Volume 41, Issue 1, Spring 2019
Tetsuro Watsuji’s Milieu and Intergenerational Environmental Ethics
The concept of humans as relational individuals living in a milieu can provide some solutions to various obstacles of theorization that are standing in the way of an ethics of sustainability. The idea of a milieu was developed by Tetsuro Watsuji as a web of signification and symbols. It refers to the environment as lived by a subjective relational human being and not as artificially objectified. The milieu can neither be separated from its temporal—or historical—dimension as it is directly related to the “now” of perceptions and actions in the world. In other words, elements of the natural milieu can be said to have a constitutive value as they contribute to our well-being by helping us make sense of our life and our world. In their temporal and relational dimensions, Watsuji’s notions of the milieu and human being are thus directly related to the notion of sustainability. This concept offers some convincing solutions to overcoming the problem of temporal distance, by shifting the center of argumentation from unknown, passive, and biologically dependent not-yet- born people to the transmission of a meaningful historical milieu. The turning point here is that if what matters is the survival of ideal and material projects that people live (and sometimes die) for, then future generations have tremendous power over them, as the actions of those future people will determine the success or failure of the projects started by present generations.