Ecofeminism with Western Roots

As mentioned in my last post about Ecofeminism, these philosophies can be divided into three different categories. This post will cover the first of the three.

Western Philosophy

It wasn’t until destructive human-nature relationships were truly revealed in the 1970’s that topics about the environment entered Western philosophy. Questions were bubbling up about whether or not humans are superior to other animals and if our culture/”needs” (wants) were to take priority over nature. Both feminist and non-feminist Western environmental philosophies emerged during this time.

Environmental ethics is an important conversation behind the Western philosophy of ecofeminism. Western environmental ethics says that humans are morally responsible to nonhuman animals and nature, although they disagree on any number of things beyond this point.

Some argue that nature (including nonhuman animals) have more value than what they provide to humans. Like human beings, they have intrinsic and inherent value. This ecofeminism perspective is one that uses key concepts and theories of Western philosophy, but extends them to include nonhuman animals in the moral community. Personally, I agree with this.

Ecofeminist ethics goes beyond general animal and environmental ethics in the following ways:

  • It emphasizes that canonical Western philosophy’s view of humans as rational agents, who are separate from and superior to nature, fails to acknowledge that humans are also animals, therefore we are a part of nature.
  • It makes visible the interconnections among violence against women, violence against nature, and pornography.
  • It demonstrates the role played by language in creating, maintaining, and perpetuating the exploitations of both women and nature.
  • The culture versus nature argument has not been gender-neutral in the past and still isn’t. The argument is associating men with superior culture and both women and animals with “inferior” nature.
  • It locates the exploitation of women and animals in mutually reinforcing systems of unjustified domination, particularly sexism, racism, and speciesism.
  • It raises the question of whether or not the absence of a gendered perspective in traditional animal ethics makes those positions on the mistreatment of nonhuman animals incomplete or inadequate.

The Land Ethic

Aldo Leopold’s view was published as an essay, “The Land Ethic,” in his 1949 book The Sand County Almanac. Leopold’s land ethic was the first genuinely environmental ethic as opposed to an animal ethic. We continue to draw on Leopold’s land ethic in ecofeminism today. Leopold’s land ethic advances four key claims:

  1. The moral community should include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or, what Leopold calls, collectively, “the land”
  2. The role of people should shift from conqueror to an equal member of the land community
  3. We can be moral only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, respect, admire, or otherwise have faith in
  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” is Leopold’s ultimate moral maxim.
Ego VS Eco

Making the Shift

Whether an action is right or wrong is determined by reference to the consequences of those actions. This is rooted in Utilitarianism, a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. However, for Leopold, the relevant consequences are in nature. Leopold introduces these four moral concepts that go beyond those made by either Western philosophy or  ethics that emerge later such as animal ethics.

Leopold believed that an ecological interpretation of history shows that “the rich diversity of the world’s cultures reflects a corresponding diversity in the wilds that gave them birth.” Cultural diversity reflects ecological diversity. The preservation of cultural diversity and biodiversity are key to maintaining a balanced society and Earth.

As we say where I’m from, “Y’all means all!”

It is important to care for all people and all animals and all of our Earth!

Which part of the graphic do you resemble: Ego, Eco, or somewhere in between? Is it because you haven’t really thought about it or what are your reasons? I love to hear from y’all!


    1. I definitely agree! I think people falsely see environmentalism as a movement putting other animals before humans, but it is all interconnected.


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