Ethics & the Environment 7.2 (2002) 27-38
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On the Possibility of Grounding a Defense of Ecofeminist Philosophy
James P. Sterba
It is a pleasure to comment on Karen Warren's excellent book. 1 The book is a treasure trove of discussions in ecofeminist philosophy that I am sure people will be drawing upon for years to come. In the introduction to the book, Warren says that her main goal is to present and defend a particular version of ecofeminist philosophy (xiii). In my brief comments, I want to consider how Warren understands that defense, consider how strong it is, and consider further how one might add to it to make it even stronger.
As I was trying to figure out how best to understand Warren's defense of ecofeminist philosophy, I kept being reminded of Warren's conception of philosophy as quiltmaking. 2 According to this conception, in philosophizing we bring together a wide array of ideas like patches with some prima facie constraining conditions, and we don't quite know what will emerge until we put all the ideas or patches together. Well, I sort of felt that way about Warren's various remarks throughout the book on how she understands herself to be defending a particular version of ecofeminist philosophy. They were like various patches that needed to be brought together to illuminate her defense. Moreover, according to Warren's conception of philosophy as quiltmaking, we will sometimes need to repair or replace certain ideas or patches in our philosophical quilt patches that we [End Page 27] have come to recognize do not fit well with the rest of the quilt. Similarly, when I was trying to bring together Warren's various remarks on how she was defending a particular version of ecofeminist philosophy; some of her remarks did not seem to fit well with her overall purpose of defending ecofeminist philosophy. These remarks did not seem to belong to her own ecofeminist philosophy quilt, or at least they needed to be repaired to make a better fit. But, of course, this is just what one would expect given Warren's quiltmaking conception of doing philosophy; repairing and replacing patches in one's philosophical quilt is business as usual according to Warren's preferred way of doing philosophy. Or, as Warren herself puts it, correcting such mistakes is "simply a lovely and welcome part of the process of theorizing" (102).
As her book makes abundantly clear, Warren is against both the domination of women and the domination of nature. Early in the book, she considers how we might defend her perspective against someone who was against the domination of women but not against the domination of nature, presumably because the person did not think that nonhuman nature deserved moral consideration (57). Warren's defense here is to appeal to the very definition of environmental ethics. Warren distinguishes environmental ethics, an ethics of the environment, from an ethics concerning the environment. An environmental ethics, by definition, Warren tells us, takes nonhuman nature to deserve moral consideration whereas an ethics concerning the environment does not. So for those committed to an environmental ethics, so defined, it is not an open question whether to be against the domination of nonhuman nature, or, presumably, the domination of women. They must be against both forms of domination. Now while this part of Warren's defense of ecofeminist philosophy does work to some extent, it is worth noting how close the premises are to the desired conclusion. The defense is directed at those who regard both women and nonhuman nature as deserving moral consideration. The conclusion that is drawn is that those same individuals should be against both the domination of women and against the domination of nonhuman nature.
Later in the book, in another related philosophical patch, Warren considers whether she can provide an argument in defense of the moral considerability of nonhuman nature, and she claims that she cannot (74-76). This is because, she claims, the moral considerability of nonhuman nature is groundless.
Here Warren compares her view...