Introduction to Ecofeminism

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Introduction

Karen J. Warren


The past few decades have witnessed an enormous interest in both the women's movement and the ecology (environmental) movement. Many feminists have argued that the goals of these two movements are mutually reinforcing; ultimately they involve the development of worldviews and practices that are not based on male-biased models of domination. As Rosemary Ruether wrote in 1975 in her book, New Woman/NewEarth:

 

Women must see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to the ecological crisis within a society whose fundamental model of relationships continues to be one of domination. They must unite the demands of the women's movement with those of the ecological movement to envision a radical reshaping of the basic socioeconomic relations and the underlying values of this [modern industrial] society. (204)

 

Since the early 1970s, many feminists, especially ecological feminists ("ecofeminists"), have defended Ruether's basic point: the environment is a feminist issue.

Just what makes the environment (ecology) a feminist issue? What are some of the alleged connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature? How and why is recognition of these connections important to feminism, environmentalism, and environmental philophy? Answering these questions is largely what ecofeminism is about.

In this essay I offer an introduction to the literature and issues of ecofeminism. I begin with a characterization of ecofeminism. Then I identify eight sorts of connections--what I call "woman-nature connetions"--that ecofeminists claim link the twin dominations of women and nature. Discussion of these alleged connections provides an overview of the scholarly literature in ecofeminism and the sorts of reasons ecofeminists have given for the centrality of ecofeminist insights to environmental philosophy and feminism. It also helps to situate the four essays included in this section (essays by Merchant, Plumwood, Salleh, and Warren) within that range of scholarly positions. I conclude by suggesting that the philosophical significance of ecofeminism is that it challenges feminism to take environmental issues seriously, environmental philosophy to take feminism seriously, and philosophy to take both seriously.


A CHARACTERIZATION OF ECOFEMINISM

Just as there is not one feminism, there is not one ecofeminism. "Ecological feminism is the name given to a variety of positions that have roots in different feminist practices and philosophies. These different perspectives reflect not only different feminist perspectives (e.g., liberal, traditional Marxist, radical, socialist, black and Third World), they also reflect different understandings of the nature of and solution to pressing environmental problems (see Warren 1987). So, it is an open question how many, which, and on what grounds any of the various positions in environmental philosophy that acknowledge feminist concerns or claim to be feminist are properly identified as ecofeminist positions. What one takes to be a genuine ecofeminist position will depend largely on how one conceptualizes both feminism and ecofeminism.

For instance, suppose by "feminism" one means "liberal feminism." Liberal feminism builds on a Western liberal political and philosophical framework that idealizes a society in which autonomous individuals are provided maximal freedom to pursue their own interests. There are two main ecological indications of liberal feminism: the first draws the line of moral considerability at humans, separating humans from nonhumans and basing any claims to moral consideration of nonhumans either on the alleged rights or interests of humans, or on the consequences of such consideration for human well-being. The second extends the line of moral considerability to qualified nonhumans on the grounds that they are deserving of moral consideration in their own right: they, too, are rational, sentient, interest-carriers, right-holders.

Is either liberal feminist ecological implication acceptable from an ecofeminist perspective? It depends, in part, on what one means by "ecofeminism." Many ecofeminists have argued that insofar as liberal feminism keeps intact oppressive and patriarchal ways of conceptualizing nature, including problematic human-nature dichotomies of the sort dlscussed by all four authors in this section, it will be inadequate from an ecofeminist perspective.

Take another construal of feminism: traditional Marxist feminism. Traditional Marxist feminism views the oppression of women as a kind of class oppression, a direct result of the institution of class society and, under capitalism, private property. Since praxis (i.e., conscious physical labor of humans directed at transforming the material world to meet human needs) is the distinguishing characteristic of humans, traditional Marxist feminism, following traditional Marxism, would seem to suggest that the primary value of nature is its instrumental value in the production of economic goods to meet human needs.

