Life-world and Ecological Consciousness

S. Panneerselvam
University of Madras, Chennai

Philosophy teaches how to live with our environment with peace and free from conflict. Sufficient care has not been taken to understand the traditional methods of preserving nature. This has led to innumerable environmental problems. The degradation of the environment is leading to vast areas of the world and as a consequence of this, the world, which we live in, is becoming more and more unsuitable for human habitation. A clean and hygienic environment is a basic necessity for healthy living. Industrialization, unplanned development and mechanization have spoiled the environment considerably. The solution to the problem is possible only through global understanding, which is otherwise known as "global-ethic". If sustainable development is to succeed as a new way of life, its moral content should be well justified. The need of the society is to transform the behaviour of the societies towards the biosphere. A new ethic of embracing plants and animals is required so as to live in harmony with nature. Eminent environmental thinkers like R.C. Clark, R. Ellot and P. Singer have emphasized the need to protect the living beings on earth. It is the duty of man to take care of non- human beings also and hence has more moral responsibilities towards earth.

We live in a civilization that is threatened by the uncontrolled growth of technology, deriving from the empirical sciences, which have nothing to say about human values. Modern civilization is radically rotten, and only a complete transformation in theory and practice could cure it. The environmental crisis facing industrial society is so grave that man has to do something to save the human society, as well as nature and other living beings.  In the present society, there is a public demand for particular ethics for single profession of vocation, a demand which is as unwarranted as if one were to demand specific civic rights and laws for different groups, communities within the same political entity called state. The different professions and communal groups of people may have different mores, but there should only be one underlying set of ethical maxims, principles as obligatory for all human beings, irrespective of this race, religion, nationality or other secondary qualities. Thus the contemporary western thinkers have been contemplating the concept of “global ethics”. We are talking about "International ethics" or "Global ethics". By these terms we mean that certain ethical concerns apply globally, not just within the borders of one country or even to one culture. There are certain issues, which are discussed globally and not restricted to one region alone. In 1993, the important Conference held in Rio de Janeiro, otherwise known as the "Earth Summit" in which all most all nations participated. The idea here was to protect the earth. It is because the earth, which we live in, faces a common crisis and it is in the interests of all to join together in combating it.         

In the contemporary period, the need for such ethics has been felt very much. Albert Schweitzer defines ethics as man’s unlimited responsibility towards every living being. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Max Weber, Hans Jonas, Jugen Habermas, Richard Hare, John Rawls, and others have stressed this. Kant developed the moral philosophy or philosophy of practical reason during 1785 and 1797 and published three important books namely, Foundation of the Metaphysic of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason and Metaphysics of Morals. The philosophy of practical reason or ethics is concerned with that only which ought to be done, i.e., what should be enacted by man’s action grounded in a free will, whereas the philosophy theoretical reason or nature is concerned merely with everything that is. Max Weber’s ethics is known as “responsibility ethics”. He was guided in his historical-sociological research by an idea which was decisive in his construction of concepts and his formation of theories; the idea of the rationalization of all social fields. Max Weber who rejected the dogmatic interpretation of history and society, whether idealistic or materialistic has pointed out that in every investigation of historical and social events one must observe strictly one main question namely, what is such an inquiry is strictly, beyond doubt, factual. His study on Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism (1901) is a typical example of his approach to the socio-historical phenomena. Similarly, Hans Jonas’ The Imperative of Responsibility in Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age is an investigation with a reconsideration of the ethical key-concept freedom and like Kant he takes man’s free will as the metaphysical condition of morality. According to him, in so far as technical science has extended man’s educative power up to the point where it becomes sensitively dangerous to world as such, it also extends man’s responsibility for future life on earth. Thus man’s responsibility becomes for the first time cosmic. It needed the obvious endangering of the whole system, the factual beginnings of its destruction, to make us discover or rediscover our solidarity with the whole world. Habermas’ Discourse Ethics or theory of Communication is meant to serve the purpose of critically discussing various possibilities of morally responsible acting, aiming at guidelines for a morality justifiable life in our scientific-technical world. He considers as the objective of Discourse Ethics to re-formulate and re-assess Kant’s formalistic moral theory, in particular the justification of ethical norms and principles, by employing the means of communication by saying that moral questions can be by rational reflection and discourse. In Indian context, the issue is significant in the hands of contemporary thinkers. For example, R. Sundara Rajan talks about the ecological turn and the importance of Eco-philosophy. The need for re-thinking and re-ordering the contextual relation between nature and history is studied in detail by him. According to him, the "ecological repentance" is needed to understand the real relation between man and nature. He says: "The ecological turn, is not a single or univocal issue; on the contrary, it stretches all the way from issues of pollution of our rivers to the question of the relationships of humans, the world and God. Every discipline and every ideology, every system of morality and every form of religion has to rethink their fundamentals in the light of the ecological question, on pain of otherwise turning themselves into engines of oppression".

The “bio-philia” conception that there is an innate emotional affiliation of human beings to other living beings is important in this context. A respect of life is emphasized by many contemporary thinkers. One good example is Leopold. He argues in favour of a land ethic, which includes soils, waters, plants and animals or collectively, the land. “ A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”. In Leopold, we see a need for a shift from human to nature. Thus, we see in the contemporary approach an extension of environmental aesthetics to plants and animals and to nature. Jonas explains how the future of man lies in the future of nature. Similarly, Deep ecologists like Naess raise deep questions about one’s assumptions regarding ecological relationship. Naess gives seven principles, which must be taken seriously in the context of environmental aesthetics. These principles are: rejection of the man-in-the-environment image in favour of the relational, total field image, biospherical egalitarianism-in principle, principles of diversity an of symbiosis, anti-class posture, fight against pollution and resource depletion, complexity, not complication, and local autonomy and decentralization. Naess’ deep ecology, otherwise known as “Ecosophy T” is explained as follows: …I call my philosophy ‘Ecosophy T’, using the character T just to emphasize that other people in the movement would, if motivate to formulate their world view and general value priorities, arrive at different ecosophies: Ecosophy ‘A’, ‘B’, …, ‘T’, …, ‘Z’. By an ‘ecosophy’ I here mean a philosophy inspired by the deep ecological movement. His distinction between "shallow ecology" and "deep ecology" should be taken seriously by both Indian and western philosophers of today. According to him, shallow ecology attributes value and importance to the processes of nature only in so far as they are important for human welfare and interests. This view explains and believes that global warming for example represents danger because it threatens agricultural production and human habitation. Deep ecology on the other hand is concerned with changes to the biosphere in themselves and not just to the extent that they work to the benefit or detriment of human beings. To think in this way is to hold the view that there are things of value and importance whose value do not lie in their connection with human interest, that there are strictly environmental values. From this standpoint, shallow ecology is objectionable because it makes human beings the sole focus of value and thus expresses a kind of self-centredness. The fact that environmental crisis are multiplied and take different forms shows that we are still in search of a truly environmental value which can be supplied only by philosophers.