A Phenomenological Theory of Ecological Responsibility and Its Implications for Moral Agency in Climate Change

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 31 (6):645-659 (2018)
  Copy   BIBTEX


In a recent article appearing in this journal, Theresa Scavenius compellingly argues that the traditional “rational-individualistic” conception of responsibility is ill-suited to accounting for the sense in which moral agents share in responsibility for both contributing to the causes and, proactively, working towards solutions for climate change. Lacking an effective moral framework through which to make sense of individual moral responsibility for climate change, many who have good intentions and the means to contribute to solutions for climate change tend to dismiss or put off addressing the root causes. With this tendency arises the practical problem that climate change calls for urgent global collective action, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation, in order to prevent global temperature rise from exceeding 2C and avoid worst case climate scenarios. In this paper, I develop a phenomenological theory of ecological responsibility which addresses the conceptual problem Scavenius brings out and contributes to clarifying the sense in which moral agents share responsibility for both the causes and solutions for climate change. To develop this theory, I draw from, combine, and transform insights from the late work of Husserl on open horizons, transcendental intersubjectivity, and genetic phenomenology with breakthroughs from Emmanuel Levinas in articulating an original, asymmetrical theory of unlimited, diachronic responsibility. In drawing from Husserl, I show how what Levinas describes as the source of a demand for unlimited, diachronic responsibility can be phenomenologically reinterpreted in terms of a horizon of indeterminacy. I then show how horizons of indeterminacy arise in phenomenological descriptions of both human and nonhuman entities in such a way that discloses the demand for responsibility as a broad-ranging demand for unlimited, diachronic ecological responsibility. An important implication of this phenomenological theory of ecological responsibility is that it contributes to clarifying the sense in which individual moral agents share in responsibility for long range collective moral problems such as climate change.

Similar books and articles

Individual Responsibility for Climate Change.Melany Banks - 2013 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 51 (1):42-66.
Climate Change, Responsibility, and Justice.Dale Jamieson - 2010 - Science and Engineering Ethics 16 (3):431-445.
The Issue of No Moral Agency in Climate Change.Theresa Scavenius - 2017 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 30 (2):225-240.
Climate Change and Common-Sense Moral Responsibility.Ryan Darr - 2017 - Environmental Ethics 39 (1):21-38.
Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Global Climate Change.Simon Caney - 2005 - Leiden Journal of International Law 18 (4):747-775.
It's Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations.Walter Sinnott-Armstrong - 2005 - In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong & Richard B. Howarth (eds.), Perspectives on Climate Change. Elsevier. pp. 221–253.
Global Warming and the Problem of Failed Intentions.Evelyn Brister - 2013 - Philosophy and Public Issues - Filosofia E Questioni Pubbliche 3 (1):247-271.
Climate Change and the Challenge of Moral Responsibility.Steve Vanderheiden - 2007 - Journal of Philosophical Research 32 (9999):85-92.


Added to PP

376 (#55,681)

6 months
95 (#51,731)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Robert Henry Scott
University Of North Georgia

References found in this work

Totality and infinity: an essay on exteriority.Emmanuel Levinas - 1961 - Hingham, MA: distribution for the U.S. and Canada, Kluwer Boston.
Otherwise Than Being, or, Beyond Essence.Emmanuel Lévinas - 1974 - Pittsburgh, Pa.: Duquesne University Press.
Otherwise than being: or, Beyond essence.Emmanuel Levinas - 1974 - Hingham, MA: Distributors for the U.S. and Canada, Kluwer Boston.

View all 11 references / Add more references