Volume 15, Issue 1, Spring 2018
Environmental Hermeneutics: In Memory of W. S. K. “Scott” Cameron
Sean J. McGrath
In Defense of the Human Difference
Against the prevalent trend in eco-criticism which is to deny the human difference, I summon a set of untimely tropes from metaphysics in the interest of advancing an ecological humanism: the difference in kind between human consciousness and animal sensibility; the uniquely human capacity for moral discernment; and the human being’s peculiar freedom from the material conditions of existence. While I agree with eco-critics who argue that anthropocenic nature is not only finite, but sick: sickened by our abuse and neglect, I disagree that this abuse is simply a result of insisting on the human difference (“anthropocentrism”), nor is species egalitarianism the way forward. On the contrary, the eco-collapse, referred to as the sixth great extinction event, is the consequence of a general disavowal of the human’s special call to take responsibility for the relation between the human and the non-human, and only a re-awakening of this responsibility can restore health to anthropocenic nature. The non-human cannot effect this restoration, for that is not its vocation. A difference in vocation is not necessarily a difference in moral worth, and so the human difference does not justify denying the “intrinsic value” of the non-human. Humanity is uniquely responsible both for the mess we are in and for cleaning it up.