Assigned Reading

Williston, chapter 6

  Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson you should be able to:

Explain what naturism is and how it supports an oppressive conceptual framework

Describe the three waves of feminism

Explain how value hierarchies and dualisms work in patriarchal thinking

Explain the difference between ecofeminist views and ecofeminine views




Ecofeminism grew out of the larger feminist movement in the second half of the 20th-century. The main idea of ecofeminism is that there is an intimate connection between men’s domination of women and the human domination of nature.



Let’s begin with two important definitions:

  • Definition: Sexism is the view that women are inferior to men and ought to be subordinate to them
  • Definition: Naturism is the view that nature ought to be dominated by humans

The article The Power and The Promise of Ecological Feminism by Karen Warren (pp. 154-161) is a famous attempt to show how these two ideas are linked in the Western imagination. Warren begins by introducing the notion of a ‘conceptual framework.’ Conceptual frameworks are particular lenses through which we view the world, especially the relation among various kinds of entities in that world. Warren is especially interested in conceptual frameworks that involve oppression of one group of people over another, or of people over natural objects.

Be sure that you understand how both sexism and naturism are oppressive conceptual frameworks in this sense.

Warren’s innovation is to suggest that the same logic that underlies the domination of men over women also explains the domination of humans over nature. It follows that if we could rid ourselves of patriarchy, we might be able to establish a healthier relationship to the natural world.




On Domination

But what is the force of Warren’s claim here? Is it to suggest that all sexists are also naturists and vice-versa or that, historically, the two modes of domination have often been found together? Look carefully at Williston’s discussion of these problems (pp. 161-162), and then decide for yourself.

One of the best insights we find in ecofeminism is the idea that oppressive conceptual frameworks are usually supported by ‘value dualisms.’ Consider the opposed pairs:

  • Women/men
  • Nature/culture
  • Private sphere/public sphere
  • Emotions/reason



Ecofeminism Now

The items on the left have traditionally been seen as inferior to the items on the right. So, why don’t we just invert these value designations and say that the items on the left are superior to the items on the right?

Many feminists resist this move because it essentializes women. That is, it assumes, uncritically, that women are by their nature more emotional than men, and so on. But there is no reason to believe this is true. Read the article by Trish Glazebrook beginning on p. 164, to get a sense of this criticism as well as some additional updates that have been made to ecofeminist theory since the appearance of Warren’s article.



Finally consider Williston’s criticisms of ecofeminism (pp. 172-174), especially what he has to say about the feminist criticism of deep ecology. Do you agree with his claims? Why or why not?





Ecofeminism challenges traditional environmental ethics by showing us that we cannot think about environmental issues without also tackling the larger social problem of sexism. If successful, it widens and deepens our understanding of the complexities of the human/nature relationship considerably.


At least 500 words



The critical summary is your chance to reflect on the case studies at the end of the textbook’s chapters. They should be succinct and accomplish three broad goals: (a) convey the content of the

study; (b) assess the argument of the study; and (c) make reference to two themes from the relevant chapter that help elucidate your points. Your course materials contain a model summary and a guide to writing critical summaries. For each critical summary assignment, you will have a choice of case studies to write about, 3as follows:

Critical summary #: case study from chapter 6.






Tips for Writing a Critical Summary 

A summary is essentially a tool to help you in the task of careful and critical reading. Once acquired, the habit of critical analysis will serve you in everything you read. You should make it a practice to continue writing such summaries for your own benefit even when you are not required to turn them in. What follows are some tips on how to go about it.

A good piece of philosophical writing can generally be seen as an attempt to give reasons for believing a thesis. Your summary should do two things:

Analyse the argument and exhibit its structure.

Give a critical assessment of it.

To exhibit the structure of an argument, you will distinguish: Premises (the propositions that the argument requires you accept at the outset), and conclusions (the thesis that the author is trying to get you to agree with).

Sometimes (not always), the conclusion will be meant to follow deductively. Other times the argument will not be so tight. It will often be useful to ferret out unargued assumptions, including especially unexpressed ones, which are needed for the argument to go through. (Note that the premises don’t necessarily come first. Often a writer, for reasons of convenience or style, will say not “A, therefore B,” but “B, because A.

Pick out all and only the main points. Use a Top-Down approach: that is to say, first ask yourself what, in a sentence or two, is the point of the whole passage or article. In your summary, you can start with that brief statement. Then go on to each principal part of the argument, and repeat the process until you have got down to a level of detail adequate for the space available in your summary. If the passage is very long, there will obviously have to be less detail. But mastery of a text requires the ability to summarize it to any desired length. When something remains unclear, don’t gloss it over, but draw attention to it. Pick out any “crux” or difficulty of interpretation. Don’t be afraid of admitting that you don’t understand something, but try to say as clearly as possible what you find had to understand, and why. Sharpen any difficulty found by offering alternative interpretations.

Make very clear when you are no longer stating what your author says, but have come to your own critical assessment. At this point, indicate briefly whether and why you think the premises and assumptions you have been asked to accept are true or false, plausible or implausible. If the argument is deductive, indicate whether it is valid; if it is not deductive say whether your find it acceptable, and if not, why. One way is to look for more or less remote consequences of the thesis that may turn out to be unacceptable. It is always a useful exercise to try as hard as you can to find good reasons to disagree with what a writer says, especially if you agree. Conversely, if you disagree with the conclusion, try hard to make up an independent defence of it. It is generally a good idea to assume that the authors of philosophical texts are often wrong, but also that they are not idiots.

If the argument is bad, explain how:
o Are one or more of the premises false? (This makes the argument unsound)
o Does the conclusion follow? (This makes the argument invalid)
o Does the argument rely on assumptions that are unacceptable, or arbitrary, or debatable? o Does the argument contain crucial ambiguities? (An ambiguous word or phrase is one

that has more than one possible meaning. This can foul up an argument!) o Is rhetoric substituted for argument at some crucial stage?

In addition, point out anything about the logic of the substance of the argument that seems especially interesting. It can be interesting because you strongly agree or because you strongly disagree. In either case, you should try briefly to justify your view.


A summary is not easy. You should omit all the scholarly, decorative, and rhetorical features of an essay. This means: no introduction; no generalities; no background material; no footnotes; no bibliography; no quotations (except when the precise wording raises a problem to be discussed); no purple prose or fancy phrases.

Don’t necessarily follow the exact order of exposition of the original: many authors will use repetitions and amplifications that make it relatively easy to rearrange some topics.


Provide references to specific pages or sections — especially if you have rearranged the order. Good luck, and remember to enjoy yourself. If the enjoyment is mixed with pain, think of it as spice. 

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