Worldly (In)Difference and Ecological Ethics: Iris Murdoch and Emmanuel Levinas

Environmental Ethics 29 (1):23-41 (2007)
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The natural world’s myriad differences from human beings, and its apparent indifference to human purposes and ends, are often regarded as problems an environmental ethics must overcome. Perhaps, though, ecological ethics might instead be re-envisaged as a form of other-directed concern that responds to just this situation. That is, the recognition of worldly (in)difference might actually be regarded as a precondition for, and opening on, any contemporary ethics, whether human or ecological. What is more, the task of ethics might be regarded as one of conserving (at least some) such differences. The work of Iris Murdoch and the “difference ethics” of Emmanuel Levinas seem to offer possible ways to express such understandings. However, their ecological potential and theoretical limits, especially in terms oftheir metaphysical presuppositions, remain relatively under-explored. A closer examination of their work is presented in order to illustrate some of the possibilities and difficulties facing an ecological form of difference ethics



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Michael Smith
Aachen University of Technology

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