How goodness itself must change in the new world of the Anthropocene: Moral identity & the form of power
Jeremy David Bendik-Keymer Beamer-Schneider Professor in Ethics Case Western Reserve University
Thesis, corollaries, and (some) applications The Anthropocene is a term coined by Paul Crutzen for the geological era when Earth’s geology can be seen only as a function of extended and global, human activity.1 The Anthropocene as a geological concept ought to be accompanied by new moral concepts.2 This realization may seem a hard to substantiate, since something like morality appears to be as old and as deep as human civilization. Yet there is good evidence to show that “morality” is a “peculiar invention” and that, moreover, the history of ethics is not simply a history of failed attempts to realize a timeless form. Rather, morality has become what we’ve made of it, and it should change along with what makes sense to us.3 The raft of new work appearing on climate change and other phenomena of large-scale, environmental change point to at least one way in which new moral concepts are needed. It is the purpose of this chapter to explain how so.4
2 Stated concisely, goodness itself must change in the new world of the Anthropocene. It must change as a basic concept, not simply in its specific conception. The form of goodness must change to reflect a shift away from intentions to what I call the form of power. Goodness must become a function of collectives, primarily, of how they are structured, rather than a function of personal character and its emphasis on intentional action. Personal character, then, is derivative of the right relation between the personal and the collective, which I will call the civic relation. This relation is different in form that what Aristotle considered the virtue of justice5 and should be a form in which justice is justified. My personal intentions are sound only within the constraints of the civic relation.6 I will claim that such soundness depends on taking up what I will call an anthroponomic orientation in everyday life. An anthroponomic orientation is a stance in my identity whereby I keep in mind the need to regulate humankind as a whole and search for ways to promote –or not interfere with- that need. I will illustrate the orientation through the case of responsibility to the far future of humankind, which generates a fairly clear moral identity. My chapter will move through these various points in the order just presented. If this argument goes through, then its consequences are substantial and deserve more thought. For one, not only will the political level of analysis be separable from the moral only at the cost of irresponsibility, but the primary locus of moral reflection ought to turn to the place where politics and morality meet: in (active) citizenship. For another, the entire way we frame moral identity ought to change to take in the civic relationship with the collective that decenters much of the discourse of personal integrity that tacitly or explicitly preoccupies discussions of moral character both in academic virtue ethics and in everyday life in the neo-liberal world.7 Finally, some headway will be made in challenging what Hanna Arendt called the banality of evil, i.e., the problem of human
3 thoughtlessness when submerged in mass scale, instrumentally segmented, political systems.8 She took this, rightly, to be the defining moral problem of modern life.9 As I will argue, the banality of evil will be possible only in a moral identity in which a person has not modified her character to reflect the new emphasis on goodness as a function of the form of power of the collectives to which we belong. Or, what it logically implied, to challenge the banality of evil, we ought first to fashion moral identities in which our goodness is a function of being responsible for the form of power our society takes. And not only today, but in light of the far future of humankind in so far as our society’s form of power violates what Stephen Gardiner calls “the Pure Intergenerational Problem”.10
Why goodness must change as a concept: aggregate collectivities and unintended consequences To say that goodness must change as a basic concept, not simply in its specific conception, is to invoke a distinction first made by John Rawls.11 The concept of justice includes its logic –for instance, that justice concerns what each is due. But conceptions of justice specify the interpretation of the concept’s core features –for instance, that justice concerns what each is due as an equal, as opposed to –say- in a caste hierarchy (call this an “egalitarian” conception of justice; Rawls’ famous conception was, of course, “justice as fairness”). In the Anthropocene, goodness must change as a concept so that any conception takes into account our form of power. Secondly, the form of power should be the primary concern of goodness with intentions being secondary to it. The next section will explain in more detail what the form of power is and how it relates to goodness. In this section, I want to give the main reasons for why goodness itself must change in the Anthropocene.
