Taking Jean Giraudoux's play The Madwoman of Chaillot as its starting point, this book seeks a way out of the dilemma that confronts those who feel that any nonrelativistic moral theory requires some metaphysical foundation but cannot see how a foundations position can be persuasively defended.
Nancy Holland draws on the work of Heidegger and Derrida to formulate a concept of appropriate action that can address both extraordinary ethical problems within a particular cultural tradition and moral conflict between different cultures. Her feminist reappropriations of the concept of the appropriate is then further developed by reference to Aristotle and Kant, whose ethical theories, she argues, are independent of their metaphysics, thus suggesting that moral evaluations can rely on a deep understanding of what it is to be human within a cultural tradition rather than on foundations premises. As an example of the application of her theory, Holland examines the problem of ordaining women women in the Roman Catholic Church and then goes on to compare her approach with that of other philosophers working in virtue theory, postmodern ethics, and feminism.
We all want to be able to make valid moral judgments and to respect the ethical values of other cultural groups. By suggesting that a culture's sense of the human and a correlated sense of appropriate action, might provide a purely formal but still critical perspective on any community's current beliefs and practices without invoking any substantive external criteria, the concept of the appropriate is offered as one way in which we can satisfy both our moral wants and our intellectual needs.