Ecological responsibility as an imperative and a virtue
Scott, Robert Henry
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In preparation for presenting a phenomenological ethical theory centered on ecological responsibility as a diachronic imperative and a hybrid virtue, I establish, in the first two chapters, that a comprehensive ethical theory must be grounded in reason and must also be consistent with a theory of being. After identifying problems stemming from ontological dualism and substance ontology in modern and ancient ethical theories respectively, I argue for a relational ontology as one that meets the requisite criteria of adequately reflecting the way things are and of cohering with an inclusive ethical theory. I then go on to argue for the normativity of transcendental phenomenological rationality as the theory of reason on which to base the theory of ecological responsibility. Following this preliminary work, I present a thought experiment involving a transcendental phenomenological reinterpretation of the Aristotelian intellectual virtues, the conclusion of which is that ecological responsibility can be understood as a hybrid intellectual virtue in that it carries, on a level plane, both practical and theoretical implications. I then turn to compare the concept of ecological responsibility to Emmanuel Levinas’ phenomenology of unlimited responsibility arising through language in the relation to the other. While neo-Cartesian elements of Levinas’ theory come under criticism, I retrieve (with some modifications) his phenomenological description of the emergence of an imperative for unlimited responsibility and of the temporal character of responsibility as diachronic. Then, through a broadening of the conceptions of language and dialogue, drawing from Val Plumwood and others, I argue that a strong demand for ecological responsibility arises in our relation to both human and nonhuman entities. In the last chapter, I consider the effectiveness of the phenomenological theory of ecological responsibility as an imperative and a virtue in responding to the ethical challenges that arise from climate change in relation to comparable contemporary theories, including Hans Jonas’ theory of responsibility as an imperative and Dale Jamieson’s green virtues approach. I conclude that the phenomenological theory of ecological responsibility serves to strengthen the imperative for directing both individual and collective action towards addressing long-range environmental ethical problems such as that of climate change.