4 The Anthropocene displays two, interlocking features that ought to bear on the concept of goodness. The first is the overwhelming reality of unintended consequences resulting from our collective effects on Earth’s environment. The second is the form of the collective that produces these effects –an aggregate, not an intentional, collective. These two features interlock in that aggregate collectivities produce unintended consequences resulting from our overall effect on Earth’s environment. The most conspicuous unintended consequence of our aggregate collectivity currently in mainstream discussion is climate change. No one has intended climate change or any of the myriad effects that are currently resulting, or will likely result, from it. For much of our causal history in producing anthropogenic climate change, we could not have even anticipated our unintended consequences. Much the same can be said, mutadis mutandis, for mass species extinction, ocean acidification, soil erosion, and global toxicity – in other words, for the most conspicuous examples of large-scale, environmental change. One of the defining features of the Anthropocene is the reality of large scale and longterm environmental change that no one meant to cause and that most people could not either have foreseen or foreseen very well. How did such unintended change come about? Each phenomenon has a different etiology. Climate change traces back to fossil fuels, mass species extinction to habitat destruction and overhunting, soil erosion to forestry and agriculture, etc. However, all such phenomena have in common that they are the result of aggregate collectivities. Commonly in practical philosophy, a collectivity is intentional. For instance, a soccer team is a collective in that each player has her or his role –her or his part- and in that each player understands that role as coordinating mereologically to accomplish a collective, intentional goal: to win the game well. Aggregate collectivities, however, are
5 unintentional and do not understand themselves mereologically. The members of the set that makes up the collective may not even know of each other, and they in no way need think of their actions as in any way intentionally coordinated with each other. They can think of themselves purely individualistically and still belong to an aggregate collectivity as a matter of fact. All of the large scale, long-term examples of environmental change that define the Anthropocene are the result of aggregate collectivities. None of us in any way coordinated –or even identify as anything like a group agent- with hunter-gatherers 11,000 years ago during the age of the North American megafauna extinctions. Yet as human beings aggregated globally and over time, we –homo sapiens- have collectively and unintentionally begun to produce the sixth mass extinction since life began on Earth. Much the same can be said for the tragedies of the commons that have come to underlie so many environmental phenomena. A set of people, uncoordinated with each other, manage to produce, as an aggregate and unintentionally, a nasty environmental problem. This is what an aggregate collectivity can do. The falling away of intentionality is significant, as is its location at the level of a collectivity. Traditionally in the history of ethics, goodness is the state of character of someone who aims to do good. There are, of course, some notable exceptions to this basic concept. Plato, for instance, appears to think at times that goodness, while a state of character, is not so much a matter of intentions as of the form of one’s soul.12 Yet it could be argued that the goodness of such a soul is typically expressed in the virtues and reasons of one’s actions. At least, this is a core concern of Socrates.13 Moreover, the centrality of both character and intention are marked in both the Aristotelian and Kantian traditions. Goodness –or virtue- in the Aristotelian tradition is a function of aiming at the good. And
6 goodness –or good will- in the Kantian tradition is a function of the form of one’s intentions.14 Put simply, goodness has traditionally been a teleological concept expressed by our ethos. The problem, however, is that unintended consequences are not teleological, and aggregate collectivities are at best indirectly related to our ethos. They are not ethical identities. Rather, a common feature of environmental problems in the Anthropocene is that –apparently- good people who mean well and who belong to –apparently- good communities cause them. The environmental problems of the Anthropocene are largely the result of people who, classically, express goodness –i.e., who have well-intentioned character in like-minded communities.15 But this is problematic. Either we accept that goodness is tragic or we modify our concept of goodness to take into account responsibility for the kinds of effects at stake in the Anthropocene –the unintended effects of aggregate collectivities. The latter route is the only one that preserves the gist of goodness, however –that it is something good. “Tragic goodness” is in some sense unfortunate, or bad. So the concept of goodness must change. Moreover, the concept of goodness must change –not simply its specific conception. If goodness is primarily a matter of a character expressing good intentions –the classic concept of goodness- it may nonetheless still have many different conceptions of good character or of good intentions. Kant and Aristotle, for example, can be said to disagree precisely in their different conceptions of goodness, Kant’s being a matter of the form of the will and Aristotle’s being a matter of the teleological ordering of a life. Yet both share the same concept of goodness: the intentions of a state of character are the primarily locus of goodness.
7 But goodness in the Anthropocene is rendered tragic –that is, in some sense badwithout shifting from a primary focus on intentions to a primary focus on unintended consequences and without shifting from a primary focus on character (even that of communities bound by an ethos) to a primary focus on aggregate collectivities. Not so shifting the concept of goodness makes no sense. Goodness should be good. Accordingly, we need to understand goodness primarily as a function of unintentional collectivities, and that is to change its very concept.