Is traditional Marxism fertile soil for ecofeminism? Again, it depends, in part, on what one means by ecofeminism. If ecofeminism is a position that recognizes that nature has value in addition to its use value to humans, or if ecofeminism asserts that more than gender-sensitive class analyses are needed to explain the interwoven dominations of women and nature, then traditional Marxist feminism will be inadequate from an ecofeminist perspective.

Consider one last example. A radical feminist construal of feminism departs from both liberal feminism and traditional Marxist feminism by rooting women's oppression in reproductive biology and sex-gender systems. According to radical feminists, patriarchy (i.e., the systematic oppression of women by men) subordinates women in sex-specific ways by defining women as beings whose primary functions are either to bear and raise children or to satisfy male sexual desires. The liberation of women requires the dismantaling of patriarchy, particularly male control of women's bodies.

Is radical feminism ecofeminist? While radical feminists historically have had the most to say about ecofeminism, sometimes claiming that "women are closer to nature than men," some ecofeminists have worried about the extent to which radical feminism both mystifies women's experiences by locating women closer to nature than men, and offers ahistorically essentialist accounts of "women's experiences." Furthermore, some ecofeminists worry that any view that makes any group of humans closer to nature than any other is conceptually flawed and methodologically suspect: it maintains just the sort of value dualistic and hierarchical thinking that is critiqued by ecofeminism (see Griscom 1981; Roach 1991; Warren 1987). Hence the extent to which radical feminism is an adequate theoretical basis for ecofeminism will depend partly on what one takes to be the defining characteristics of ecofeminism.

What, then, can one say about ecofeminism? What characterizes ecofeminism as a theoretical position and political movement? Despite important differences among ecofeminists and the feminisms from which they gain their inspiration, there is something all ecofeminists agree about; such agreement provides a minimal condition account of ecofeminism: there are important connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature, an understanding of which is crucial to feminism, environmentalism, and environmental philosophy (Warren 1987). A main project of ecofeminism is to make visible these "woman-nature connections" and, where harmful to women and nature, to dismantle them.

If woman-nature connections are the backbone of ecofeminism, just what are they? And why is the alleged existence of these connections claimed to be so significant?


WOMAN-NATURE CONNECTIONS

There are at least eight sorts of connections that ecofeminists have identified. These alleged connections provide sometimes competing, sometimes mutually complementary or supportive, analyses of the nature of the twin dominations of women and nature. A casual, albeit philosophically uncritical, perusal of these eight alleged connections helps to identify the range and variety of ecofeminist positions on woman-nature connections.

1. Historical, Typically Causal, Connections. One alleged connection between women and nature is historical. When historical data are used to generate theories concerning the sources of the dominations of women and nature, it is also causal. So pervasive is the historical-causal theme in ecofeminist writing that Ariel Salleh practically defines ecofeminism in terms of it: "Eco-feminism is a recent development in feminist thought which argues that the current global environmental crisis is a predictable outcome of patriarchal culture" (Salleh 1988).

What are these alleged historical-causal connections? Some ecofeminists (e.g., Spretnak 1990; Eisler 1988, 1990) trace these connections to prototypical patterns of domination begun with the invasion of Indo-European societies by nomadic tribes from Eurasia about 4500 B.C. (see Lahar 1991, 33). Riane Eisler describes the time before these invasions as a "matrifocal, matrilineal, peaceful agrarian era." Others (e g., Griffin 1978; Plumwood 1991, this section; Ruether 1974) trace historical connections to patriarchal dualisms and conceptions of rationality in classical Greek philosophy and the rationalist tradition. Still other feminists (e g., Merchant 1980, this section focus on cultural and scientific changes that occurred more recently--during the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: it was then that an older world order characterized by cooperation between humans and nature was replaced by a reductionist, "mechanistic world view of modern science," which sanctioned the exploitation of nature, unchecked commercial and industrial expansion, and the subordination of women.

What prompts and explains these alleged historical and causal woman-nature connections? What else was in place to permit and sanction these twin dominations? To answer these questions, ecofeminists have turned to the conceptual props that they claim keep these historical dominations in place.

