Ethics & the Environment, Volume 14, Number 2, Fall 2009
Developing Val Plumwood’s Dialogical Ethical Ontology and Its Consequences for a Place-Based Ethic
This essay attempts to develop the foundations of what Val Plumwood calls a “dialogical ethical ontology.” I defend Plumwood’s analysis situating the conceptual roots of the environmental crisis in dualistic thinking, but disagree that a solution is arrived at in an intentional, teleological conception of nature. Rather than arguing for a substantial union of mind and nature, I argue that a relational ontology ought to be adopted. This analysis is carried out by examining three aspects of Plumwood’s philosophy: the ascription of “mind-like properties” to nature, her taking nature to be autonomous on the basis of that ascription, and the claim that sensitivity to place is necessary to the development of ethical dispositions toward nature. I conclude by presenting how her ethical views might be adjusted to accommodate the transition from a substantial ontology to a relational one.
Attending to Nature: Empathetic Engagement with the More than Human World
Val Plumwood urged us to attend to earth others in non-dualistic ways. In this essay I suggest that such attention be promoted through what I call "engaged empathy." Engaged empathy involves critical attention to the conditions that undermine the well-being or flourishing of those to whom empathy is directed and this requires moral agents to attend to things they might not have otherwise. Engaged empathy requires gaining wisdom and perspective and, importantly, motivates the empathizer to act ethically.
Extending Plumwood’s Critique of Rationalism Through Imagery and Metaphor
Val Plumwood’s criticism of the ecologically irrational p-centric logic of rationalism, which neglects or denies its dependence on all that is not-p, undercutting its own biological base while denying the illness of the culture it has spawned, is juxtaposed with the clinical picture of the linguistic left hemisphere acting without benefit of input from the more real-time-and-space-centered right. Exploring the metaphor suggests that visual gestalts depicting actual relationships might be effective in drawing our industrial culture’s collective attention away from its fascination with endless lines of alphabetic characters and abstract numbers multiplying their way toward infinity, bringing it back to reality and ecological rationality. In illustration, ongoing habitat destruction wrought on the ground as humans follow the detached logic of economic rationalism is seen to reflect, rather than the illusion of eternal “growth” conveyed by Cartesian axes, the relentless finitude of chaos theory’s Sierpinski gasket.
The Nature of the Future: An Ecocritical Model
Contemporary sociopolitical philosophies in Africa, such as feminism, postcolonialism and environmentalism, can interact with traditional cultural practices in dynamic and complex ways. This paper employs Val Plumwood’s ecofeminist deconstruction of dualism to analyze the relationship between traditional and modern culture in postcolonial African literature, with a focus on the practice of bride price as depicted in the play The Challenge of Fende by Cameroonian author Victor Musinga.
In this paper I explore some of the ramifications that thinking ecologically has on thinking about the human self, identity, and ethics. Inspired and informed by the work of the late Val Plumwood, I recommend new directions for Plumwood’s application of ecological continuity to human self-concept. I applaud Plumwood’s recognition of continuity as a key theoretical concept. Her work on revising selfhood in ways both 1) consistent with various insights of ecology, and 2) informed by oppression theory, is innovative and a crucial theoretical move. Building on the work of Plumwood, I argue that an ecological self-concept should reflect dimensions of “open continuity” with the environment. Open continuity literally requires opening one’s self-concept in ways that require revising many presumptions of where one’s self leaves off and the other begins. The familiar notion of a clearly bound human self cannot serve as the hub of moral action and theory if it is to reflect key ecological insights. Attending to ecological selfhood reshapes human self-concept and the moral terrain.
Val Plumwood & Ecofeminist Political Solidarity: Standing With The Natural Other
Val Plumwood has asserted that the appropriate stance toward the more-than-human world is not one of identification or unity, but of solidarity “in the political sense.” But can the language of solidarity be extended or revised to articulate a particular kind of ethico-political relationship between humans and the more-than-human world? Can the term “political solidarity” be accurately and productively used to describe a relationship between humans and the more-than-human world in which humans and non-humans struggle together to alter ecosocially-oppressive states of affairs? What else is at stake in this question? The work of Plumwood prompts ecofeminism to attend to these inquiries. In this essay, the work of Plumwood is brought together with that of feminist political philosopher Sally Scholz, who offers a non-environmental account of political solidarity. This essay shows how both theorists, despite disagreement over whether non-humans can be “in” solidarity with the more-than-human world, intend that the concept of solidarity do the same sort of ethico-political work in achieving mutuality without hegemonic over-identification with the oppressed by the privileged. Then, to examine how solidarity between humans and the more-than-human world works “in action,” the essay ends with a brief consideration of the shared political life of human and non-human actors in the direct-action forest defense movement of the Pacific Northwest.
Plumwood’s Logic of Colonization and the Legal Antecedents of Wilderness
Donna M. Reeves
Val Plumwood argued for a reworking of our concept of wilderness in ways that would both recognize indigenous influence and expand the official “fake” history to include perspective from the Others’side. Borrowing from Plumwood’s logic of colonization, I explore how the official history of wilderness in the United States of America is similar to Tasmania’s “fake” history. I offer a philosophical analysis of Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the case of Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) where the “wilderness” finds its first legal articulation. I argue that although multiple erasures of the Other as found in Marshall’s concept of wilderness are serious problems, they do not support wilderness scepticism. Rather, in order to reshape the concept of wilderness in a new non-colonizing way, its antecedents must be clearly understood. Only then can we escape the precedents of control and find an ethical basis to repair the nature/culture split ending the war on the Other.
Plumwood, Property, Selfhood and Sustainability
Piers H.G. Stephens
In her final book, Environmental Culture as well as elsewhere, Val Plumwood advances the view that sustainability should properly be seen as emergent from an ecofeminist partnership ethic of nourishment and support between humans and nonhuman nature, and that such an ethic must replace the characteristic institutional structures and dominant conceptions of rationality found in capitalist modernity. In making this case, Plumwood impressively charts the impact and significance of the expansionist, exclusionary models of the disembodied but appropriative self found in Cartesian and Lockean thought along with the impact of private property doctrines derived from this source. However, whilst making reference to ecosocialist alternatives at the broader political level, Plumwood offers no systematic account of property that might dovetail with her wider philosophical concerns. In this paper I attempt to generate the start of such an account, drawing on Plumwood’s own canon and bringing it into relationship with (i) reflections on ideas of belonging and culture drawn from a range of thinkers including Erazim Kohák, Erich Fromm, and William James and (ii) the contemporary debate over the relationship between green political thought and the liberal democratic tradition.
Considering Animals: Kheel's Nature Ethics and Animal Debates in Ecofeminism
A review of Marti Kheel’s, Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).