The Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics by Daniel P. Scheid

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 38 (1):197-198 (2018)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:The Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics by Daniel P. ScheidJohn J. FitzgeraldThe Cosmic Common Good: Religious Grounds for Ecological Ethics Daniel P. Scheid new york: oxford university press, 2016. 264 pp. $31.95Published shortly after the first encyclical to focus on the environment (Pope Francis's Laudato Si'), Daniel Scheid's first book is a significant advance in Christian ethics and religious ecology. Scheid argues that resources in Catholic social thought and other religious traditions can move one to an appreciation of a common good that includes the "more than human world" (xiv). In particular, he "aim[s] (1) to extend Catholic social thought ecologically, and (2) to extend Catholic ecological ethics comparatively" (8).The argument begins by broadening the notion of the common good into a "Catholic cosmic common good," which "emphasizes the centrality of God, the goodness of creation, and humanity's dignified and privileged but contextualized role within the story of creation" (32). This vision is then informed by Augustine, Aquinas, and Thomas Berry. Next, Scheid widens solidarity, a virtue that (per John Paul II) involves "commit[ting] oneself to the common good" (86), into "Earth solidarity," which attends to all ecosystems and species, particularly those most impacted by environmental damage. Solidarity cannot be exercised without respecting others' rights, and Scheid contends that these include "Earth rights" of biota, abiota, and ecosystems. Finally, in order to really "test the potential for the cosmic common good as a ground for interreligious ecological ethics" (124–25), he turns to three non-Abrahamic traditions that each support, augment, and challenge elements of his vision. A Hindu dharmic ecology is theocentric and blurs the line between humans and nonhumans, Buddhist traditions are nontheistic and highlight how all are [End Page 197] interrelated, and American Indians (specifically the Lakota) condemn individualism and demonstrate certain advantages of a more spatial (rather than simply temporal) perspective.The Cosmic Common Good covers an impressive range of thought in under two hundred pages of main text. While the argumentation is intricate, the logical ordering of chapters, the repetition of important points, and some vivid examples assist the reader in following along. The case for Earth rights is especially bold and well argued; Scheid considers objections to them and shows that they can be intelligibly grounded (as prima facie and proportionately weighted) in self-governance and creaturely dignity. This is a very promising development in Catholic social thought, as recent key magisterial teachings do not explicitly affirm that animals have dignity (or rights) but limit themselves to the notion that harming animals is "contrary to human dignity" (see Laudato Si', §§ 92, 130, quoting Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 2418).While the book is generally comprehensive, there are a few surprising lacunae. First, although Scheid himself recognizes that "a properly Catholic ecological ethics would certainly not dismiss the centrality of the Bible" (198n16), there is very little reference to it. The author briefly alludes to the Psalms' portrayal of the natural world (47, 181), but more integration of the Old and New Testaments would have been illuminating. And while The Cosmic Common Good makes a commendable last-minute effort to incorporate insights from Laudato Si', Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI (often dubbed "the Green Pope") receives too-short shrift. Benedict's ecological views are referenced only on one page, perhaps because they are somewhat more anthropocentric than the "Earth-centered or cosmos-centered" ethic developed by Scheid (24). Regardless, the former pope's frequent calls for environmental responsibility to the poor, future generations, and animals would surely lend some healthy support to the cosmic common good. But these omissions do not detract much from the merits of this book, which should be read "not as a definitive conclusion but as an invitation to generate greater interreligious dialogue and cooperation on an issue that demands extensive and immediate action" (11). Professional academics, graduate students, and others who are somewhat versed in the sophisticated issues Scheid raises would do well to take up his invitation. [End Page 198]John J. FitzgeraldSt. John's University (New York)Copyright © 2018 Society of Christian Ethics...

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