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The Future of Ethics

The Future of Ethics: Sustainability, Social Justice, and Religious Creativity

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Future of Ethics
    Book Description:

    The Future of Ethicsinterprets the big questions of sustainability and social justice through the practical problems arising from humanity's increasing power over basic systems of life. What does climate change mean for our obligations to future generations? How can the sciences work with pluralist cultures in ways that will help societies learn from ecological change?Traditional religious ethics examines texts and traditions and highlights principles and virtuous behaviors that can apply to particular issues. Willis Jenkins develops lines of practical inquiry through "prophetic pragmatism," an approach to ethics that begins with concrete problems and adapts to changing circumstances. This brand of pragmatism takes its cues from liberationist theology, with its emphasis on how individuals and communities actually cope with overwhelming problems.Can religious communities make a difference when dealing with these issues? By integrating environmental sciences and theological ethics into problem-based engagements with philosophy, economics, and other disciplines, Jenkins illustrates the wide understanding and moral creativity needed to live well in the new conditions of human power. He shows the significance of religious thought to the development of interdisciplinary responses to sustainability issues and how this calls for a new style of religious ethics.

    eISBN: 978-1-62616-018-7
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Ethics in the Anthropocene
    (pp. 1-15)

    Ethics seems imperiled by unprecedented problems. The accelerating expansion of human power generates problems that exceed the competency of our laws, our institutions, and even our concepts. What does justice mean for climate change, a problem in which humans from many nations, traditions, and generations find themselves collectively responsible for how a planetary system will function over centuries? The ethics of climate change is more complicated than applying received norms to novel objects because, as philosopher Hans Jonas puts it, “the qualitatively novel nature of certain of our actions has opened up a whole new dimension of ethical relevance for...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Atmospheric Powers: Climate Change and Moral Incompetence
    (pp. 16-66)

    Climate change exemplifies the challenge to ethics posed by humanity’s sudden planetary powers. Burning carbon for energy is not intrinsically wrong; our bodies use oxygen from the atmosphere to burn the carbon in our food for energy and then exhale carbon dioxide. Yet as the metabolism of humanity expands with the industrialization of carbon-burning technologies, so do its moral implications. Everyday actions as mundane as cooking breakfast become geopolitical acts, moral in significance and nearly mythic in scope. Burning carbon fuels has begun to generate strange new moral relations. Nations project power across global space and over generational time through...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Christian Ethics and Unprecedented Problems
    (pp. 67-110)

    Climate change represents the challenge that anthropocene powers pose to Christian ethics. Unprecedented social and ecological relations threaten to overwhelm capacities of theological response, rendering practices of faith incompetent to their world. If loving neighbors, for example, becomes uncertain within emerging planetary relations, then Christian communities begin to lose a central practice through which they interpret themselves and their world in relation to God. In order to sustain their faith, Christian communities must create ways for love to overcome the storms that would defeat it. Like other moral traditions, Christianity must generate ways to sustain the meaning of its way...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Global Ethics: Moral Pluralism and Planetary Problems
    (pp. 111-148)

    Planetary problems call for a global ethic. Confronting a problem like climate change requires responsibilities shared across borders and traditions. Various moral provincialisms stand in the way of a cooperative ethic scaled to use of the atmosphere; many people bound their concern to their own nation, religion, class, generation, and species. Humanity needs to develop a moral membership that encompasses the scale of the problems it faces. A pragmatic approach to ethics of the sort I have been developing would seem to frustrate that task. Working from particular moral communities seems to forego principles that are authoritative across traditions and...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Sustainability Science and the Ethics of Wicked Problems
    (pp. 149-189)

    Over the last three chapters I have offered reasons to resist the cosmological temptation to do ethics from religious worldviews in order to develop a pluralist, problem-based approach. In this chapter I argue the other side: that, in order to face the most complex problems, a pragmatic strategy needs the cosmological facility often found in religious thought.¹ Here I contend with environmental pragmatists who disdain calls for changing worldviews and ignore religious communities in their attempt to build consensus on science-based policy solutions. Their sort of pragmatism, I argue, seems poorly equipped to meet the most difficult problems because it...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Toxic Wombs and the Ecology of Justice
    (pp. 190-231)

    New Haven, the city that my child breathes and drinks, is an “environmental justice community.” That state designation means that its high levels of poverty and its history of racial discrimination require any action that would lead to further toxic exposures to meet extra legal review. Already this small city hosts two interstates, two rail lines, an oil port, a sewage incinerator, two power generators, and many relics of heavy industry. It is not coincidental that a poorer and browner city bears disproportionate hazards of the energy, transportation, and waste disposal of the wealthiest state in the country. Living in...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Impoverishment and the Economy of Desire
    (pp. 232-281)

    Over the last two centuries of industrial expansion the human economy appropriated unprecedented scales of earth’s economy while generating prosperity for unprecedented human populations. That growth was accompanied by two new forms of poverty: human destitution became a political choice rather than a natural fact, and biological diminishment became a planetary event. Making sense of the expanding size of humanity requires interpreting the changing economy of human desire within the larger economy of earth. Does human dominion impoverish people and planet, or can humans “be fruitful and multiply” in ways that sustain real wealth?

    The question seems to resist pragmatic...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Intergenerational Risk and the Future of Love
    (pp. 282-322)

    At the Church of St. Paul & St. James in New Haven, the liturgy begins with procession that starts from a columbarium in which lie ashes of the community’s ancestors and moves toward a table that feeds its hope in the future. The columbarium is the most striking inheritance of a building with many layers of history: a meeting hall overlays the trappings of a gym, itself overlaying the remnants of a dance hall; three floors of meeting spaces (now dilapidated); two kitchens (no longer up to code); beautiful stained-glass windows (in need of repair), and a hand-carved vaulted ceiling....

  12. AFTERWORD Sustaining Grace
    (pp. 323-326)

    The last chapter concluded on a bleak note: perhaps the future of Christian ethics lies in sustaining the practices through which future generations might forgive us. Yet this book opened in the irenic, open spirit of pragmatism. Has its hope faded through wearying engagement with overwhelming problems and moral incompetencies? I have argued in each chapter that hope must be hard won; in the face of problems that defeat moral agency and social cooperation, hope is vindicated through projects that adapt, invent, and expand the practices that open new possibilities of cultural action. The pragmatist experiment of this book only...

  13. Index
    (pp. 327-340)