Summary of Chapter Two

I agree with Taylor’s thesis of ‘respect for nature’ on a number of fronts: it’s a rational extension of our understanding of how we fit to what, therefore, we have to consider (and, when our activity has an impact, what we take responsibility for). But as I said earlier, I found that in taking this approach which is centred in evolutionary biology, it was difficult to justify what Taylor was claiming that human agency was. We aren’t the kinds of agents he describes, if we’re a part of the evolutionary mesh. I think we have had a massive impact on systems, and I think a philosophical response – a response that re-examines how we understand ourselves and our role in the world – is a key element in understanding what, if anything, we can do about our impact. But I just wasn’t convinced that the traditional understanding of agency was going to get us very far on this. There were other, bigger problems, too, like the problem of the competition between non-ethicists and ethicists, and the competition between different kinds of ethicists. How we see agency seemed to be at the heart of this problem too. So this chapter focuses on a kind of disentangling of agency from morality, agency from mind/body dualism (and ‘free will’), and a re-examination of a moral, or ethical ground for our response. It’s really about undoing the connections we’ve built up in response to the ecological emergency, using Taylor’s thesis as a tool for helping to focus on what needs to be undone, not because I think Taylor’s wrong, but because I think he didn’t go far enough (and I think he didn’t go far enough because of the context he was writing in. Maybe I don’t go far enough either, but that’s because of the context I’m writing in).

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