2. Conceptual Connections. Many authors have argued that, ultimately, historical and causal links between the dominations of women and nature are located in conceptual structures of domination that construct women and nature in male-biased ways. Basically three such conceptual links have been offered.

One account locates a conceptual basis of the twin dominations of women and nature in value dualisms, i.e., in disjunctive pairs in which the disjuncts are seen as oppositional (rather than as complementary) and as exclusive (rather than as inclusive), and value hierarchies, i.e., perceptions of diversity organized by a spatial Up-Down metaphor, which attributes higher value (status, prestige) to that which is higher ("Up") (see Gray 1981; Griffin 1978, Plumwood 1991, this section; Ruether 1974). Frequently cited examples of these hierarchically organized value dualisms include reason/emotion, mind/body, culture/nature, human/nature, and man/woman dichotomies. These theorists argue that whatever is historically associated with emotion, body, nature, and women is regarded as inferior to that which is (historically) associated with reason, mind, culture, human (i.e., male) and men.

A second account expands on the first by housing the problematic value dualisms and value hierarchies in larger, oppressive conceptual frameworks--ones that are common to all social "isms of domination" (e.g., sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism as well as "naturism," i.e., the unjustified domination of nonhuman nature (see Warren 1987,1988, 1990, this section) A conceptual framework is a socially constructed set of basic beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions that shapes and reflects how one views oneself and others. It is oppressive when it explains, justifies, and maintains relationships of domination and subordination. An oppressive conceptual framework is patriarchal when it explains, justifies, and maintains the subordination of women by men.

Oppressive and patriarchal conceptual frameworks are characterized not only by value dualisms and hierarchies but also by "power-over " conceptions of power and relationships of domination (Warren 1991b) and a logic of domination, i.e., a structure of argumentation that provides the moral premise that superiority justifies subordination (Warren 1987, 1990, this section). On this view, it is oppressive and patriarchal conceptual frameworks, and the behaviors that they give rise to, that sanction, maintain, and perpetuate the twin dominations of women and nature.

A third account locates a conceptual basis in sex-gender differences, particularly in differentiated personality formation or consciousness (see Cheney 1987; Gray 1981; Salleh, 1984). The claim is that female bodily experiences (e.g., of reproduction and childbearing), not female biology per se, situate women differently with respect to nature than men. This sex-gender difference is (allegedly) revealed in a different consciousness in women than men toward nature; lt is rooted conceptually in "paradigms that are uncritically oriented to the dominant western masculine forms of experiencing the world: the analytic, non-related, delightfully called 'objective' or 'scientific' approaches" (Salleh 1988, 130)--just those value dualisms that are claimed to separate and inferiorize what is historically female-gender identified. These sociopsychological factors provide a conceptual link insofar as they are embedded in different conceptualization structures and strategies ("different ways of knowing"), coping strategies and ways of relating to nature for women and men. A goal of ecofeminism then, is to develop gender-sensitive language, theory, and practices that do not further the exploitative experiences and habits of dissociated, male-gender identified culture toward women and nature.

One project of ecofeminism is to expose and dismantle the conceptual structures of domination which have kept various "isms of domination," particularly the dominations of women and nature, in place. If ecofeminists who allege various conceptual woman-nature connections are correct, this will involve reconceiving those mainstay philosophical notions which rely on them (e.g., notions of reason and rationality, knowledge, objectivity, ethics, and the knowing, moral self).