Goodness and the form of power This last point takes us to the form of power. The way we can understand goodness primarily as a function of unintentional collectivities is through the concept of the form of power. Aggregate collectivities have an effect on the Earth’s environment, an effect that leads to many kinds of ethical problems, from injustice to future generations and the world’s vulnerable, to the violation of ethically valuable individuals and systems in the case of many non-human entities. This effect is powerful. It is the result of “an ability to affect or influence”16 –the result of a power we hold as an aggregate collectivity. The form of power is the specific way our form of life is structured, including limited, so as to have the effect that it does. Aspects of the form of power include: political organization, economic organization, the forms and limits of knowledge gathering and coordination; and inherited, evolved psychological dispositions that lead to identifiable tendencies in human action.17 If the unintended consequences of large scale environmental change that define the Anthropocene can be traced back to the effects of aggregate collectivities, the form of power is the concept under which we can identify the
8 structures through which the unintended consequences aggregate and produce the cumulative effects of a radically anthropogenic global environment. The question, then, is why goodness should be keyed to the form of power, and, secondly, what such a re-conceptualization of goodness involves and entails. As to the first question, it is important to understand what the unintended consequences of aggregate collectivities are, at least those under question here. They are understandably seen as tragic. To take one very clear example, let us imagine the faces of young children hundreds of years from now. They are as innocent as any face can be. They have done nothing to bring about the environmental degradation that is likely to stunt the possibilities of the poor among them. Moreover, neither did most of us mean to do anything to stunt these children. Yet we, as agents in what Iris Marion Young calls structural injustice, have together added up a world of woe for these children.18 What we and our ancestors have done cumulatively is very, very bad. I cannot think of anything worse we can do than to stunt the lives of innocent children as a class (the class of poor, future children). As I understand the term, morality is the domain of interpersonal right and wrong within ethics, the domain of pursuing the good (ethics need not be interpersonal; hence it is broader than morality).19 Our actions now as part of the aggregated, collective action of our society with its form of power and of our history with its form of power are causing what will be in all likelihood major moral problems, the needless and blind stunting of future children. Even to be at risk of such moral wrong without effectively facing it down is morally wrong.20 But because it is, because we are knee-deep in moral wrong as a result of our collective, unintentional actions, the form of our power (and of that of our ancestors in so far as it aggregates along with our own) ought to be a major ethical consideration.
9 Here is the strange, new configuration which anyone interested in goodness needs to consider. Personal intentions do not primarily matter. They can appear good. Character also does not primarily matter. Apparently good, solid, well-meaning people everywhere contribute, infinitesimally and unknowingly to large scale, long-term moral wrong.21 What primarily matters are the structures through which we, well meaning as can be, do or do not create unintended, collectively aggregated consequences. Those need to be good for our lives to be good. Otherwise, decent though we may try to be, we are complicit in moral wrong. I hope the main justification for why goodness should be keyed to the form of power is now clear. Goodness should be keyed to the form of power, because in the Anthropocene, it is the form of power which determines whether we will unintentionally do right by future generations, the global poor and the value of non-human nature –or whether we will, instead, be complicit in moral wrong and the failure to uphold natural value.22 I do not see how I can talk about goodness when the concept of it allows me to ignore the moral wrong in which I am complicit. Goodness cannot possibly be complicit in massive moral wrong –if one claims that it is, then it is not truly goodness. What does re-conceptualizing goodness keyed to the form of power involve and entail, then? The next two sections explore what is involved, and the final three explore what is entailed. Here, I wish only to underline the question of priority that has been hovering behind the exposition so far. Keying goodness to the form of power does not eliminate the traditional features of goodness –intention and character. Rather, it re-orders them. They become secondary to the form of power, which itself becomes primary along with its related concepts. We can see the shift by calling the traditional concept of
10 goodness the “old world” concept and by calling the concept of goodness in the Anthopocene, the “new world” concept, like this:
Old world concept of goodness Intentions (primary locus of goodness) à unintended consequences (to be addressed via better intentions) Character (primary locus of goodness) à social organization (a generator of good or bad character, which remains the focus)
New world concept of goodness Aggregate effects (primary locus of goodness) à personal and collective intentions (to be made sound by not contributing to the aggregate effects) The form of power à character (to be made sound by not contributing to a bad form of power)
What makes the new world concept of goodness new is the role that unintentional action has in it. The form of power is a concept keyed to the total effects of aggregate collectivities. Aggregate collectivities are unintentional by definition. The form of power, accordingly, is a concept of “un-intentionality,” so to speak. It explains the total effects of what we do not mean to do. Starting with goodness in the realm of the unintentional and with a locus beyond the (personal or collective) agent in an aggregate of agents without a calculative order between them is a completely non-traditional way to approach goodness.23 Yet it appears to be morally, and so ethically, necessary in the Anthropocene.
