Historical Overview

Ecological feminism signifies a cluster of various positions that applies feminist approaches to environmental philosophy. Feminists began creating theories focusing on connections between environmental abuses and sexism in the 1970s. Although many ecological feminists disagree about the specifics of the so-called woman-nature connection, they agree that there are conceptual links between sexism and abuses of nature, and that an understanding of each is crucial to the understanding of the other.

Ecological feminists have argued that in dominant western traditions, women and other oppressed groups have historically been associated with nature. A central concept within ecological feminism is that of a value dualism. A value dualism is a disjunctive pair where the two disjuncts are viewed as exclusive and opposi-tional, which gives higher moral value to one of the disjuncts. The attribution of higher moral value to one of the disjuncts is achieved by conceiving of it is as radically different from the other one in morally crucial ways. Similarities between the two disjuncts are downplayed while supposed differences are highlighted.

Within traditional western patriarchies, a reason/nature dualism underlies dominant logics. Reason is seen to be radically different and morally superior to nature. Other dualisms are then based on this fundamental dualism, and whatever is associated with reason is seen as morally superior to whatever is associated with nature. Ecological feminists have concentrated on dualized pairs such as masculine/feminine, civilized/primitive, human/ nature, light/dark, and mental/manual.

Ecological feminists have also argued that the logic of domination plays a pivotal role in the justification of dualistic constructions. Moral superiority does not, in and of itself, justify domination. A premise that something is morally superior to something else does not necessarily imply the right of domination over that which is said to be inferior. In order for this further justification, an additional premise establishing the right of domination is needed - the logic of domination. According to this premise, for any X and Y, if X is morally superior to Y, then X is morally justified in subordinating Y. Hence, typical arguments in environmental ethics which assert that humans are morally superior to nature, assert that because humans have some capacity or capacities that nature lacks, that this moral superiority justifies humans in subordinating nature. A typical example of an argument to justify the human/nature dualism is as follows:

A1. Humans do, plants and rocks do not, have the capacity to consciously change the community in which they live.

A2. Whatever has this capacity is morally superior to whatever does not have it. A3. Humans are superior to plants and rocks. A4. For any X and any Y, if X is morally superior to Y, then X is morally justified in subordinating Y. A5. Humans are morally justified in subordinating plants and rocks.

This type of argument typically is used to justify various kinds of subordination of nonhumans. For example, it is often used to claim that the fact humans are rational and animals supposedly are not justifies human subordination of animals. In 1990 Karen J. Warren argued that the key premise, the logic of domination, is premise (A4).

Ecological feminists argue that once human superiority over nature is established, similar arguments are used to support patriarchy by associating women with nature. For example, the following argument is based on argument A above:

B1. Women are identified with nature and the realm of the physical; men are identified with the human and the realm of the mental. B2. Whatever is identified with nature and the realm of the physical is inferior (below) to whatever is identified with the human and the realm of the mental. B3. Thus, women are inferior to men. B4. For any X and Y, if X is superior to Y, then X is justified in subordinating Y. B5. Men are justified in subordinating women.

The fact that both the human domination of nature and sexist domination of women rely on arguments with the same general form, and the fact that argument B depends on a prior devaluation of nature, shows how the twin dominations of nature and women are related. Without the prior devaluation of nature, associating women with nature would not imply inferiority; hence, other forms of domination such as racism are justified by arguments with similar forms relying on the logic of domination. For example, early justifications of American slavery relied upon thinking of African people as animal like. Interestingly, not all ecological feminists agree on what to think about this women-nature connection. Some believe that there really is some elemental connection between women and nature due to women's ability to give birth. Others believe that women may be more connected to nature due to socialization into feminine nurturing roles, while still others do not believe there is any real such connection at all. What ecological feminists do agree upon is that the historical association of women with nature within western patriarchal cultures has been used to justify sexism as well as a variety of other prejudices such as racism.

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