3. Empirical and Experiential Connections. Many ecofeminists have focused on uncovering empirical evidence linking women (and children, people of color, the underclass) with environmental destruction. Some point to various health and risk factors borne disproportionately by women children, racial minorities and the poor caused by the presence of low-level radiation, pesticides, toxics, and other pollutants (e.g., Caldecott and Leland 1983; Salleh 1990, this section; Shiva 1988; Warren 1991a). Others provide data to show that First World development policies result in policies and practices regarding food, forest, and water, which directly contribute to the inability of women to provide adequately for themselves and their families (e.g., Mies 1986; Shiva 1988; Warren 1988, 1989 1991a). Feminist animal rights scholars argue that factory farming, animal experimentation, hunting, and meat eating are tied to patriarchal concepts and practices (e.g., Adams 1990, 1991; Kheel 1985; Slicer 1991). Some connect rape and pornography with male-gender identified abuse of both women and nature (e.g., Collard with Contrucci 1988; Griffin 1981). Appeal to such empirical data is intended both to document the very real, felt, lived "experiential" connections between the dominations of women and nature and to motivate the need for joining together feminist critical analysis and environmental concerns.

Sometimes, however, the empirical and experiential connections between women and nature are intended to reveal important cultural and spiritual ties to the earth honored and celebrated by (some) women and indigenous peoples. This suggests that some woman-nature connections are features of important symbol systems.

4. Symbolic Connections. Some ecofeminists have explored the symbolic association and devaluation of women and nature that appears in religion, theology, art, and literature. Documenting such connections and making them integral to the project of ecofeminism is often heralded as ecofeminism's most promising contribution to the creation of liberating, life-afffirming, and postpatriarchal worldviews and earth-based spiritualities or theologies. Ecofeminism is then presented as offering alternative spiritual symbols (e.g., Gaia and goddess symbols), spiritualities or theologies, and even utopian societies (e.g., see Gearhart). Appreciating such symbolic woman-nature connections involves understanding "the politics of women's spirituality" (Spretnak 1981).

Some ecofeminist theorists draw on literature, particularly "nature writing," to unpack the nature of the woman-nature linguistic symbolic connections (see Bell 1988; Kolodny 1975; Murphy 1988, 1991). Literary criticism of the sort offered by Patrick Murphy claims that patriarchal conceptions of nature and women have justified "a two-pronged rape and domination of the earth and the women who live on it" (Murphy 1988, 87), often using this as background for developing an ecofeminist literary theory (Murphy 1991).

Some theorists focus on language, particularly the symbolic connections between sexist and naturist language, i.e., language that inferiorizes women and nonhuman nature by naturalizing women and feminizing nature. For example, there are concerns about whether sex-gendered language used to describe "Mother Nature" is, in Ynestra King's words, "potentially liberating or simply a rationale for the continued subordination of women" (Y. King 1981). There are concerns about connections between the languages used to describe women, nature, and nuclear weaponry (see Cahn 1989; Strange 1989). Women are often describe in animal terms (e.g., as cows, foxes, chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, pussycats, cats, bird-brains, hare-brains). Nature is often described in female and sexual terms: nature is raped, mastered, conquered, controlled, mined. Her "secrets" are "penetrated" and her "womb" is put into the services of the "man of science." "Virgin timber" is felled, cut down. "Fertile soil" is tilled and land that lies "fallow" is "barren," useless. The claim is that language that so feminizes nature and naturalizes women describes, reflects, and perpetuates the domination and inferiorization of both by failing to see the extent to which the twin dominations of women and nature (including animals) are, in fact, culturally (and not merely figuratively) analogous. The development of theory and praxis in feminism and environmental philosophy that does not perpetuate such sexist-naturist language and the power over systems of domination they reinforce is, therefore, a goal of ecofeminism.

5. Epistemological Connections. The various alleged historical, causal conceptual, empirical, and symbolic woman-nature connections (discussed above) have also motivated the need for new, ecofeminist epistemologies. Typically these emerging epistemologies build on scholarship currently under way in feminist philosophy, whigh challenges mainstream views of reason, rationality, knowledge, and the nature of the knower (see APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy 1989). As Val Plumwood suggests in this section, if one mistakenly construes environmental philosophy as only or primarily concerned with ethics, one will neglect "a key aspect of the overall problem, which is concerned with the definition of the human self as separate from nature, the connection between this and the instrumental view of nature, and broader political aspects of the critique of instrumentalism" (1991, this section). For Plumwood, ecofeminist epistemologies must critique rationalism in the Western philosophical tradition and develop views of the ethical, knowing self that do not maintain and perpetuate harmful value dualisms and hierarchies, particularly human-nature ones.

