Defending Hans Jonas’ Environmental Ethics: On the Relation between Philosophy of Nature and Ethics

Environmental Ethics 35 (4):461-479 (2013)
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Abstract

Hans Jonas’ anti-visionary conservation-oriented environmental philosophy—prominently articulated in his seminal book The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age —had a tremendous impact on public and philosophical debates throughout the 1980s and the 1990s. Jonas argues that the “environmental crisis” reveals an underlying fundamental “crisis” in the human-nature relation. The crisis challenges the metaphysical foundations of our Western culture—including the dominant way humans view and deal with nature. Environmental ethics, therefore, requires critical reflection on and revision of the underlying philosophy of nature: ethics and philosophy of nature, Jonas argues, are twin sisters. This approach provokes severe criticism: the diagnosis objection, the origin analysis objection, the justification objection, and the problem-solution objection. Most objections are not as sound as they claim to be—although Jonas’ argumentative justification is in fact a bit weak. However, a systematic critique of the objections of the critics from an analytic perspective shows that he developed a political and practical “philosophy of nature” in which anthropology, ethics, and politics are conceptualized as a converging domain as one of the core constituents of environmentals ethics for this century.

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