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Environmental Ethics

Volume 10, Issue 1, Spring 1988

Christopher Manes
Pages 75-82

Philosophy and the Environmental Task

Although the particular ethical consequenees of biocentrism can be defended at a logical level, the centrality of problems with valuational frameworks in biocentric ethics leads to ontologieal ambiguities which contribute to the broader problematic of modem metaphysics. I suggest, however, that this may actually help to thematize the relationship between the metaphysieal foundations of environmentalism and its social task. Mysticism and phenomenology, including the concept of the “ecological self,” attempt to settle these ambiguities in a dialectical opposition to the technological world view behind the environmental crisis. Whatever ontological stability they achieve, however, is at the expense of being assimilated by the same kind of metaphysical totalization characterizing technological thinking. Unlike anthropocentrism and the stewardship model of environmentalism, nevertheless, these difficulties for biocentrism lead to positive results: the ambiguities in the search for philosophic stability and foundational certainty can act as a cue to the nonmetaphysical task of analyzing and resisting technological power. The result may be a “negative ethics,” but one that holds out the possibility of confronting the real power relations of technological culture (and the use of ethics within them), rather than pursuing the endless projeet of discovering the hidden source of value and meaning.

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