Feminism and Ecological Communities: An Ethic of Flourishing
She draws her account of flourishing instead from the beliefs about flourishing implicit in the feminist and black freedom movements. I examine the implicit conception of flourishing in the writings of two prominent leaders of the black freedom movement—Martin Luther King, Jr. Tessman's defense of the burdened virtues depends on a particular reading of human nature as does a eudaimonist account of the virtues more generally. Volume 33 , Issue 1. The full text of this article hosted at iucr. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account.
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Purchase Instant Access. View Preview. Learn more Check out. Abstract This article explores the prospects for a eudaimonist moral theory that is both feminist and Aristotelian.
Volume 33 , Issue 1 Winter Pages Related Information. How might we most effectively interrupt conservative political rhetoric that promotes regressive notions of woman, family, nation, and racial privilege, even when it pretends to be merely about taxes and property rights? Theory should not make us so obsessed with causes, connections, underlying factors and implications that we cannot act or move, or leave us so overwhelmed or distracted that we stop caring about whatever brought us to theory in the first place.
Even when crazy-making, theoretical work should help its audience negotiate or know whatever the writing aims to clarify — be it a piece of art, a bit of information, or a political identity.
Ethical theory, in particular, ought to help us negotiate our personal, social, and institutional relationships. Where organic well-being beyond oneself is concerned, and in so far as choice is possible, a matter is ethical. Aristotle noted that one of the distinguishing features of virtue, his concept for ethical responses to relationships and situations, is the fact that it involves choice. The norms concerning ethical concepts and matters, or the meanings of good and appropriate actions and attitudes, have been debated from the beginning of philosophy. But these discussions of norms are undergoing dramatic, unparalleled upheavals on the wave of social movements for liberation and political change.
Two influential, multifaceted, and intertwined sites of controversy in ethics have been at the intersections of academic philosophy and feminism, and philosophy and environmentalism. From these unfixed locations have come some very basic claims with almost incomprehensibly complex implications: nonmale, nonwhite, nonowning, and otherwise nonprivileged people, and nonhuman beings, and the interests of all of these entities that are constructed variously as Other to the paradigmatic Knower, Thinker, Politician and Party to the Contract have been inadequately represented, and dangerously misrepresented, in the history of philosophy.
This erasure and distortion is of particular interest when it occurs in ethical thought, since ethics is ostensibly supposed to promote justice and good behavior. Yet, as history shows, ethical arguments can be molded to justify all kinds of actions and identities. In efforts to unearth unfriendly references to women and other Others in the history of philosophy, and to include them qua women, people of color, workers, ecosystems and cows rather than wives and mothers, slaves, exotics, foreigners and lower classes, Nature and meat in philosophical explorations, several parallel agendas have emerged as central in feminist and environmental philosophies.
One such agenda is to locate and debunk false characterizations, and to map out their often hidden influences and implications.
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Women and slaves are backgrounded in his conception of the polis, though their work enables its existence. Beyond this critical move, feminist and environmental philosophers also look at the implications of including subordinated groups and individuals among those who count as theoretically significant and morally considerable in traditional philosophical systems.
An inevitable project is a detailed exploration of how counting historically discounted Others as relevant seriously undermines or revises the assumptions and prescriptions of traditional ethical frameworks. First, it begins from a concern with the problems that have given rise to both environmentalism and feminism: the mistreatment of the natural world, and the subordination of women and other Others, and the ways these are interrelated and influenced by each other.
Second, it turns to the separate world of feminist and environmental analyses to illuminate solutions to, or means of addressing these problems. I am after ethics that explore connections among related but distinct phenomena, and in my search I bring together varied philosophical and ethical perspectives. It is only the dissatisfied who have the urge to live differently, and hence the need to find out what ways of living differently would be improvements. Julia Annas For many good reasons, people drawn to read a book on feminism and environmentalism are likely to be wary of ethics, because its language is so strongly associated with rules, norms and evaluative criteria put forward by the powerful in order to control others and maintain privilege.
In addition, so-called moralities that aim to justify incredible cruelty toward and exploitation of nonprivileged groups of humans, and nonhuman beings and communities, motivate serious, legitimate mistrust of talk of morality.
Although I do not utilize it here, this distinction makes some practical sense, and also has a basis in the history of the meanings of the terms. I therefore use the concepts of ethics and morality interchangeably, keeping in mind the extent to which rational consideration of arguments is always socially embedded, and that rote rule-following does not exempt one from questions of responsibility.
