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Being Human

Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World

Anna L. Peterson

Publication Year: 2001

Being Human examines 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.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I owe thanks to many people who offered support, information, and constructive criticisms at various points during the writing of this book. I am especially indebted to Bron Taylor and Kay Read, who reviewed the entire manuscript and provided countless helpful suggestions and references. ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-27

Natures 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. ...

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2. Not of the World: Human Exceptionalism in Western Tradition

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pp. 28-50

Man, writes Reinhold Niebuhr in The 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, ...

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3. The Social Construction of Nature and Human Nature

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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. ...

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4. The Relational Self: Asian Views of Nature and Human Nature

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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. ...

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5. Person and Nature in Native American Worldviews

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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. ...

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6. Relationships, Stories, and Feminist Ethics

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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 ...

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7. Evolution, Ecology, and Ethics

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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— ...

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8. In and Of the World: Toward a Chastened Constructionist Anthropology

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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, ...

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9. Different Natures

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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. ...


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pp. 241-270

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 271-286


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pp. 287-289

Back Cover

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p. 301-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780520926059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520226555

Page Count: 298
Publication Year: 2001