philosophy and ethics

Ecocene Politics - by Mihnea Tanasescu

(OpenBook Publishers, 2022 - FREE pdf)

This book has an amazing opening line:
'Let there be no doubt: the tragedy has already happened.'
And the tone is set for a work that is both well written and persuasively argued.

Although it is primarily concerned with the way in which people respond to the inevitability of environmental change, time and again ideas and subjects are thrown into the argument that deserve further exploration. Here, for example, is the author’s comment on ‘hope’:
‘Hope is necessary for action only if one believes in the magical ability to control the world according to one’s wishes.’
For a serious examination question, I’d simply want to add ‘Discuss’ to this.  The key to living without hope is to recognise that what we do today matters in itself, rather than being justified by some utopian future. There is a wonderful, philosophical rabbit hole here!

Tanasescu sees three things as being destructive of our ethical relationship with nature: the Cartesian separation of mind and body; the view of the world as fundamentally comprised of resources; and the desacralisation of nature.

The first of these, which he deals with in Chapter 2, is – for me – particularly interesting, because he shows Descartes as replacing actual space with sets of co-ordinates – in other words, space becomes seen as a grid, rather than as place within which we live.  He cites Merleau-Ponty, to the effect that space is a mode of being in the world, not an inert background to our lives. This requires a fundamentally important change to the usual view of humankind in nature, since it allows a sense of mutual dependence and identity between people and their environment. The world is not something impersonal ‘out there’ but is the medium within which we live.

The way the author teases out the ethical and political implications of this touches on my own thinking on the nature of personal space, and our need to create spaces with which we can identify and within which we feel ‘at home.’ What Tanasescu shows is that this is not just required for our own flourishing, but is absolutely central to the ethical and political requirements of humankind in a natural world that is in the process of change.  Nature is not a resource to use, but a home in which to live.  [A link to the page about my own book – Home: a philosophy of personal space – is given at the foot of this review. Do, please, take a look, and give me feedback if you wish.]

His discussion of multinaturalism opens up the way in which all creatures think of themselves as ‘persons’ by virtue of being alive. It is only from a narrow anthropocentric viewpoint that we could conceive of the rest of the world as somehow no more than material and mechanistic. 

Also fascinating are his views of vulnerability:
‘The opposite of vulnerability is not power or strength; it is rigidity’
In order to survive and flourish in a changing environment, we need to be vulnerable and open to that change.

Key themes to emerge here are mutualism, reciprocity and responsibility, and the way in which a renewed relationship with the land can give us benefits in terms of the meaning, rather than economy.

My odd thoughts here in no way do justice to the serious and well referenced argument presented in this book. In many ways, I think it could be taken as an outline of the scope of relevant philosophy going forward.

Mel Thompson
May 2022

To get your FREE pdf of this book, or to buy a print copy, click here.

HomeIf you are interested in a discussion of personal space and how it defines who we are, take a look at 'Home: a philosophy of personal space'.