11 Moreover, we cannot simply claim that the “new world” understanding of goodness still focuses on intentions. Yes, one can say that personal and collective intentions are to be made sound by not contributing to bad aggregate effects. But this does not collapse back into a primary focus on intentions. There, the main question –in a consequentialist vein- would be, “what should my intention be so as to not contribute to bad overall effects?” But the unintended effects of aggregate collectivities are so diffuse, miniscule, invisible, etc. when any one individual contributes to them that it is the structures of the form of power, those which pattern countless reiterations of miniscule contributions to an overall bad effect, which are the actual locus of causality for what ends up being bad. It is the patterns, by way of the structures that shape them, not the intentions that cause the problem. This is to say that the intentions are not primary when considering the consequences –the form of power is. Of course, there are some constructive responses to be made on behalf of traditional ethics. At the best, what this inversion of primary and secondary foci does is to re-orient the way we understand the acceptability of intentions. Take consequentialism, for example. Attention to the form of power first leads us to adopt a rule-consequentialist perspective at the level of aggregate collectivities. According to this perspective, my intentions are ethically sound only in so far as they follow rules that, at the level of the collective, support patterns that do not produce aggregate, bad effects. Or take Kantianism. The Categorical Imperative includes a seemingly consequentialist formulation according to which we ought to consider the overall effect of an intention held universally. This is to so-called “law of nature” formulation of the Categorical Imperative.24 Couldn’t we say that the patterns, produced by our maxims, leading to aggregate bad effects can safely be handled by the Categorical Imperative law
12 of nature formulation? After all, my maxims could be formulated in some such form consistent with the maxim, “I will act so as not to fit patterns that produce aggregate bad effects that undermine human flourishing.” If such a constructive reply were to work, however, the primary focus would still be on the aggregate collectivity –a very unKantian focus. Finally, what contemporary action theorists call befitting style reasons for action – those which characterize our ethical reasons and the reasons virtues track- take up patterns which are held to be appropriate for human life in a given society.25 These patterns could accommodate either of the two traditional interpretations just discussed –rule consequentialism or Kantianism- or some other normative basis. What they hold open is the possibility of making my intentions ethically sound only in light of fitting the patterns that are taken to be key for human flourishing. And why couldn’t these patterns be those that do not contribute to moral wrong through the unintended consequences of our aggregated action? They could be. Still, the primary focus when determining goodness would be the aggregate collective.
What happens to personal character? The civic relation, the form through which justice must be conceptualized The new world concept of goodness re-orients the tradition by shifting its primary focus. What does this re-orientation involve? In this section and the next, I will bring out two concepts that are involved in the schema unintended consequences-aggregate collectivities-form of power –the schema of the new world concept of goodness. These are the civic relation and the anthroponomic orientation. In this section, I will discuss the civic relation, contrasting it specifically with the virtue of justice that it might seem to needlessly replicate.
13 As I’ve been emphasizing throughout this essay, traditional ethical concepts should not be jettisoned in the Anthropocene. Rather, they should be re-conceptualized through a shifting focus of priority toward aggregate collective effects. I call this reconceptualization re-orientation to avoid the misperception of creating entirely new ethical concepts where they are not clearly needed. One of the most central, traditional ethical concepts is the concept of personal character. In the Anthropocene, it ought to be reoriented through what I call the civic relation. The basic, ethical (and primarily moral) need generated by the Anthropocene is to link up the personal with the aggregate collective. We might think of this as mooring the personal in the collective. Persons need, morally, to be tied to collectives in a way that the tradition has not standardly understood. The mooring is not through identification with a group agent, an intentional identity. The mooring is through a form of relation which limits or channels people’s intentions without making the intentions constitute a collective intention through a partwhole calculative order. What this means is that people of sound character in the Anthropocene have to live their lives in such a way that they do not contribute to patterns that produce the tragic consequences of aggregate collectivities. The form of their lives must stay within the limits of a form of power that does not produce tragic, aggregate consequences. Or, if their society has a bad form of power –one producing the unintended consequences that characterize the environmental problems of the Anthropocene- then they must live in such a way that they work for the reformation of their collective’s form of power. Such work, to be successful, has to be at the level of collective patterning, and so good people in the Anthropocene must understand themselves as moored to collective-level, institutional change of the patterns producing whatever aggregate effects there may be. Since these