Some feminists (e.g., Mills 1987, 1991) appeal to the critical theory of Horkheimer, Adorno, Balbus, and the Frankfurt circle, claiming that "their epistemology and substantive analysis both point to a convergence of feminist and ecological concerns, anticipating the more recent arrival of eco-feminism" (Salleh 1988, 131). For these feminists, "critical theory" provides a critique of the "nature versus culture" dichotomy and an epistemological structure for critiquing the relationships between the domination of women and the domination of nature.

6. Political (Praxis) Connections. Francoise d'Eaubonne introduced the term "ecofeminisme" in 1974 to bring attention to women's potential for ecological revolution (1974, 213-52). Ecofeminism has always been a grassroots political movement motivated by pressing pragmatic concerns (see Lahar 1991). These range from issues of women's and environmental health, to science, development and technology, the treatment of animals, and peace, antinuclear, antimilitarist activism. The varieties of ecofeminist perspectives on the environment are properly seen as an attempt to take seriously such grassroots activism and political concerns by developing analyses of domination that explain, clarify, and guide that praxis.

7. Ethical Connections. To date, most of the philosophical literature on woman-nature connections has appeared in the area of environmental philosophy known as "environmental ethics." The claim is that the interconnections among the conceptualizations and treatment of women, animals, and (the rest of) nature require a feminist ethical analysis and response. Minimally, the goal of ecofeminist environmental ethics is to develop theories and practices concerning humans and the natural environment that are not male-biased and provide a guide to action in the prefeminist present (Warren 1990). This may involve developing an ecofeminist ethic of care and appropriate reciprocity (Cheney 1987, 1989; Curtin 1991, Warren 1988, 1990, this section), ecofeminist kinship ethics (Plumwood 1991, this section), ecofeminist animal rights positions (Adams 1991; Slicer 1991), an ecofeminist social ecology (Y. King 1981,1983,1989, 1990) or ecofeminist bioregionalism (Plant 1990). As Plumwood and Warren claim in their essays in this section, mainstream environmental ethics are inadequate to the extent that they are problematically anthropocentric or hopelessly androcentric.

8. Theoretical Connections. The varieties of alleged woman-nature connections discussed above have generated different, sometimes competing, theoretical positions in all areas of feminist and environmental philosophy. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of environmental ethics. Primarily because of space limitations, the discussion of "theoretical connections" offered here is restricted to environmental ethics.

In many respects, contemporary environmental ethics reflects the range of positions in contemporary philosophical ethics. The latter includes traditional consequentialist (e.g., ethical egoist, utilitarian) and nonconsequentialist or deontotogical (e.g., Kantian, rights-based, virtue-based) positions, as well as challenges to them by nontraditional (e,g., some feminist, existentialist, Marxist, Afrocentric, non-Western) approaches. Such is also the case in environmental ethics. There are consequentialist (e.g., ethical egoist, eco-utilitarian, utilitarian-based animal liberation ethics) and nonconsequentailist (e.g., rights-based animal liberation, stewardship ethics) approaches that extend traditional ethical considerations to include animals and the nonhuman environment. (Some would argue that these are not bona fide environmental ethics, since they do not make the natural environment itself deserving of moral consideration.) There also are nontraditional approaches (e.g., holistic Leopoldian land ethics, social ecology, deep ecology, ecological feminism) that raise considerations underplayed or omitted entirely from mainstream philosophical ethics. Feminists who address environmental issues can be found advocating positions within this broad philosophical range. So where do ecological feminists fit in?

