The Future of Ethics
Sustainability, Social Justice, and Religious Creativity
Publication Year: 2013
The Future of Ethics interprets the big questions of sustainability and social justice through the practical problems arising from humanity's increasing power over basic systems of life. What does climate change mean for our obligations to future generations? How can the sciences work with pluralist cultures in ways that will help societies learn from ecological change?
Traditional religious ethics examines texts and traditions and highlights principles and virtuous behaviors that can apply to particular issues. Willis Jenkins develops lines of practical inquiry through "prophetic pragmatism," an approach to ethics that begins with concrete problems and adapts to changing circumstances. This brand of pragmatism takes its cues from liberationist theology, with its emphasis on how individuals and communities actually cope with overwhelming problems.
Can religious communities make a difference when dealing with these issues? By integrating environmental sciences and theological ethics into problem-based engagements with philosophy, economics, and other disciplines, Jenkins illustrates the wide understanding and moral creativity needed to live well in the new conditions of human power. He shows the significance of religious thought to the development of interdisciplinary responses to sustainability issues and how this calls for a new style of religious ethics.
Published by: Georgetown University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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This book depicts how emerging problems of human power challenge ethical inquiry and it tries to suggest the sort of moral creativity that opens possibilities of meaningful response to those challenges. It does not offer predictions or blueprints, despite what the title may suggest. It rather develops multidisciplinary inquiry into concrete problems that arise as human...
Introduction: Ethics in the Anthropocene
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Ethics seems imperiled by unprecedented problems. The accelerating expansion of human power generates problems that exceed the competency of our laws, our institutions, and even our concepts. What does justice mean for climate change, a problem in which humans from many nations, traditions, and generations find themselves collectively responsible for how a planetary system will function over centuries? The ethics of climate change ...
Chapter One: Atmospheric Powers: Climate Change and Moral Incompetence
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Climate change exemplifies the challenge to ethics posed by humanity’s sudden planetary powers. Burning carbon for energy is not intrinsically wrong; our bodies use oxygen from the atmosphere to burn the carbon in our food for energy and then exhale carbon dioxide. Yet as the metabolism of humanity expands with the industrialization of carbon-burning technologies,...
Chapter Two: Christian Ethics and Unprecedented Problems
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Climate change represents the challenge that anthropocene powers pose to Christian ethics. Unprecedented social and ecological relations threaten to overwhelm capacities of theological response, rendering practices of faith incompetent to their world. If loving neighbors, for example, becomes uncertain within emerging planetary relations, then Christian communities...
Chapter Three: Global Ethics: Moral Pluralism and Planetary Problems
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Planetary problems call for a global ethic. Confronting a problem like climate change requires responsibilities shared across borders and traditions. Various moral provincialisms stand in the way of a cooperative ethic scaled to use of the atmosphere; many people bound their concern to their own nation, religion, class, generation, and species. Humanity needs to develop...
Chapter Four: Sustainability Science and the Ethics of Wicked Problems
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Over the last three chapters I have offered reasons to resist the cosmological temptation to do ethics from religious worldviews in order to develop a pluralist, problem-based approach. In this chapter I argue the other side: that, in order to face the most complex problems, a pragmatic strategy needs the cosmological facility often found in religious thought.1 Here I contend...
Chapter Five: Toxic Wombs and the Ecology of Justice
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New Haven, the city that my child breathes and drinks, is an “environmental justice community.” That state designation means that its high levels of poverty and its history of racial discrimination require any action that would lead to further toxic exposures to meet extra legal review. Already this small city hosts two interstates, two rail lines, an oil port, a sewage incinerator,...
Chapter Six: Impoverishment and the Economy of Desire
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Over the last two centuries of industrial expansion the human economy appropriated unprecedented scales of earth’s economy while generating prosperity for unprecedented human populations. That growth was accompanied by two new forms of poverty: human destitution became a political choice rather than a natural fact, and biological diminishment became a...
Chapter Seven: Intergenerational Risk and the Future of Love
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At the Church of St. Paul & St. James in New Haven, the liturgy begins with procession that starts from a columbarium in which lie ashes of the community’s ancestors and moves toward a table that feeds its hope in the future. The columbarium is the most striking inheritance of a building with many layers of history: a meeting hall overlays the trappings of a gym, itself...
Afterword: Sustaining Grace
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The last chapter concluded on a bleak note: perhaps the future of Christian ethics lies in sustaining the practices through which future generations might forgive us. Yet this book opened in the irenic, open spirit of pragmatism. Has its hope faded through wearying engagement with overwhelming problems and moral incompetencies? I have argued in each chapter that...
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Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2013