Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Joseph Burner Smith

Joseph Burner Smith

"The Emergence of an Ecological Way of Life"

Dissertation directed by Merold Westphal

The Emergence of an Ecological Way of Live.
Given that many of the issues and suggestions of the environmental movement have become part of the public domain and that environmental ethics is a booming field, but that the destruction of our planet continues, several concerns are raised. There are many environmentalist who believe that a transformation beyond what might be called a “wise use’ stance is called for – a transformation that goes beyond more recycling and more intelligent use of natural resources. These environmentalists call for a reconfiguration of both our relation to nature as well as our conception of ourselves. Do the conceptual resources and defining experiences exist that could underwrite a new way of life?

I examine this possibility from two focal points. The first point examines the transcendental conditions of and the implications that follow what I take to be a new moral insight – that “we” the living generation must share this planet with future generations. What does the concept of future generations mean (as opposed to immediate descendants and posterity) and what kind of transgenerational community might be suggested? The other point I examine is the overdetermined experiential space of “living in the woods”. This experiential space seems to provide a way to live ‘beyond the ‘power lines’ that exhibits our technologically mediated society, while giving us a chance to articulate our new experience of nature as precious and fragile. Do thee focal points provide a way to talk about an ethics that departs from the traditional notion of ethics as a harmony with a larger order? Is there a need for an excessive, but sober ethics along Levinasian lines that would recognize our dependence upon nature, but transfigures our superiority to nature as evidenced by our destructive powers as a demand that we be ecologically responsible selves?

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