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Environmental Ethics

Volume 26, Issue 3, Fall 2004

Rachel Brown
Pages 247-265

Righting Ecofeminist Ethics
The Scope and Use of Moral Entitlement

Rights have been criticized as incorporating features that are antithetical to ecofeminism: rights are allegedly inherently adversarial; they are based on a conception of the person that fails to reflect women’s experience, biased in an illegitimate way toward humans rather than nonhumans, overly formal, and incapable of admitting the importance of emotion in ethics. Such criticisms are founded in misunderstandings of the ways in which rights operate and may be met by an adequate theory of rights. The notions of entitlement and immunity that flow from a conception of rights have great use and potential in environmental ethics. Nonetheless, our understanding of moral rights must be revised in order to realize this potential. The usual attribution of moral rights is structurally arbitrary because obligations arising from others’ rights are unjustifiably distinguished from other sorts of obligations for which the same sorts of justificatory bases obtain. Once this arbitrariness is recognized, there remains little reason not to extend a continuous framework of entitlement toward nonhuman animals and nature more generally. Reassessing moral rights according to a basic principle of respect delivers an integrated account of our moral obligations toward one another, and a satisfactory basis from which to account for our diverse obligations toward nonhuman animals and the environment.

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