Where one thinks ecological feminists fit in will depend largely on what one means by "ecological feminism." If ecological feminism is an umbrella term for any feminism that raises feminist concerns about the environment, then presumably ecofeminists can be found along the continuum of feminist-inspired and advocated environmental ethics (or, environmental philosophy). If, however, the term "ecological feminism" is used as I am using the term and as it is used by the authors in this section, viz., as the name for a variety of positions expressly committed to exploring woman-nature connections (of the sort identified above) and to developing feminist and environmental philosophies based on these insights, then ecological feminism is best viewed as one of several nontraditional approaches to environmental ethics and philosophy. We are back to where we began: "ecological feminism" is the name of a variety of positions that make visible different sorts of woman-nature connections, claiming that an understanding of these connections is necessary for any adequate feminism, environmentalism, or environmental philosophy. Whether the connections alleged and the arguments advanced in support of them are accepted on feminist and philosophical grounds is a question the friendly critic must answer.


THE ESSAYS INCLUDED IN THIS SECTION

As review of the literature overview given above reveals, the four essays included in this section provide only a glimpse of the positions advocated by ecofeminists. Still, together they raise issues across all eight categories of woman-nature connections that were identified above. Their inclusion here provides a sample of the philosophically relevant contributions ecofeminist historians, sociologists, and philosophers have made to ecofeminist and environmental philosophy.

Historian of environmental science Carolyn Merchant published her highly influential book The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution in 1980. In it she argues that prior to the seventeenth century, nature was conceived on an organic model as a benevolent female and a nurturing mother; after the scientific revolution, nature was conceived on a mechanistic model as (mere) machine, inert, dead. On both models, nature was female. Merchant argues that the move from the organic to the mechanistic model permitted the justified exploitation of the (female) earth, by removing the sorts of barriers to such treatment that the metaphor of nature as alive previously prevented; the mechanistic worldview of modern science sanctioned the exploitation of nature, unrestrained commercial expansion, and socioeconomic conditions that perpetuated the subordination of women. The Death of Nature wove together scholarly material from politics, art, literature, physics, technology, philosophy and popular culture to show how this mechanistic worldvlew replaced an older, organic worldview, which provided gendered moral restraints on how one treated nature.

The essay by Merchant which appears in this section, "The Death of Nature," is culled from The Death of Nature. This essay represents an edited version of the philosophically significant aspects of Merchant's main argument in The Death of Nature; it sidesteps some of the more technical, literary, or scientific specifics that receive extensive attention in the book. Inclusion of the Merchant essay in this section ensures representation of an early and classic, although not universally accepted (see Plumwood 1986), historical ecofeminist position on the patriarchal source of the domination of nature.

In "Nature, Self, and Gender: Feminism, Environmental Philosophy, and the Critique of Rationalism," Val Plumwood argues that the key to woman-nature connections in the Western world is found in "rationalism," that long-standing philosophical tradition that affirms the human/nature dichotomy and a network of other related dualisms (e.g., masculine/femiine, reason/emotion, spirit/body) and offers an account of the human self as masculine and centered around rationality to the exclusion of its contrasts (especially characteristics regarded as feminine, animal, or natural). Plumwood criticizes both deep ecology and environmental philosophy generally for missing entirely the ecofeminist critique that "anthropocentrism and androcentrism are linked." She claims,

 

The failure to observe such connections is the result of an inadequate historical analysis and understanding of the way in which the inferiorization of both women and nature is grounded in rationalism, and the connections of both to the inferiorizing of the body, hierarchical concepts of labor, and disembedded and individualist accounts of the sel£

 

Plumwood concludes that "the effect of ecofeminism is not to absorb or sacrifice the critique of anthropocentrism, but to deepen and enrich it."

In "Working with Nature: Reciprocity or Control?" Ariel Salleh documents empirically women's involvement in the environmental movement and argues that it is a "patriachal belief system" that maintains and justifies both the invisibility of both what women do and the continued destruction of the natural environment. According to Salleh, the rationale of the exploitation of women and of nature "has been uncovered by the ecofeminist analysis of patriarchy." What is needed, she argues, is that "the unconscious connection between women and nature needs to be made conscious, and the hierarchical fallacies of the Great Chain of Being acknowledged, before there can be any real growth toward a sane, humane, ecological future. " Feminists, environmentalists, and philosophers must see that struggles for equality of women and ecological sustainability are interlinked.

