Ethics & the Environment 7.2 (2002) 1-11
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On Ecofeminist Philosophy
In the heat of a historical moment when the interwoven nature of imperialism, ecological degradation, exploitation of workers, racism, and women's oppression is painfully obvious to many, ecofeminism appears to be gaining in popularity. As Karen Warren's book Ecofeminist Philosophy (2000) illustrates, a key insight of ecological feminism is captured by the phrase "it's all connected." In more precise terms, ecofeminism stresses the depth to which human realities are embedded in ecological realities, and the fact that we are all composed of physical and conceptual connections and relationships. Ecofeminists also make strong normative claims about those connections, and they find present ecological and social relationships to be far more morally troubling than "we" modern thinkers tend to acknowledge.
Karen Warren's work has been incredibly influential in the development of ecofeminism, especially as a philosophical perspective. In her 1987 essay "Feminism and Ecology: Making Connections," she argued for a basic ecofeminist position: that feminists ought to pay attention to environmental issues and ecological interdependencies, and that environmentalists ought to attend to the connections among ecological degradation, sexism, and other forms of social oppression. A wealth of ecofeminist poetry, fiction, and political writing had been published in the seventies and early eighties, before "Feminism and Ecology" appeared on the pages of [End Page 1] the journal Environmental Ethics. But Karen Warren was the among the first to use the tools of analytic philosophy to articulate and argue for ecofeminism as a philosophical position, ethical approach, and political movement.
In fact, Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978) was arguably the first work in contemporary academic philosophy to engage ecofeminism (my first acquaintance with ecofeminist theory was made through a special issue of the feminist magazine Heresies, on feminism and ecology). But Daly's emphasis was on the plight of females in patriarchal social environments. Karen Warren and Australian philosopher Val Plumwood brought full focus to the eco in ecofeminism, applying feminist philosophy (and especially feminist ethics) to our relations with the more than human world, and in turn articulating a broader theory of oppression and liberation. Their analytic approaches resulted in philosophy that synthesizes as it clarifies, taking seriously the value of nature, the history of philosophy, the power of culture, and the insights of good science.
In Ecofeminist Philosophy Karen Warren presents ecofeminism as a general school of thought, though she also argues for a particular set of ecofeminist principles, values, methodologies, and practices. In terms of both her method and her conclusions, it is important to note that her emphasis on clearly articulated principles is by no means a defense of an absolutist or falsely universalizing ethic. Rather, Warren's ecofeminist philosophy emerges from her reading of a wide and diverse array of theoretical and political examples. Like Noël Sturgeon's Ecofeminist Natures: Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action (1997), which focuses on feminist ecological movements, Warren's project is to look for and describe the family resemblances among diverse examples of ecofeminism. This approach allows her to articulate epistemic, moral, and political positions that are pluralist, yet do not avoid making bold truth-claims. For example, Warren argues that "something is a feminist issue if an understanding of it helps one understand the oppression, subordination, or domination of women" (Warren 2000, 1).
In a sense such a definition is wide open, taking various approaches and issues to be worthy of feminist attention. At the same time, it certainly does not allow just any perspective to count as feminist. Throughout Ecofeminist Philosophy, Warren defends multicultural ethics while clearly advocating specific transcultural values, such as justice and caring: [End Page 2]
If we dare to care, if we dare to enter into community with others through an honest recognition of our commonalities and differences, we will be poised to create generally respectful, nonviolent, care-based, intentional communities where commonalities and differences are just that . . . Such intentional communities are a creative alternative to violence-prone communities where order is imposed from outside through unjustified...