Ecological politics and moral theory

Exploring different environmental positions draws attention to the need to consider proposals for humanity to restructure its basic institutions to realise environmental values. In particular, social ecology and deep/Deep Ecology are limited in that they do not provide sufficient analyses of the social conditions limiting the effectiveness of our basic institutions of governance. The inter-relationships between humanity and Nature must be considered in conjunction with the social causes that give rise to social problems. In sum, social and deep ecology fail to recognise the aesthetic dimensions that Taylor refers to as the awe of Nature. Complex intrinsicbased arguments, constructed at a meta-theoretical level, can obfuscate real-world dilemmas. Here, Matthews seems to accept the thrust of what Young calls a ‘stopping point’ approach, offers some hope (see Chapter 1 of this book).

While metaphors such as ‘space-ship earth’ are advanced to ‘think global/ act local’ or to respect Nature’s intrinsic value can be avoided when we consider the type of community in which we want to live. Thinking about how we live and act in the world involves many things, not the least is an awareness of the processes of global capitalism. Arguably, interpretivism thinking invites us to keep in mind those factors that involve the construction of new political arrangements where Nature’s non-instrumental good is expressed (Lehman, 2010a, 2010b, 2011a, 2011b). It was argued, then, that humanity’s aims and aspirations might be combined within a different vision of the natural environment. Taylor’s work extends those 18th-century thinkers who were concerned to show that humans were endowed with a moral sense, ‘an intuitive feeling of right and wrong’. The original point of moral thinking is to combat a rival view, that knowing right and wrong was a matter of calculating consequences, in particular those concerned with divine reward and punishment. Thus, understanding right and wrong is not a matter of dry calculation but is anchored in our feelings. Morality has, in a sense, a voice within each person that connects us with the natural world.

First, interpretative strategists associated with hermeneutic thought have, in recent times, been taking an interpretive and realist perspective. They follow Gadamer and Heidegger in focusing on the coping skills that people use in their everyday life. Direct coping suggests a way of explaining human action which is at odds with the supposition that the mind must first represent an idea before thinking and processing it. These developments in hermeneutic thought maintain that it is possible to articulate how understanding and meaning imbue the practices in which we live and act. This argument is based on developing a ‘best account’ of a problematic situation: on a hermeneutic account, this involves exploring how modes of thought and action characteristic of certain horizons and practices bear upon the structures of thought we use to make particular interpretations. The art of interpretation, on this view, builds a richer picture; one which draws out both the expressive and individual dimensions associated with ideological, political and philosophical positions.

Second, the reasons for preserving Nature and exploring its value involve strong evaluations that offer reasons that shape the horizons and beings that we are. In this tradition, hermeneutic thinkers such as Gadamer and Taylor have been notable in articulating some reasons why moral terms can be used to account for human life and the natural environment. These terms involve understanding the sources and structures of the self which involves

Deep Ecology and interpretation 241 the supposition that Nature is a voice within each of us. This way of thinking, in turn, shapes how we think about our practices so that they can be structured to accommodate the well-being of citizens and also preserve authentic Nature. The argument in this book maintains that well-being and authentic Nature are not mutually exclusive concepts and reflect a misology towards reason: that is, attitudes towards Nature need not reflect hatred towards humans and human society. Extreme environmentalists have expressed arguments that humanity is against Nature.

It will be recalled that Frodeman famously declared humanity to be ‘a blight on the planet’, but these marginal positions are politically problematic. Central to the argument of this book is that a well-functioning, cosmopolitan social system which is properly organised and structured should be able to combine these twin objectives. According to Dreyfus, Heidegger, and Taylor, our human nature involves our capacity to reason as world disclosers. That is, by means of our equipment and coordinated practices we human beings open coherent, distinct contexts or worlds in which we perceive, act, and think. Each such vision of the world makes possible a distinct and pervasive way in which things, people, and selves can appear and in which certain ways of acting make sense.

Heidegger’s (1962) Being and Time called a world an understanding of being and argued that such an understanding of being is what makes it possible for us to encounter people and things as such. He considered his discovery of the ontological difference - which is the difference between the understanding of being and the beings that can show up given an understanding of being. This of course being his famous contribution to Western thought. The key to my argument is to relate these ideas to the Natural world without imposing values on others.

It seems that a core truth in both deep ecology and interpretivism is that humanity cannot control the world. And from deep ecology to Heidegger’s work we have different elements about how to understand the whole, and parts within it. In Singer’s case, his work on animal liberation drew attention to the plight of farmyard animals, and the unethical treatment our current social systems put upon other beings. In Johnson’s case, he was trying to tease out the moral worth implicit in deep ecology using some of the richer techniques introduced by Singer. Thirdly, the research isolated Freya Matthew’s work which used some biological principles to explore the holistic dimension of deep ecology.

To this point, the book has found that from deep ecology to Matthews’ biocentricism, all these theories had a somewhat narrow view of a holistic political ethic. The aim was to find not only political problems in each of these theories which explored deep ecological concepts but to work towards an ethic which could see value in the world in a way that did not rely on giving trees rights, weighing interests arbitrarily - the search was to find an ethic that accommodated the notion of earth as a whole without denigrating or ignoring the suffering of many communities throughout theworld. The interpretivist search was seen to balance environmental value, community rights and understand what being in the world means.

 
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