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Facing Nature

Levinas and Environmental Thought

edited by Willam Edelglass, James Hatley & Christian Diehm

Publication Year: 2012

Despite its attention to questions of ethics and “the ethical,” contemporary continental philosophy has often been disengaged from inquiring into our ethical obligation to nature and the environment. In response to this vacuum in the literature, Facing Nature simultaneously makes Levinasian resources more accessible to practitioners in the diverse fields of environmental thought while demonstrating the usefulness of continental philosophy for addressing major issues in environmental thought. Drawing on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, these scholars approach environmental philosophy from both humanistic and nonanthropocentric points of view. On the one hand, the book contributes to the discussion of environmental justice as well as the growth of ecophilosophical literature. At the same time, some of the essays take an interpretive approach to Levinas’s thought, finding that his work is able to speak to environmental thinkers whose positions actually diverge quite sharply from his own. While recognizing the limitations of Levinas’s writings from an environmental perspective, Facing Nature argues that themes at the heart of his work—the significance of the ethical, responsibility, alterity, the vulnerability of the body, bearing witness, and politics—are important for thinking about many of our most pressing contemporary environmental questions. Essays specifically highlight the otherness of nature, the vulnerability and suffering of nonhuman animals, the idea of an interspecies politics, the role of nature in ethical life, individual responsibility for climate change, and the Jewish understanding of creation as points of contact between Levinas’s philosophical project and environmental thought. Levinas is also brought into conversation with dialogue partners who enhance this connection, such as Theodor Adorno, Hanna Arendt, Tim Yilngayarri, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Henry David Thoreau. While widely relevant to all those who attempt to think through our ethical relation to the natural world, Facing Nature will be of special interest to scholars and students interested in both continental philosophy and the manifold areas of environmental studies.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-xviii

It is difficult to pinpoint precisely the moment at which a social, cultural, or intellectual movement begins. By most accounts, the contemporary environmental movement in the United States can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin declared the first Earth Day, thus inaugurating...


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pp. xix-xx

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Introduction: Facing Nature after Levinas

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pp. 1-10

Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995) is widely considered the most significant ethical thinker in twentieth century Continental philosophy. Levinas regarded the demise of humanism, together with the horrific traumas that marked the twentieth century, as fundamental challenges to morality and ethics. In the famous sentence...

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1. Alterity, Value, Autonomy: Levinas and Environmental Ethics

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pp. 11-24

Within recent years, a number of attempts have been made to read the works of Emmanuel Levinas through an “environmental” lens. Oftentimes the goal of these attempts has been to discern whether or not there is in Levinas an environmental ethic, or at least some sort of an environmental consciousness, and to this end they have engaged...

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2. Facing Animals

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pp. 25-40

It is true to say that Levinas, like so many philosophers before him, attached no great ethical importance to animals other than humans (hereafter simply, “animals”). For over four decades, Levinas developed a theory of ethics he called a “humanism of the other man” that viewed animals as little more than things or cases, the interests of...

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3. Agency, Vulnerability, and Societas: Toward a Levinasian Politics of the Animal

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pp. 41-66

In his work of 1906, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, E. P. Evans examines dozens of legal trials held before lay and ecclesiastical courts of medieval Europe against various kinds of animals, insects, and even plants. At issue was their culpability in an assortment of “crimes” against human society, such as the destruction...

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4. Scarce Resources? Levinas, Animals, and the Environment

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pp. 67-94

Readers have persistently noted the absence of animal others in Levinas’s philosophy. They have worried about the humanism and anthropocentrism of his ethics. They have suggested that what concern for the environment is conveyed by his works is at most an interest in stewardship of the natural world for the sake of human ends...

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5. Ruined Faces

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pp. 95-108

A few years ago I became misplaced in hot stony tropical country near the Daly River in the Northern Territory of Australia. My companions had taken a little side trip and had failed to return; there came a time when I realised that I could wait no longer. Dehydrated and slightly disoriented, I looked off to the west. I knew that the road...

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6. Levinas and Adorno: Can There Be an Ethics of Nature?

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pp. 109-134

A common flaw in many contemporary discussions of the environment, including environmental activism and philosophical approaches in environmental ethics and environmental phenomenology, is its ahistorical character. Animals, ecosystems, environments, landscapes, that is, all that we associate with the ambiguous and problematic word...

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7. The Earthly Politics of Ethical An-archē: Arendt, Levinas, and Being with Others

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pp. 135-160

An ecological politics must be informed by the ethical, rather than just the instrumental, importance of the more-than-human world. Without such ethics “nature” is regarded only as a resource to be divided between human protagonists. Such a resource-based politics would not be ecological in any important sense since it can relatively...

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8. Enjoyment and Its Discontents: On Separation from Nature in Levinas

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pp. 161-190

The radical break that Levinas’s philosophy represents with the history of ethics has seemed promising to environmental thinkers searching for a non-anthropocentric account of nature’s moral claim on us. For Levinas, the ethical command is the very epiphany of the face of the Other that confronts me from a height, from beyond being. Breaking...

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9. Earthly Morality and the Other: From Levinas to Environmental Sustainability

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pp. 191-208

“I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes!” Almost at the beginning of the twentieth century, such is Zarathustra’s message to the people. It is a message uttered in the shadow of the death of...

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10. Rethinking Responsibility in an Age of Anthropogenic Climate Catastrophe

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pp. 209-228

This year, many thousands of people will die as a consequence of malaria moving to higher altitudes, a shift made possible by warmer temperatures. Do we bear any moral responsibility for their deaths? And do we bear any moral responsibility for the loss of the stunning...

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11. Toward a Relational Model of Anthropocentrism: A Levinasian Approach to the Ethics of Climate Change

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pp. 229-252

Although there is a history of political emergency situations, examples of such emergencies in ethical theory are far less common. One possible exception to this is Michael Walzer’s notion of a “supreme emergency,” which he develops in Just and Unjust Wars. Walzer appropriates this phrase from Winston Churchill’s account of Britain’s...

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12. The Anarchical Goodness of Creation: Monotheism in Another’s Voice

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pp. 253-278

The Abrahamic traditions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — have unswervingly insisted on circumscribing their embrace of the living world, even as they affirm it as G-d’s unique and inimitable creation. For Creation calls forth an ambivalent response in these traditions, which find the living world to offer both an invitation...

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13. Witness to the Face of a River: Thinking with Levinas and Thoreau

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pp. 279-300

Levinas is witness to the Shoah; Thoreau is witness to a river, a pond. What can either say to the other? They might converse about witness and first person address and the importance of both, especially when clouded in one’s own or another’s affliction, say remembering or living through the tragic or traumatic. Moments of pain can be...


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pp. 301-348

About the Contributors

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pp. 349-352


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pp. 353-359

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780820705842
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704531

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012