14 effects exceed societies –they aggregate across societies and over time- good people in the Anthropocene must be moored to institutional change through their society that reaches to reform the form of power of extra-societial, de facto collectives contributing through their form of power to tragic consequences. This could specifically involve, e.g., taking my integrity to depend on working through my society to produce a social world that undoes and reforms the systems of extraction-driven, cradle-to-grave, industrial production that have characterized the set of societies around the world and across time in the modern and especially industrial periods.26 Accordingly, the civic relation is the normative form in which my personal character is moored to aggregate and unintentional consequences of the collectives to which I happen, as a matter of fact, to belong. By it, I am responsible for those consequences through being responsible for the form of power in which I live or which I have inherited. The reasons why I am responsible are explained by the core concerns of justice – e.g., the dignity of persons- or by natural value. But whatever form my expression of justice or of respect for natural value takes, it should cohere with and be expressed in, at least in part, the civic relation. In this way, the civic relation gives the form justice should take, and through which it can be justified, even while the core values of justice –say, the moral standing of innocent children a 100 years from now- explain why the civic relation is itself so important. This means that the new concept –the civic relation- is primary at the level of shaping the concept of justice, and that justice –as a set of core concerns that demand a particular form- is secondary. Indeed, that is the re-orientation of justice. I want to underline why justice’s form ought to be shaped by the civic relation. Justice, traditionally, has taken the form of wrongs between agents.27 Agent A does an injustice to agent B. The problem with the problems of scale characterizing the Anthropocene is
15 that this logic simply cannot hold. No single agent A –personal or collective- can be said to wrong some agent B. Indeed, it is the nature of aggregate collectivities to exceed the logic of agenthood. The aggregates causing the Anthropocene are not agents in the technical sense. Not only that, but those affected by the aggregates causing the Anthropocene are themselves not agents. They are themselves aggregate collectives. The class of all poor children 100 years from now is not an agent. The traditional concept of justice cannot get a grip on the kind of interpersonal wrong characteristic of the Anthropocene or of what it seems highly likely to become. Yet the troubling thing is that there does, intuitively, seem to be some matter of justice involved. My actions do contribute to expected harm to future children. As Iris Marion Young puts it, “thousands or even millions of agents contribute by [their] actions in particular institutional contexts to the processes that produce unjust outcomes.”28 And yet these agents are not themselves a group agent –far from it. Nor can any one of them, qua agent, cause the injustice. Still, the aggregate, acting within the well-worn grooves of institutional and social patterns, causes something that appears to be morally wrong: risk to vulnerable children in future generations. Once again, the old world concept appears to need re-orientation. The civic relation moors me to an unintentional collective, to its effects. By the civic relation, I act toward that collective –to which I belong in fact- as if it were an extension of my agency. In effect, I make the collective an object of my agency through my responsibility for its form of power. In so doing, I give justice a particular form suited to problems of large and long scale in the Anthropocene: justice is then thought under the form of power. Accordingly, the civic relation brings justice under the form of power such that if the aggregate collective to which I belong in fact is causing moral wrong, it
16 becomes a matter of justice for me to reform it. No agent is now wronging another agent. But an agent is wronging an aggregate (Y) of agents by itself not mooring itself to its own aggregate (X) and being responsible for it. The civic relation is the relation that moors me to the aggregate. One way wonder, then, why the relation is called civic (instead of something like “aggregate”)! The answer has to do with how the civic relation should, practically, be expressed. As Young has shown so well in the case of structural injustice, practically the only way to affect the background conditions which pattern systematic moral wrong is through actions that reform the patterning institutions themselves. These actions are almost always decidedly political –civic in the broadest sense. To be effective, individuals should
… take public stands about actions and events that affect broad masses of people, and … try to organize collective action to prevent massive harm or foster institutional change for the better.29
Personal action or action that does not rework the patterning structures of the (aggregate) collective simply will not make the needed difference. They will not un-work the unintentional and aggregate consequences producing a situation of moral wrong. Rather, it appears civic action is needed. Accordingly, the civic relation is the name for the form of living that ought to be internalized in personal character during the Anthropocene. Every person ought to have a character by which she expresses the civic relation in her life patterns. Moreover, her sense of justice and the way she expresses the virtue of justice ought to be informed –
17 ought to fit within- the civic relation. Through the civic relation, I become responsible for the institutions that pattern the behavior of the collectives to which I happen to belong as a matter of fact.
What happens to personal intentions? The anthroponomic orientation as a condition for everyday life The second way the old world tradition of goodness should be modified by the realities of the Anthropocene is through the concept of an orientation. The concept of an orientation is the remaining concept in the schema unintended consequences-aggregate collectivities-form of power-civic relation, that is, the schema of the new world concept of goodness in the Anthropocene. An orientation provides a way to locate responsibility within personal intentions given the skewing logic of aggregate collectivities that has formed the fault-line in this essay along which traditional concepts have fallen to one side, to be re-oriented and re-formed. The fault-line. I began with unintended consequences –the effects on the Earth’s biosphere, and hence geology, that allow scientists to plausibly invoke the name of a new geological era, the Anthropocene. From large scale and long term, unintended consequences, I worked back to what caused them: aggregate collectivities. I wanted to give a placeholder for the unintentional means by which such de facto collectivities cause what they have, and so I proposed the concept of the form of power. The form of power completes the explanatory schema of the moral problems proper to the Anthropocene –what Gardiner has called the “intergenerational”, “global”, and “ecological storms”. The question, then, is how the traditional concept of goodness ought to change in light of the explanatory schema.
