Toward a heideggerean ethos for radical environmentalism

Environmental Ethics 5 (2):99-131 (1983)
Abstract
Recently several philosophers have argued that environmental reform movements cannot halt humankind’s destruction of the biosphere because they still operate within the anthropocentric humanism that forms the root of the ecological crisis. According to “radical” environmentalists, disaster can be averted only if we adopt a nonanthropocentric understanding of reality that teaches us to live harmoniouslyon the Earth. Martin Heidegger agrees that humanism leads human beings beyond their proper limits while forcing other beings beyond their limits as weIl. The doctrine of the “rights of man” justifies human exploitation of nonhuman beings. Paradoxically, however, the doctrine of rights for nonhuman beings does not escape the orbit of humanism. According to Heidegger, a nonanthropocentric conception of humanity and its relation to nature must go beyond the doctrine of rights. We can dweIl harmoniously on Earth only by submitting to our primary obligation: to be open for the Being of beings. We need a new way of understanding Being, a new ethos, that lets beings manifest themselves not merely as objects for human ends, but as intrinsically important. Heidegger calls this ethos the “fourfold” of earth and sky, gods and mortals. Humanists argue that Heidegger is wrong to abandon the principle of human rights in favor of the notion that we are obligated to “let beings be,” while some radical environmentalists accuse hirn of being a humanist because he supposedly overestimates the importance of humankind’s ability to speak. Heidegger insists, however, that language makes possible culture, without which thereis no human experience of nature. An environmentally sound ethos. can arise, according to Heidegger, only from a shift within the cultural heritage of the West. Richard Rorty agrees that we must become open for a new “conversation” with the West, even if this requires abandoning traditionally important fields such as epistemology. The need to develop a new understanding of Being is so great that thinkers from the analytic and continental traditions of philosophy are finally initiating a long-overdue dialogue
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