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Environmental Ethics

Volume 38, Issue 3, Fall 2016

Samantha Clark
Pages 327-346

Nothing Really Matters
Jean-Paul Sartre, Negation, and Nature

Arguments set out by Timothy Morton, Ted Toadvine, and J. Baird Callicott et al. suggest that the remedy to the dualistic account that places “human” in binary opposition to “nature” is not to deny difference, but to understand the process of differentiation in a way that recognizes our interdependence, and yet still leaves space for the unknowable “Otherness” of nature. Callicott et al. argue that Aldo Leopold’s land ethic authentically recognizes the difference and freedom of wild animal Others, arguing that Levinas’ ethics of the Other is really a “same-based” ethics in disguise. Morton and Toadvine have considered ways in which another aspect of Levinas’ thought, the “il y a” (the “there is”), could be a means by which we might understand “wild” nature. A more metaphysical understanding of Levinas’ “face” recognizes the Other’s unknowability, but frames the ethical relation as external. Jean-Paul Sartre’s account of negation and human reality as “lack” frames this relation as one that arises internally, and thus can usefully inform the strand of environmental thought that is concerned with acknowledging the irreducible Otherness of nature.

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