Ontology and ethics at the intersection of phenomenology and environmental philosophy

Inquiry 47 (4):380 – 412 (2004)
Abstract
The idea inspiring the eco-phenomenological movement is that phenomenology can help remedy our environmental crisis by uprooting and replacing environmentally-destructive ethical and metaphysical presuppositions inherited from modern philosophy. Eco-phenomenology's critiques of subject/object dualism and the fact/value divide are sketched and its positive alternatives examined. Two competing approaches are discerned within the eco-phenomenological movement: Nietzscheans and Husserlians propose a naturalistic ethical realism in which good and bad are ultimately matters of fact, and values should be grounded in these proto-ethical facts; Heideggerians and Levinasians articulate a transcendental ethical realism according to which we discover what really matters when we are appropriately open to the environment, but what we thereby discover is a transcendental source of meaning that cannot be reduced to facts, values, or entities of any kind. These two species of ethical realism generate different kinds of ethical perfectionism: naturalistic ethical realism yields an eco-centric perfectionism which stresses the flourishing of life in general; transcendental ethical realism leads to a more 'humanistic' perfectionism which emphasizes the cultivation of distinctive traits of Dasein. Both approaches are examined, and the Heideggerian strand of the humanistic approach defended, since it approaches the best elements of the eco-centric view while avoiding its problematic ontological assumptions and anti-humanistic implications.
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