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Environmental Ethics

Volume 38, Issue 2, Summer 2016

Yogi Hale Hendlin, Konrad Ott
Pages 183-208

Habermas on Nature
A Postnormal Reading between Moral Intuitions and Theoretical Restrictiveness

Environmental ethicists typically consider Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action to exclude moral consideration for nonhuman animals. Habermas's early work indeed limits relationships with nature to instrumental ones. Yet, interspersed throughout Habermas's writings are clear indications that nonhuman life deserves moral consideration, and that humans can enter into communicative relationships with nonhumans, however asymmetrical. Habermas’s anthropocentric theoretical foundations can achieve a revised, reflective equilibrium congruent with his persistent intuitions that nonhumans also possess powers of communication (but not discourse) that would grant them moral consideration, perhaps allowing us to enter into non-linguistic interspecies communicative activity. Habermasians can incorporate non-instrumental relationships with nature into discourse ethics’ set of applications without ignoring the special role of language in communication. Rather than holding that the differencia specifica between humans and nonhumans exists in communication, it makes more sense instead to displace this distinction between communicative action as a general category and the special case of discourse. Doing so permits intuitions of nonhuman moral considerability and communicative possibility without altering the discursive core of Habermas’s theory.

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