18 I worked back to the civic relation that must underlie the traditional core concepts of goodness: personal character and justice. This civic relation, I claimed, ought to shape personal character and justice in the Anthropocene. What remains at the level of the basic concept of goodness in the Anthropocene is how the civic relation ought to reach into a life lived by an everyday, decent person.30 The traditional concept of sound intentions needs to be understood in light of the new priority given to the overall consequences of the aggregate collectivity as the primary locus of goodness. In this section, I will argue that the concept of an orientation is helpful in allowing us to understand how personal intentions can be sound within the civic relation. In this way, having started with the far end of our collective and uncoordinated action and having worked our way backward to the most intimate, quotidian dimension of goodness as we try to live well, we can see what happens to the core traditional locus of goodness in personal intentions. Why do we need the concept of an orientation to deal with personal intentions in the face of the kinds of problems we have been discussing proper to the Anthropocene? Any person is submerged within an aggregate collectivity that exceeds her society globally and historically. Also, any person cannot specify the exact nature of the moral wrong to which she is contributing far, far into the future and far, far around the globe through complex and largely indiscernible causal mechanisms that make individual contributions to aggregate effects practically and theoretically impossible to identify.31 Moreover, what is at stake through the civic relation is any person’s responsibility, through her society, for the aggregate collectivity to which she belongs as a matter of fact. This responsibility must be primary and her other responsibilities must be worked out in light of the primary responsibility conceptualized through the civic relation. What does such a priority of the civic relation in our personal intentions look like?
19 An orientation is an identity stance, where identity is extremely “thin”.32 When I take up an orientation, I am positioning my identity toward a world for which I intend to be responsible, all the while knowing that I alone cannot discharge what is needed for that responsibility.33 Moreover, the exact nature of my responsibility will remain largely underdetermined and in need of my continual reconceptualization and specification. In an orientation, I deliberately open up –or hold open- the cultural specifics of my identity to the largely unknown, emerging, and gradually informing demands of whatever I am oriented towards, as these demands exceed anything I can individually do. For my purposes in this paper, an orientation is an identity stance positioned toward the moral wrong risked by my aggregate collective’s form of power. To keep ahold of an orientation in this paper’s context is to make the civic relation’s priority a feature of my everyday life with its myriad personal intentions. It is to not let my personal intentions violate or ignore the civic relation, and it is to keep the relation in mind as a feature of having sound personal intentions. What should we call such an orientation in the Anthropocene? I propose that we call it an anthroponomic orientation. The Anthropocene is characterized by the aggregate collectivity of humankind as a near whole (dating back at least to 11,000 B.C. when the mega-fauna extinctions show our unintentional, aggregate, tragic effects). Accordingly, it is not unreasonable to understand the overall goal of responsibility for our form of power to be a self-regulation of humankind as a whole, in particular with respect to future generations of humankind, the most vulnerable among humankind globally, and to non-human beings or entities (e.g., eco-systems) with natural value. The self-regulation of humankind as a whole, however, is bringing humankind under nomos –the Greek word for law or custom. In this way, it makes sense to say that our main form of responsibility in the civic relation
20 ought to be anthroponomic and that the orientation expressing the civic relation’s priority in personal intentions should be called an anthroponomic orientation.34 To hold an anthroponomic orientation in everyday life is to live keeping in mind the need to regulate humankind as a whole and search for ways to promote –or not interfere with- that need. It is, likewise, to understand that such self-regulation of humankind as a whole can only come about through the civic relation, that is, through institutional change patterning human action globally in ways that will create a good form of power. It is to live as a citizen seeking to make humankind’s form of power wholly satisfy our moral and ethical responsibilities to far future generations, the globally poor or vulnerable, and to non-human beings or entities with natural value. Certainly, this is not such a citizen’s only goal, but it is the primary goal we all ought to have, against which all other goals should be checked for soundness and against which any trade-offs should be justified and explained carefully. That is how the concept of goodness must change. Is it also how goodness appears differently in everyday life?
