Environmental Ethics

Volume 41, Issue 2, Summer 2019

Christopher Cohoon
Pages 143-163

Human Edibility, Ecological Embodiment
Plumwood and Levinas

In her analyses of human ecological alienation, Val Plumwood implies that the recalcitrant problem of human exceptionalism is sustained in part by a kind of imaginative failure, by a certain blind spot to the ecological edibility of the human body. Among the many assumptions responsible for the blind spot, Plumwood suggests, is the liberal conception of the body as something proprietary, as something one owns. Plumwood’s work therefore establishes a new, if counterintuitive, task for environmental philosophy: to find or create models of human embodiment that do not preempt but rather enable access to edibility. One such model can be found in Emmanuel Levinas’s late concept of the pre-egoic ethical body (“recurrence”). This otherwise elusive and frequently neglected concept ought to be understood as a boldly materialist appropriation of Plotinian emanationism. So understood, it provides a path beyond the blind spot that Plumwood identifies. Taking up Levinas in this way opens a new path for environmental philosophy into his idiosyncratic thought—a path distinct, that is, from the standard extensionist maneuver of seeking nonhuman applications for his ultra-humanist notion of the face.