Death of Nature” and “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism”
This essay will provide a critical summary and response of the books “The Death of Nature” by Caroline Merchant and “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism” by Karen Warren. The summary will summarize the main argument of each ecofeminism author. The response will argue the position that nature is defenseless matter and thus subject to human domination and that women and men should be viewed as complimentary of one another rather than oppositional.
The book “The Death of Nature” by Caroline Merchant seeks to explain the historic correlation between the supremacy of nature and women. Merchant asserts that the scientific revolution fashioned a society that perpetuates a mechanistic view of nature rather than an organic view of a feminine natural world that was in existence before the revolution. The former views nature as inert matter that is subject to human domination, while the latter view emphasizes mutual existence between the environment and human beings. (Armitage on Merchant’s; Death of Nature)
Merchant argues that the organic view of nature was essential to the development of democratic societies. This argument is based on the premise that before the era of the scientific revolution the connection between women and nature spawned utopian thought which “envisioned an organic society characterized by communal sharing of goods, property and knowledge.” (Armitage on Merchant’s; Death of Nature)
Merchant also argues that the ideological combination of social and natural disorder created a modern society with attitudes toward witchcraft that demolished the organic view of nature. Merchant writes, “the disorder symbolized in the microcosm by the dissolution of the frame of nature and the uncivilized wilderness of the new world, in society by the witch who controlled the forces of nature and the women who overturned its order…heralded the death of the old order of nature.”(Merchant)
In short Merchant contends that the organic view of nature is what is needed to ensure the longevity of nature and women. She holds the belief that the mechanistic view of nature is consequential in that it views women and nature as inert matter, which need to be controlled and dominated. Merchant concludes that the only way to preserve a democratic society is to readapt the pre-modern organic view of a feminine natural world.
The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism” by Karen Warren argues that “the promise and power of ecological feminism is that it provides a distinctive framework both for reconceiving feminism and for developing an environmental ethic which takes seriously connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature.” (Warren)
The book begins by explaining oppressive patriarchal conceptual frameworks and the effect that they have on the dominance of nature and women. Merchant writes, “When an oppressive conceptual framework is patriarchal, it explains, justifies, and maintains the subordination of women by men.”(Warren) Warren explains that there are three characteristics of an oppressive conceptual framework; 1 Value-hierachal thinking which places greater value on what is perceived as greater rather than what is perceived as less; 2 Value dualisms which perceive that things are oppositional rather than complimentary; 3 and Logic of domination which asserts that subordination is justifiable. (Warren)
Warren asserts that the third characteristic of the oppressive conceptual framework is the most significant because, logic of domination is not just a logical structure. It also involves a substantive value system, since an ethical premise is needed to permit or sanction the “just” subordination of that which is subordinate. This justification typically is given on grounds of some alleged characteristic (e.g., rationality) which the dominant (e.g., men) have and the subordinate (e.g., women) lack.” (Warren)
Warren argues that the logic of domination in the realm of ecofeminism asserts that humans have the capacity to radically change the community while plants and rocks do not therefore humans are superior to plants and rocks. Furthermore Women are identified with nature and the realm of the physical; men are identified with the “human” and the realm of the mental. Whatever is identified with nature and the realm of the physical is inferior to (“below”) whatever is identified with the “human” and the realm of the mental: or, conversely, the latter is superior to (“above”) the former. Thus, women are inferior to (“below”) men; or, conversely, men are superior to (“above”) women.” (Warren)
The main argument of this book is that feminism and environmental ethics must be refocused and re-visioned before the power and importance of ecofeminism can be realized. Warren concludes that feminists’ theories and environmental ethics must take into consideration the effect of the interconnection between the domination of women and nature.
Both of these authors make valid points about the historical dominance of women and nature. Merchants’ conclusion that the organic view of nature is superior to the mechanistic view is grounded in utopianism, which is by definition an impractical idealistic concept for social and political reform. In other words the view is a really nice one but it would never work in a society because it does not take into consideration all of the variables that create a society. It excludes variables such as race, religion, economics and morality.
Furthermore she asserts that before the scientific revolution neither human beings nor nature had dominance, which is clearly untrue. Man has always dominated nature, because man has the capacity to decide which tree is chopped down and which plants are allowed to grow. Nature can surprise man in the form of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions but nature cannot decide whether or not man will destroy it because nature does not have the ability to defend itself against man. Therefore nature is composed of defenseless matter that is subject to human domination.
My position also focuses on the characteristic of value dualism argued by Warren. I believe that this is actually the most important and significant characteristic. As explained previously value dualism is founded on the belief that when human characteristics are different they can’t compliment one another. It is this belief that that allows the idea of logical dominance to permeate a society because it creates a “war between the sexes” where one sex creates logical explanations as to why it should dominate the other sex.
It is my contention that the idea of value dualism creates the erroneous attitude that men are superior because nature dictates that they are logical. The ability of a man to use logic only makes him unique not superior likewise the ability of a woman to use her emotions makes her unique and not inferior. The ability to use emotions and logic to make a decision is what creates a stable society. For instance it may seem logical to close all of the American borders and not let anyone in or out of the country in lieu of the terrorist attacks but one also has to use their emotions to understand how devastating such a decision would be for people fleeing persecution and poverty. This is why I believe that women and men should be complimentary of one another rather than oppositional.
Armitage on Merchant’s; Death of Nature. http://www.mail-archive.com//msg07778.html
Merchant, Carolyn. “The Death of Nature.” In: Zimmerman, Michael (Ed.) (1993): Environmental Philosophy. From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. S. 268-283.
Warren, Karen. “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism” (Online)
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