Consequence 1: from morality, first, to politics first, and inseparable Not completely –there is more to say. The new world concept of goodness has the schema unintended consequences-aggregate collectivities-the form of power-the civic relation-the anthroponomic orientation. Those five concepts are feature of the overall concept of goodness. What does this re-orienting of the tradition entail? Answering this question will allow us to better understand how goodness sits differently in everyday life. In the remaining three sections of this essay, I give three entailments of the new world concept of goodness. The first consequence of the new world concept of goodness is that politics takes priority over private morality. In so far as “morality” has come to mean an a-political,
21 private domain in major parts of the modern tradition35, politics takes priority over morality as such. In my own view and that of Allen Thompson, however, such a division between morality and politics both makes no sense.36 One of the most significant consequences of reflecting on the Anthropocene is the eat away at the divide between the moral and the political in modern life. From being extra-political, the moral should become a part of the political. Rather than divide morality and politics, the argument of this essay points to where the two join in active citizenship. Active citizenship is the domain where personal intentions meet up with responsibility for collectives, where traditional moral virtues come to bear on governance, law, and other traditional foci of politics. As this essay has made clear, the civic relation, implying active citizenship, is a core concept of the new world schema of goodness. Joining morality and politics inseparably, the civic relation’s priority in moral matters ensures that active civic involvement is the primary focus of moral life. We can no longer be moral and a-political, if ever we could. On the contrary, to be moral is to be actively political.37
Consequence 2: moral identity and active citizenship –re-orienting personal integrity This first consequence of the new world concept of goodness leads directly to a second consequence. If to be moral is to be actively political, moral identity becomes predicated off of, and grounded in, civic identity. Active citizenship becomes the primary feature of my moral identity –a radical consequence given the almost near universal dominance of figures of private morality in (at least U.S. and many other nation’s) popular culture. The person with a sound moral identity is then no longer the private do-gooder, the family
22 man who has integrity in his job and who shows kindliness to his neighbors. No, the person of sound moral identity is first and foremost the active citizen who, in expressing an anthroponomic orientation, pushes us to make our collective responsible to far future humankind, the global poor and powerless, and non-human beings and entities of natural value. She may push us or push our government or push us to push our government, but the core focus is collective regulation of our aggregate collectivity through reforming our form of power. To take just once example of how such a consequence for moral identity plays out in the terrain of traditional morality, consider the concept of personal integrity.38 Having integrity implies living up to one’s moral principles.39 Thus it is perfectly consistent with having personal integrity to have integrity in that one is an active citizen who consistently minds the civic relation through an anthroponomic orientation. Yet such a primary model of integrity is novel. Much more common would be to see a model of integrity in the person who, e.g., keeps her word, does her job by the book, doesn’t double-cross people, etc. –in short, in someone who can be counted on in word and in deed to maintain interpersonal norms. This is not a person who necessarily appears to be political. Yet the new world concept of goodness demands just such a person –someone who is necessarily political, or she lacks personal integrity.
Consequence 3: moral identity, the banality of evil and responsibility for the form of power our society takes This last consequence focusing on the case of personal integrity takes us to one of the most troubling examples of vice in the modern period –the case of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann’s defense in Israel, as reported by Hanna Arendt, was at base an appeal to
23 integrity. Eichmann claimed that his massive moral wrong was pardonable due to his having done simply what a man of professional integrity should do: namely, his lawful job.40 Of course, his justification was highly questionable, since professional integrity commonly involves respect for persons, non-harm, and certainly a prohibition against the murder of innocents. And professional integrity is a different form of integrity, standardly, than personal integrity. Still, what Eichmann’s case raised for Arendt was the specter of everyday people going about their lives doing what they take to be their jobs with integrity –all the while remaining thoughtlessly submerged in mass scale systems of structural injustice. This problem, which she called the banality of evil, has been prescient. The traditional concept of goodness with its primary focus on personal character, personal intentions, and interpersonal justice is not well equipped to head off the banality of evil that is at present a core feature of the Anthropocene. Currently, the mass of humankind goes about its business –and has gone about its business for thousands of years- in such a way that we have, collectively and unintentionally as an aggregate, created the conditions for large scale and long term moral wrong. Although almost none of us have been like Eichmann, who was after all responsible for intentionally committing genocide, we too easily fall prey to our own banal evil, which is set in place and maintained in part by a concept of goodness that does not make responsibility for our aggregate collective’s form of power its primary focus. A concept of personal integrity divorced, or distant, from the political only exacerbates the way our banal evil is entrenched. Our very sense of integrity supports it. The new world concept of goodness has a schema that emphasizes the civic relation, responsibility for the form of power our aggregate collective takes, and a concept of integrity grounded in the primacy of the anthroponomic orientation. To my mind,
