In Defense of the Human Difference

Environmental Philosophy 15 (1):101-115 (2018)
Authors
Sean McGrath
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Abstract
Against the prevalent trend in eco-criticism which is to deny the human difference, I summon a set of untimely tropes from metaphysics in the interest of advancing an ecological humanism: the difference in kind between human consciousness and animal sensibility; the uniquely human capacity for moral discernment; and the human being’s peculiar freedom from the material conditions of existence. While I agree with eco-critics who argue that anthropocenic nature is not only finite, but sick: sickened by our abuse and neglect, I disagree that this abuse is simply a result of insisting on the human difference, nor is species egalitarianism the way forward. On the contrary, the eco-collapse, referred to as the sixth great extinction event, is the consequence of a general disavowal of the human’s special call to take responsibility for the relation between the human and the non-human, and only a re-awakening of this responsibility can restore health to anthropocenic nature. The non-human cannot effect this restoration, for that is not its vocation. A difference in vocation is not necessarily a difference in moral worth, and so the human difference does not justify denying the “intrinsic value” of the non-human. Humanity is uniquely responsible both for the mess we are in and for cleaning it up.
Keywords Applied Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest  Social and Political Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 1718-0198
DOI 10.5840/envirophil201822660
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