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Responding with Dao: Early Daoist Ethics and the Environment

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 59, Number 3, July 2009
pp. 294-316 | 10.1353/pew.0.0061



Early Daoism, as articulated in the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi, indirectly addresses environmental issues by intimating a non-reductive naturalistic ethics calling on humans to be open and responsive to the specificities and interconnections of the world and environment to which they belong. "Dao" is not a substantial immanent or transcendent entity but the lived enactment of the intrinsic worth of the "myriad things" and the natural world occurring through how humans address and are addressed by them. Early Daoism potentially corrects both anthropocentrism and biocentrism in environmental ethics by disclosing the things themselves in the context of the self-cultivation of life. Given increasing environmental devastation and the dominance of views, practices, and institutions reducing nature to a background and/or raw material for human activity, this "ethics of encounter" discloses the life of things as inexhaustibly more than human projects and constructs, extending ethical recognition and responsibility beyond social relations and the social self.