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Environmental Ethics

Volume 40, Issue 3, Fall 2018

Tony Chackal
Pages 215-239

Place, Community, and the Generation of Ecological Autonomy

Autonomy is traditionally considered to be an epistemic capacity of individuals to think for themselves, and the community is held to be its central obstruction. Autonomy is the internal capacity to freely use reason to form beliefs and preferences that are one’s own. It is premised on the atomistic individual conceived as a decontextualized rational mind. Accordingly, natural, physical, and social externalities have not been included in discourse on autonomy. But if individuals are seen as embodied dwellers within social and natural environments and are reconceived as ecological, that is, partly constituted by their environments, then autonomy must likewise be reconceived. Ecological autonomy is an internal epistemic capacity to think and an external actional capacity to act for oneself in relation to other individuals and environments. Whereas traditional and even relational autonomy require that competency and authenticity conditions must be met for internal thinking, ecological autonomy requires two sets of competency and authenticity conditions, one for internal thought and one for external action. An ecological treatment holds that while community can obstruct autonomy, it also generates and sustains it to reveal how community and place are co-defined as mutually constitutive companion concepts with alternate emphases. Place emphasizes physical and social, and natural and artificial environments, but includes people and social practices. Community emphasizes people, social practices, knowledge, and values, but includes the environing world.

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