Feminism and the Environment (2)


by Chukwu Augustine M.

What brings about the relationship between feminism and the environment hinges on the unjust oppression and domination of women as posed by feminist and the like unjust oppression of nonhuman animals and domination of nonhuman natural entities as posed by environmental philosophers.

It thus establishes the link between feminism and the environment further leads to the establishment of ecofeminist philosophy. Thus, Karen Warren observes:

Subsequent feminist writings by animal rights activists and ecological and other environmental feminists have reinforced Ruether’s basic point: There are important connections between feminism and environmentalism, an appreciation of which is essential for the success of the women’s and ecological movements.

Our next concern is to look into what might have been the cause of the oppression of women and the domination of nature. Karen Warren refers to such as Canonical Western Philosophy.


Karen describes “canonical western philosophy” as “the Western philosophical tradition traceable to Ancient Greece”, and which “includes the works by the philosophers who are most commonly taught at the majority of colleges and universities throughout the English speaking Western world”.

He further notes that “in this tradition, there is a striking degree of agreement about the “conceptual framework” – the basic beliefs, values, attitudes, assumptions, and concepts- that define ‘the canon’,” and these include:

(a) a commitment to rationalism, the view that reason (or rationality) is not only the hallmark of being human; it is what makes humans superior to nonhuman animals and nature;

(b) a conception of humans as rational beings who are capable of abstract reasoning, entertaining objective principles, and understanding or calculating the consequences of actions;

(c) conceptions of both the ideal moral agent and the knower as impartial, detached and disinterested;

(d) a belief in fundamental dualisms, such as reason versus emotion, mind versus body, culture versus nature, absolutism versus relativism, and objectivity versus subjectivity;

(e) an assumption that there is an ontological divide between humans and nonhuman animals and nature; and

(f) universalizability as a criterion for assessing the truth of ethical and epistemological principles.


Owing to the increasing “environmental crisis” in consonance with women oppression and domination, “three kinds of position in feminist environment philosophy” as observed by … have emerged over the years to challenge many of these key features of Canonical Western philosophy:

(1) Positions whose historical beginnings are located in non-feminist Western environmental philosophies;

(2) positions that were initially identified with “ecofeminism” (or “ecological feminism”) generally, but, since the late 1980s and early 1990s, are more accurately identified with “ecofeminist philosophy,” specifically; and

(3) new or emerging “stand alone” positions that offer novel or unique perspectives on “women-nature connections” that are not identified with either (1) or (2).

On the historical beginnings which are located in non-feminist Western environmental philosophies he notes thus:
Although environmental issues have been addressed by philosophers since Ancient Greece, Western environmental philosophies did not take shape until the early 1970s (e.g., Arne Naess 1973; John Passmore 1973).

Increasingly, unsettling empirical data surfaced concerning human mistreatment of nonhuman animals (e.g., factory farming), nature (e.g., clear-cutting old growth forests), and destructive human-nature relationships (e.g., human creation of unmanaged toxic landfills, especially in communities of color).

In addition, many canonical assumptions were called into question, such as the view that humans and culture are superior to nonhuman animals and nature. Western environmental philosophies, both feminist and non-feminist, emerged from such applied and theoretical concerns.

He further observes that the historical beginnings of Western environmental and philosophy are in environmental ethics. Western environmental ethics, unlike canonical western ethics, “is predicated on the claim that humans have moral responsibilities (or obligations) to nonhuman animals and/or nature, although they disagree about the basis of these responsibilities”.

For some, “the basis is the intrinsic (or inherent) value of nonhuman animals and/or nature, in contrast with the canonical view that they have merely instrumental (or extrinsic) value”, while others argue that “there are properties that nonhuman animals and/or nature have (such as, sentiency, rights, or interests) by virtue of which they deserve moral consideration in their own right (or, have moral standing)”.

However, amidst these views an underlying reality is that “western environmental philosophy asserts what canonical philosophy denies— that humans have moral responsibilities to nonhuman animals and/or nature themselves, and not just to humans where nonhuman animals and/or nature are concerned.”

Another which follows from this is a “revised” environmental philosophy. This field assigns “moral status (or, moral standing) to nonhuman animals”.

In such as this we find “Animal Ethics”. Paul Singer and Tom Regan, animal- rights activists just like feminist animal ethicists oppose practices like factory farming, vivisection, and hunting. For Singer, these practices “cause unnecessary pain and suffering to sentient beings”, while for Regan, “they violate the rights to life of what he calls “the subject of a life”.

“But feminist animal ethics goes further by providing a gendered perspective on such practices and on animal protection generally”.
Next in line is the expanded environmental philosophy, retaining “some of the key features of revised environmental philosophy”, it introduces “genuinely new features – one that had not yet been part of moral theory”.

One key text used in this field is Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic”, published as an essay, “The Land Ethic”, in his 1949 book The Sand Country Almanac.

W. Karen, writing on Leopold’s land ethic observes:
Leopold’s land ethic advances four key claims (stated here roughly as Leopold stated them):

(1) the moral community should include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or, what Leopold calls, collectively, “the land” (Leopold 1949 [1977]: 204);

(2) the role of homo sapiens should be changed from conqueror to plain member of the land community (204);

(3) we can be moral only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, respect, admire, or otherwise have faith in (214, 223, 225);

(4) “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community; it is wrong when it tends otherwise” (224–225), what some regard as Leopold’s ultimate moral maxim.


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