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Ethics & the Environment 10.2 (2005) 75-99

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Gynocentric Eco-Logics

All of our teachings come from things in nature, they come from the growing cycle, and everything is tied to the earth.1

Ludwig Fleck describes in his Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact how the concept of syphilis is "a result of the development and confluence of several lines of collective thought" (Fleck 1979, 23). Diagnosis and treatment of the disease required that its symptomatology undergo transformation from "an undifferentiated and confused mass of information about chronic diseases characterized by skin symptoms" (1979, 1) into the concept of a single disease. Identifying the Spirochaeta pallida bacterium and diagnosing syphilis by means of the Wasserman reaction was only possible when an unclearly related collection of symptoms could be experienced as belonging together in a unified phenomenology.

Likewise, I wish to provide a diagnosis and etiology, and suggest a curative possibility for a disease of modernity I will call phallic logic. Symptomatic of this sickness are wide-spread social alienation, global domination and oppression on the basis of gender, race, class and color, and epidemic eco-destruction. A body of critique exists in ecofeminist analyses that experiences these symptoms as a single disease: the phallic logic of modernity. "Logic" in this context does not mean the formal discipline [End Page 75] in which rules for the proper manipulation of abstract statements are laid down. Rather, "logic" in the sense used here is an epistemological term. It means the ways that understanding is structured. Phallic logic is the structure of understanding that permeates patriarchy. This logic takes its paradigm from scientific objectivity, but even voices from within the sciences themselves are arguing that contemporary human being must establish new ways of thinking about nature.

I propose that such new eco-logics, that is, ways of thinking about nature, take their guidance from the physical environment. If nature informs knowledge claims, then knowledge itself is construed organically: it is finite and changing rather than fixed and eternal. Such logics can encompass the finitude of physical embodiment as an epistemological principle, and hence I identify them as gynocentric. They are not grounded in the disembodied Cartesian subject that feminists have shown so often and clearly to be typical of androcentric philosophizing. These logics draw instead on the physicality of environmental elements as well as of the thinker, and thus they allow nature's temporality to resonate within knowledge itself. They are not satisfied with a conceptual contrast between nature's on-going coming-to-be and passing-away and the alleged universality of knowledge. Rather, they take nature as a model for truth and acknowledge that nature infuses the things we say to be truth.

There is an abundance of arguments for the differences between male and female writing and thinking.2 I speak in accord with these voices, but I frame my project differently. I will begin by presenting evidence of a call for alternative epistemologies from within the sciences, and then use ecofeminist analyses to argue that the scientists in question are moving away from a phallic logic toward gynocentric eco-logics. Next I will make clear three assumptions that underlie my account. The first two are Heideggerian. I accept his argument that the logic of modernity is scientific objectivity, and I use his account of truth and essence to argue that knowledge is situated rather than universal. Hence gynocentric eco-logics entail an essentialism that is historical rather than biological. I give up biology as the fixative for essence, but avoid a decline into what is entirely arbitrary and subjective by fixing essence in terms of cultural and historical location. Hence I am using a Heideggerian notion of situatedness, but applying it specifically to gender such that I can maintain that the category of "woman" is neither universal, nor shattered irreparably into [End Page 76] fragmented individualism. My Heideggerianism is further qualified in that I am not writing in the spirit of Heidegger's life-time project. I will take the force of his insights to be epistemological rather than metaphysical or ontological...


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