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Being Human

Being Human: Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World

Anna L. Peterson
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Being Human
    Book Description:

    Being Humanexamines the complex connections among conceptions of human nature, attitudes toward non-human nature, and ethics. Anna Peterson proposes an "ethical anthropology" that examines how ideas of nature and humanity are bound together in ways that shape the very foundations of cultures. Peterson discusses mainstream Western understandings of what it means to be human, as well as alternatives to these perspectives, and suggests that the construction of a compelling, coherent environmental ethics will revise our ideas not only about nature but also about what it means to be human.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92605-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    Natureis one of the most complicated terms in English or any language. It carries the weight of projected human fears and hopes, the marks of history and political conflict, the grounds for moral legitimation or condemnation. Running throughout these discussions, tying many of them together, is an ongoing debate about what it means to be human. As Raymond Williams writes, “What is often being argued . . . in the idea of nature is the idea of man.”¹ The reverse is also true: what is often being argued in the idea of “man” is the idea of nature. Just...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Not of the World: Human Exceptionalism in Western Tradition
    (pp. 28-50)

    Man, writes Reinhold Niebuhr inThe Nature and Destiny of Man, is the only animal that fears death.¹ This ambiguous (and empirically questionable) assertion follows centuries of similar statements in the West, usually beginning “man is the only animal that . . .” These claims reflect an ongoing effort to establish, once and for all, a singular and impassable barrier between humans, on the one hand, and the rest of creation, on the other. The actual trait that sets humans apart—thexthat only humans have—varies for different thinkers, times, and cultures. As Daisie Radner and Michael Radner...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Social Construction of Nature and Human Nature
    (pp. 51-76)

    God made humans both different and better than other species, most Christian thinkers have insisted. By privileging humans with an eternal soul, which is the divine image within them, the creator permanently separated humanity from all other creatures. However, for many people, academic and otherwise, the monotheistic creation account no longer holds credibility. While religion remains a vital force in many people’s lives and ideas, the contemporary world, in the West and elsewhere, is far too pluralistic, skeptical, and secular to adhere to a single religious worldview. (Of course, the world has always been too pluralistic for this, but most...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Relational Self: Asian Views of Nature and Human Nature
    (pp. 77-99)

    The previous chapter suggests that even some apparently radical critiques of traditional Western thinking have not shed the notion that one unique element—be it the soul, the rational mind, language, or culture—defines and sets our species apart from other animals and the whole natural world. This conviction about humanity’s discontinuity with the rest of creation is far from universal, though. A wide range of ways to conceive human nature exists, within and outside Western culture. This chapter begins an exploration of some of the most relevant and influential alternative visions of human nature and humanity’s place in the...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Person and Nature in Native American Worldviews
    (pp. 100-126)

    Asian ideas and practices raise important questions but offer no clear-cut answers regarding the links among human nature, nonhuman nature, and ethics. To clarify the questions, raise further issues, and suggest some tentative and partial answers, I turn now to indigenous cultures, particularly in North America. Though Native American cultures were never without internal and external conflicts and complications, prior to European contact most indigenous Americans managed to make a living off the land without seriously harming the possibilities for other species, plant and animal, to live on it as well. This claim, of course, should not obscure the fact...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Relationships, Stories, and Feminist Ethics
    (pp. 127-152)

    Cross-cultural critiques and comparisons show that our ideas about the self, nonhuman nature, the good, and a host of other crucial issues are not exclusive, inevitable, or universally valid. These external critiques provide alternative, sometimes radically different, standpoints and perspectives that highlight the weaknesses and gaps in our established ways of thinking and acting. Without such critiques, it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to question the “givenness” of our own ways of thinking and living. Taking seriously the claims and insights of other systems of thought broadens our moral vision, as Sharon Welch contends. Building on an argument of Michel Foucault,...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Evolution, Ecology, and Ethics
    (pp. 153-184)

    The preceding three chapters have documented both external and internal critiques of the dominant Western view of human nature as individualistic, rational, and disconnected from the rest of life. I now turn to an even more internal challenge: the evidence provided by Western science—the presumed pinnacle of what human reason can achieve—that we are related to, dependent upon, and similar to the rest of nature in countless ways. This is not merely one of many possible critiques internal to a diverse and ever-changing Western culture but a challenge from within the heart of reason itself. The very capacity...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT In and Of the World: Toward a Chastened Constructionist Anthropology
    (pp. 185-212)

    This chapter sketches some qualities of humanness that undergird the ethical vision presented in the next chapter. These qualities include the following: humans are both natural and cultural animals; we are terrestrial; we are embodied; and we are relational. Moreover, all these characteristics must be viewed in the context of limits, especially our dependence on fragile ecosystems. Although these claims appear simple, they hold tremendous, often radical implications for the way we think about being human. Before proceeding, I offer some caveats. Most important, these characteristics do not encompass all that humans are. Nor are all, or perhaps any, of...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Different Natures
    (pp. 213-240)

    This book describes many different natures: diverse human natures or ways of being human; different constructions of nonhuman nature; and the differences as well as connections between humans and the rest of nature. In this final chapter, I explore some important ethical and meta-ethical questions raised by these differences and relationships. In the first section of this chapter, I look at one of the key substantive issues at stake in the book as a whole: how do we reconceive the relationship between value and difference? Is it possible to unlink uniqueness and intrinsic worth? I then turn to some structural...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 241-270)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 271-286)
  15. Index
    (pp. 287-290)