In "The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism," Karen J. Warren, like Plumwood, focuses on the conceptual connections between the dominations of women and nature. She argues that because the conceptual connections are located in an oppressive patriarchal conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination, first, the logic of traditional feminism requires the expansion of feminism to include ecological femimsm, and, second, ecological feminism provides a distinctively feminist environmental ethic. Appealing to the argumentative significance of first-person narrative and emerging ecofeminist ethics of care, kinship, and appropriate reciprocity, Warren concludes that any feminism, environmentalism, or environmental philosophy that fails to recognize important woman-nature connections is simply inadequate.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ECOFEMINISM

The preceding account identifies eight sorts of connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature that have been defended by ecofeminists. It also indicates both generally and specifically (in terms of the four essays included in this section) the nature of the challenges that acceptance of these connections poses for contemporary feminism, environmentalism, and environmental philosophy. But if the power and promise of ecological feminism runs as deep as many ecofeminists suppose, there must be implications of ecofeminism for mainstream philosophy as well. What are some of these?

The historical lmks suggest that data from the social sciences on women, development, and the environment are important undertakings in many areas of philosophy. For instance, in ethics such data raise important issues about anthropocentric and androcentric bias. Can mainstream normative ethical theories generate an environmental ethic that is not male-biased? In epistemology, data on the "indigenous technical knowledge" of women m forestry, water collection, farming and food production (see Warren 1988, 1991a) raise issues about women's "epistemic privilege" and the need for "feminist standpoint epistemologies." In metaphysics, data on the cross-cultural variability of women-nature connections raise issues about the social constructions of conceptions of both women and nature and the human-nature dichotomy of at least dominant Western philosophy (see Warren 1990, this section). In political philosophy, data on the inferior standards of living of women globally raise issues about political theories and theorizing: What roles do unequal distributions of power and privilege play in the maintainance of systems of domination over both women and nature. How do they affect the content of political theories and the methodology of political theorizing? In the history of philosophy, data on the historical inferiorization of what is both female-gender and nature identified raise issues about the andthropocentric and androcentic biases of philosophical theories in any given time period. In philosophy of science, particularly philosophy of biology, such data raise issues about the relationships between feminism and science, particularly ecological science. As Carolyn Merchant asks, "Is there a set of assumptions basic to the science of ecology that also holds implications for the status of women? Is there an ecological ethic that is also a feminist ethic?" (Merchant 1985, 229). Are there important parallels between contemporary ecofeminist ethics and ecosystem ecology that suggest ways in which the two are engaged in mutually supportive projects (see Warren and Cheney 1991)? These are the sorts of questions ecofeminism raises for traditional fields in mainstream philosophy.

Perhaps the most serious challenges to mainstream philosophy are at the level of conceptual analysis and theory. Ecofeminism raises significant issues about the philosophical conceptions of the self, knowledge and the knower, reason and rationality, objectivity, and a host of favored dualisms that form the backbone of philosophical theorizing, even the conception of philosophy itself. These notions will need to be reexamined for posslble male-gender bias. The challenge to philosophy is to replace conceptual schemes, theories, and practices that currently feminize nature and naturalize women to the mutual detriment of both with ones that do not. That is what ecofeminists generally, and the authors in this section specifically, argue is needed from feminism, environmentalism, environmental philosophy, and philosophy.


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Karen J. Warren is a feminist philosopher who has published essays on ecofeminism and edited several special issues on ecofeminism for Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy and the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy. Warren is completing three books on ecological feminism, one co-authored with Jim Cheney and entitled Ecological Feminism, and two anthologies on ecofeminism. Warren also conducts workshops on environmental ethics and critical thinking for elementary and secondary school teachers and students, and is co-creator of an environmental ethics simulation game.


An earlier version of this essay appeared in the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy (Fall 1991).

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