Date of this Version
Hill, Michael R. and Mary Jo Deegan. 2004. “Introduction: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Sociological Perspective on Ethics and Society.” Pp. ix-xxvii in Social Ethics: Sociology and the Future of Society, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, edited by Michael R. Hill and Mary Jo Deegan. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Social Ethics: Sociology and the Future of Society provides a complex yet accessible statement of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's mature sociological theory of ethical life. Her perspective is welded intellectually to sociology and evolutionary thought and concretely to the well-being of children throughout the world. We have failed, writes Gilman in Social Ethics, to teach even "a simple, child-convincing ethics based on social interactions, because we have not understood sociology" (emphasis added). For Gilman, a world in which children are not loved, well fed, properly clothed, thoughtfully educated, and humanely disciplined is a world ethically at odds with logic and itself. From this fundamental premise, all else follows. Thus: war, barbarism, waste, religious bigotry, conspicuous consumption, greed, environmental degradation, preventable diseases, and patriarchal oppression in all its manifestations-all these for Gilman are highly unethical and must not be allowed to stand if society is to be a good place for children. If, as readers of Social Ethics, we sense that we are being firmly lectured as well as cajoled by Gilman's penetrating wit and obvious intellect-that is because we are. Gilman pulls no punches, she really intends us to change our ways, and to use sociological insights to improve our future society. Social Ethics first appeared in 1914 in serial form in Gilman's extraordinary pedagogical experiment in adult education, a self-published monthly sociological journal, issued from 1909 to 1916, written entirely by Gilman and called, aptly enough, The Forerunner.