Ecological Management, Cultural Reform, and Religious Creativity
Complex environmental problems frustrate practical reasoning and scientific research, and thereby challenge relations between ethics and ecology. Sustainability crises, in which human powers affect ecological systems in ways that jeopardize basic social values, become practical problems only as cultures create capacities to take responsibility for them. They become real problems, that is, only as cultural reform processes generate ways to confront and learn from social crises. Issues such as climate change therefore require professionals who can make challenges to environmental science and moral culture into sites for adaptive learning and social change, thereby making inchoate threats into intelligible civic problems. How to make crises into problems shapes an ongoing debate over competing strategies of practical reason. Should ethics critique the cultural worldviews and metaphysical assumptions at root of environmental crises, or should it develop practical responses to specific problems from broadly available cultural values?
The question seems to force a dilemma: choosing the cosmological route lets one critique the depth of problems, but at the cost of distance from the moral imagination and political values of most citizens, while choosing the pragmatic route lets one deploy cultural values to support specific policy solutions, but at the cost of being constrained by the modest reforms those values permit.
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- Union Seminary Quarterly Review
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- Union Theological Seminary
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- September 10, 2015