November 18, 2009
In this chapter Jenkins pursues criteria for what makes an environmental ethic ‘practical’ and suggests that a synthesis of the three schools or strains of ethics would provide a guide to some minimal standards of practicality. The challenges he sees to practicality are first a deep pluralism of viewpoints, and second the tendency to deal with that pluralism by finding an ‘unjustified keystone’ (p.39) or some other organizing principle that cannot contain the breadth of argument and therefore fails to persuade in a practical direction.
In addition to and partly as a result of practical questions, a second ‘clue’ emerges. As he puts it: “By consistently associating the ‘practical’ with social experience, pragmatists draw attention to the way ethical concepts make environmental issues morally significant within patterns of personal and social experience.” (p.40)
He spends the rest of this chapter describing proposals with a view to their ‘mutual intelligibility’ around a) nature’s standing; b) human agency; and c) ecological subjectivity.
With respect to Nature’s Standing: Some argue for an ethic based on some intrinsic value to nature dependent on neither an anthropocentric slant (i.e. justifying Nature’s value in relation to human life) nor an economic justification (i.e. nature is valuable in economic terms such as sustainability for life in the long run).
With respect to Moral Agency: ethicists seek to overcome problems of direct appeal to nature’s standing. An example comes from Steven Vogel. When the ethicist shows “the extent to which the world we inhabit is already humanized” she makes us “see the world we inhabit as something for which we are responsible, in both the causal and the moral sense of that word.” In turn we realize that we “produce the world through our practices and can change it only by changing those practices.” (cited on p.50) This collection of strategies begins by evaluating models of environmental Practice in their sociopolitical contexts. (p.51)
With respect to Ecological Subjectivity: the environment is considered as reciprocal subject (presumably in contrast to object of human activity). The diverse schools of thought within this strategy all know that “an environmental ethic must account for the ecological dimensions of human personhood. (p.57)
I confess that my lack of familiarity with this field of environmental ethics is making this heavy going for me and I have to work constantly to try and understand what is at stake in the various theories. Even when I think I understand the nuances of the various ethical approaches, I am still a long way from connecting these theories with my on existence except n a theoretical sense. Yes I am bound up with and shaped by my environment even as I in turn shape it by the way I live. Suggesting that I am, or ought to be, in ‘dialog’ with nature really doesn’t take me anywhere. I have no objection to the concept but am no closer to heartfelt caring in a way that makes this a priority for me or a compelling appeal. It all seems to be above my pay grade and I hope the people who have apparently managed to ensure that no new or significant accords will come from the Copenhagen meeting know what they are doing. Jenkins does help me grasp that ‘the debates’ about differing ethical premises can easily lead to inaction.
Can anyone help me with good questions after reading this chapter?