Environmental Ethics

Volume 30, Issue 4, Winter 2008

Brian Treanor
Pages 361-379

Narrative Environmental Virtue Ethics
Phronesis without a Phronimos

It is increasingly clear that virtue ethics has an important role to play in environmental ethics. However, virtue ethics—which has always been characterized by a degree of ambiguity—is faced with substantial challenges in the contemporary “postmodern” cultural milieu. Among these challenges is the lure of relativism. Most virtue ethics depend upon some view of the good life; however, today there is no unambiguous, easily agreed-upon account of the good life. Rather, we are presented with a bewildering variety of conflicting accounts of the good life. Narrative—in particular Paul Ricoeur’s account of narrative identity—has much to contribute to virtue ethics, including resources that can help us respond to the chal­lenges presented by the postmodern context. Narrative constitutes an “ethical laboratory” by providing us with an “as if” experience through which we can try out various ethical alternatives. Two sorts of environmental narratives, working in concert, further help to limit relativist objections: (1) narratives of environmental survival (which identify dispositions, such as simplicity, necessary for our long-term survival) and (2) narratives of environmental flourishing (which make a virtue of necessity by pointing out those dispositions necessary for our survival often contribute to our flourishing beyond mere survival).