformed state-recognised marriage, and available to either married or unmarried couples. Other theorists argue that relationship contracts are the best sort of legal regulation to replace marriage. It is this latter question that is the subject of Chapter 4: “The Limitations of Contract.” The chapter contrasts contract and directive models of regulation, and notes that contract appears more compatible with liberty than does directive. However this appearance is illusory since contracts can undermine liberty, directives can enhance liberty, and even a contract regime requires default directives. Moreover, there are various problems with the enforcement of relationship contracts. Specific performance is rarely appropriate in the relationship context. The alternative, fault-based compensatory alimony, risks causing injustice to vulnerable parties such as those who take on caring responsibilities (usually women) and children. Relational contract theory attempts to deal with some of these problems but has its own limitations. The chapter concludes that contract is not the best replacement for marriage.
Chapter 5, “Regulating Relationships in the Marriage-Free State,” sets out a new model for regulating personal relationships, one that relies on neither contract nor a holistic status such as marriage or civil partnership. Critics of marriage have suggested one of these two options, with most recent feminist and egalitarian work focusing on alternative holistic statuses such as Tamara Metz’s Intimate Care-Giving Unions or Elizabeth Brake’s Minimal Marriages. These new holistic statuses, while they improve on marriage, do not avoid a fundamental problem for egalitarians: an unjust distinction between those who have, and those who lack, that status. Instead, the chapter sets out three features of regulation in the marriage-free state. First, it is piecemeal not holistic: relationship functions are regulated separately, without assuming bundling or an ideal-typical relationship format. Second, it proceeds via practices not status: regulation applies to those who are acting in certain ways rather than being dependent on a status that must be formally acquired. Third, liberty is secured by opting out of default regulations rather than opting in. This model of regulation is compared with alternatives found in both political philosophy and legal practice.
Finally Chapter 6, “Marriage in the Marriage-Free State,” considers the extent to which the state should seek to regulate any private religious or secular marriages that citizens might enter into. In the marriage-free state citizens could still take part in religious or secular marriage ceremonies. This is why the marriage-free state is not a marriage-free society. It does not follow, however, that the state should take no interest at all in such marriages, since they may take place in the context of oppression or injustice. The chapter sets out the case for intervention in marriages that are not recognised by the state, drawing on the model of liberal intervention in cultural practices set out in my first book Sex, Culture, and Justice: The Limits of Choice.
You can listen to an interview with me on “The State and Marriage” at Philosophy 24/7 here.
20th Jan: Dana Mills, University of Oxford. “The Dancer of the Future from a Socialist Point of View: Eleanor Marx, Isadora Duncan, and Choreographing Socialist Feminism”
3rd Feb: Herjeet Marway, University of Birmingham. “Should we genetically select for the beauty feature of fair skin? Procreative Beneficence versus Procreative Justice.”
17th Feb: Chris Armstrong, University of Southampton. “Institutions, Growth, and Global Justice”
3rd March: David Runciman, University of Cambridge. “States, Corporations, Robots”
Michaelmas Term 2016
Convenors: Dr John Filling (Philosophy) and Dr Paul Sagar (POLIS).
Seminars will be held in the Audit Room, King’s College
7th October: Dr Timothy Fowler, University of Bristol
Political Liberalism, Science, and Faith: The Case of Intelligent Design
21st October: Dr Robert Jubb, University of Reading
Civil Disobedience and the Disaggregation of Political Authority
4th November: TBC
18th November: Dr Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Warwick University
The Doctrine of Gender Identity – A Critical Examination
I’ll be speaking at a symposium on Kimberley Brownlee’s work on social rights at the University of Warwick in September 2016.
I regularly lecture on the Philosophy Tripos, for all Parts. Students from other Faculties are welcome. For details of this year’s Lecture List see the Faculty of Philosophy website here.
I do not provide lecture materials to students who do not attend lectures other than in exceptional circumstances.