In putting forward arguments toward ethics that are both feminist and environmentalist, I am not advocating universal rules or restrictive guidelines. I am seeking ways of thinking, and of evaluating actions, policies, and values, that challenge destructive and oppressive modes of interaction, and that encourage deep thought and carefulness in the face of lies and illusions, commingled with facts and observations, that are terribly influential and powerful, and that enable oppression and exploitation.
Like all philosophy, ethics is always about ideals — as much about what we aspire to do or be as it is about who we actually are. But ideals can function in real relations. Rather than cling to pure abstract truth while meeting inevitability, we sometimes have opportunities to make choices that redirect the path of what seems entirely likely or predisposed. Sometimes these moments feel grand and revolutionary. Sometimes they are local and personal.
Hope, possibility, alternative, tradition, history, and creativity can be remarkably powerful in the face of danger and absurdity. Indeed, I prefer to think of my work as ecological feminism, in an effort to keep the emphasis on feminism, and also to distance my approach somewhat from other work done by self-titled ecofeminists. Though I share motivations with the authors of such work, I am sufficiently critical to be uncomfortable with the label. On the whole, I find that a large amount of ecofeminist work has focused too exclusively on the objects of oppression such as women and nature , and has not adequately explored the connections among the various forms and functions of oppressive systems.
Throughout this book I distinguish between two different approaches to thinking about connections between feminism and environmental ethics. Some ecofeminists, including many spiritual writers and activists, look primarily at the connections and similarities among the objects of oppressive and exploitative thought and action. This approach might be thought of as object-attentive, because of the way it zooms in on women.
Unfortunately, this tight focus too often results in false universalizations about women, based on the experiences and interests of women with privilege and power.
Journal of Women in Culture and Society
There is no pure gender, or instance of sexism, not coexistent with race, class, and sexuality, and accompanying oppressions and privileges. These connections are relevant because both women and nature are categorically devalued, with their distinct and similar qualities. Another way of noting the interconnections among oppressions is based on an analysis of the ways oppressions function. Accordingly, ecological feminism focuses on the links and patterns among the treatment of oppressed, exploited, or undervalued beings and entities — that is, among forms and instances of oppression and degradation, and common ethical and ontological bases for maltreatment.
But a focus on oppression employs the notion that different forms and systems of oppression are interwoven, and they therefore strengthen and fuel each other.
Notes on Contributors
These approaches emphasize the logical similarity and interdependence of various forms of oppression, the recurrent themes and tools used to harm people and limit their lives, and the ways that members of oppressed groups are actively discouraged from noticing these connections and acting in solidarity to fight common enemies. This approach to interconnection is evident in the work of Karen Warren and Val Plumwood, who emphasize conceptual and practical connections in defining ecological feminism.
Rather, the perspective I present here begins with a recognition of the connections among various types and aspects of oppression and exploitation. There is a tension in this book between my aim to describe an existent worldview, and my desire to present it persuasively as a useful ethical alternative.
While I aim to create a coherent picture of ecological feminist thought, I move between a descriptive presentation of ecofeminism as it is and normative arguments for ecological feminism as it ought to be. Put differently, part of my project entails sifting through various ecofeminist approaches in order to illuminate their strengths and weaknesses, though I want also to build upon the strengths and suggest fruitful directions for further development. Emphasis on nature, pets or companionanimals, vegetarianism, and ecologically-sound practices have often permeated feminist politics and cultures, and feminists have long noticed connections between women and nature.
Any piece of philosophy is merely part of a conversation. My contribution to these conversations focuses on ecofeminist and other theoretical and literary work from the US, and its relation to Western philosophical traditions.
In addition, my discussion of feminism and environmentalism is very much informed by the ways in which these movements exist, in the US, and at the intersections of theory and practice. Feminisms, ecofeminism, and environmentalisms take many different shapes around the world — and within our own communities — and some understandings of these will be at odds with my not-disinterested presentation.
Because ecofeminism is a near-global phenomenon, it would be absurd to take one version to exhaust the valuable possibilities for thinking at the crossroads of feminism and environmentalism. For example, it is undeniably true that rural women and poor women, including women in the Third World, have been the leaders in efforts to create practices and institutions that aim jointly to empower women and to restore devastated ecosystems. The ecological feminism I describe is a philosophical feminism that attempts to map carefully its constituent concepts, logics, knowledge, and justifications, and which stands on the shoulders of the wealth of feminist philosophical work of the last few decades.
In stating this, I mean to point out my own intellectual foundations as well as a body of work that has influenced other thinkers concerned with issues at the crossroads of various systems and modes of oppression. From my focus on the philosophical issues central to ecological feminism, it will be evident that I am preoccupied with the conceptual realm.
Certainly, feminists, environmentalists, philosophers, and other readers who are curious about, yet unfamiliar with, ecological feminism come to these pages with different priorities.