A Theory of Ecological Justice

By Brian Baxter | Go to book overview

3

Contextualist rather than universalist and rationalist morality?
We must now examine the positive characterization of moral thought and its relation to the natural world which Smith develops in the remainder of his book. He favours an approach which he dubs 'radical environmentalism'. This is fundamentally at odds with the modernist world-view, which embodies the post-Enlightenment commitment to a neutral, universalist model of reason understood as employed in natural science, analytical philosophy, the legal and bureaucratic structures of the state and capitalist market economics. It is a view of reason that ignores the historical and culture-bound bases of thought which, as we have seen, Smith believes it is the strength of social constructivists to have focused on and illuminated.By contrast with this position, characterized as antithetical to 'radical environmentalism', we can trace the positive characterization of the latter which emerges in the book. We can summarize this characterization as follows:
1 Radical environmentalism avoids entanglement with scientific modes of thought and the falsely conceived model of neutral reason on which it is said to rest. It thereby avoids the pitfalls of a naïve naturalism, which is reductivist and regularly entwined in reactionary politics.
2 It avoids the model of moral thought as the rational exposition and application of falsely conceived universal principles to particular situations. Instead, it focuses upon the 'non-rational' elements in human moral reactions, such as love of a particular place, and emphasizes the importance of responding to the objects of moral concern in all their context-bound particularity.
3 It rejects the idea of authority in all its forms - moral, legal, political, religious. These sources of 'law' are all regarded as coercive and harmful impositions of the interests of the dominant members of hierarchically organized groups upon both human and non-human victims. Thus, it espouses antinomianism (anti-law) and, in political terms, favours direct participation in anarchistic structures.

We have seen in the previous chapter the way in which Smith argues for (1). He argues for point (3) in chapter 5 of his book. We need not spend too much time examining those arguments, the discussion of which would take us too far from the direct concerns of this book. They are largely a matter of noting the parallels

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