24 one of the very best consequences of such a concept is the ground it clears for digging us out of the banal evil of humankind in the Anthropocene. As Gardiner has shown so well, this banal evil involves a great threat to poor, powerless, and future humans and to natural value on Earth. Moreover, it threatens to mar us morally, making our lives retrospective sites of justifiable regret, shame or guilt.41 How does the new world concept of goodness help us? It helps us by providing a clear moral identity, one that, when taken as a matter of integrity, defends us against the very thoughtlessness that plagued Eichmann.42 Take just the case of responsibility to future generations. According to the civic relation, I am to be responsible for humankind’s form of power. The nature of this responsibility is anthroponomic. Moreover, my everyday lift ought to express just such an anthroponomic orientation –an overall, open-ended intention to make humankind regulate its form of power so that we do no moral wrong to future generations. What, then, ought my identity here be? It ought to be inclined toward justice for future generations. In other words, I should take as a core feature of my identity that I incline my life toward justice for future generations. What kind of identity would this be? It would be, interestingly, not unlike the common sense view of moral identity during, e.g., the generation that lived through the Great Depression and one -or sometimes two- world wars, the so-called “Great Generation”. The common sense view of identity then was to make sacrifices now for a better future for our descendants.43 It was future oriented and non-selfish. Moreover, it realized that structural reformation was needed –the regulation of the world financial system to avoid future depressions and an agency that can create international peace (this became the United Nations and our contemporary human rights architecture).
Similarly, moral identity in the Anthropocene must be future oriented and nonselfish. It also must be resolutely political and aimed at structural reformation. It must focus on organizing our collectives to take responsibility for themselves and ultimately for humankind as a whole. Such a moral identity, which we might sum up as taking responsibility for humankind, does not allow any person to submerge himself in the collective, his professional roles, or what have you. It does not allow one to unquestioningly accept one’s society’s institutions or to lose sight of what the totality of our society or of some prominent block of our institutions is causing or is failing to stop. It is the anti-Eichmann identity, everyday goodness that digs up banal evil from its hiding places within structural injustice. Anthroponomic civic engagement –resolutely political as a matter of personal integrity- is where the changed world of goodness appears.
1. Paul Crutzen, "Geology of Mankind." Nature, 415 (23), 2002. 2. Much of this work can be found in A. Thompson’s and my edited volume, Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012). 3. See, for instance, Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), itself indebted to Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. But of course Williams’s non-metaphysical view was common in the 19th century, especially with John Stuart Mill and –in metaphysical variants- among Hegelians and post-Hegelians of various sorts. The historicism here is normative, not descriptive, as would be the case for Marxists and a standard reading of Foucault. For contemporary
26 metaphysicians as diverse as Parfit (in On What Matters, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) or Deleuze and Guattari (in What Is Philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), the discovery (or “invention”) of new concepts is part and parcel of doing philosophy around ethics, including the peculiar institution of morality. 4. Thanks go to the wonderful students of my introduction to philosophy class On Structural Injustice from the Fall of 2011 at Case Western Reserve University and to, alphabetically, Stephen Gardiner, Helmut Hirsch, Paul Hirsch, Ronald Sandler and Allen Thompson. 5. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. by C. Rowe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), book V 6. To speak of my intentions being constrained is to say that my personal intentions are sound only in so far as they do not violate the obligations I have by virtue of the civic relation (say, to the far future of humankind). If I think I am doing something good but am violating or omitting an obligation I have by virtue of the civic relation, then my intentions are not sound. I can no longer have sound intentions, for example, while avoiding or violating my duties to the far future of humankind. This is simply to say that my intentions are flawed, not utterly worthless. In the terminology of action theory, the civic relation comes to constrain intentions as a form of what is “befitting” (see Candace Vogler, Reasonably Vicious (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)). Yet what makes the civic relation different from, say, fitting patterns of justice is that the form of the civic relation is not interpersonal, as it is in matters of justice, but is mereological in a sense this chapter will explain. So one cannot reabsorb the civic relation into the logic of justice, say, as
27 explained by Michael Thompson in “What Is It to Wrong Someone? A Puzzle about Justice” in R. J. Wallace, P. Pettit, S. Scheffler, and M. Smith (eds.), Reason and Value: Themes in the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 333-384. 7. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neo-liberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) 8. Hanna Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin Classics, 2006) 9. See Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought: an Alternative History of Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002 10. Stephen M. Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm: the Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), chapter 5 11. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1999). Interestingly, the Legal Theory Lexicon (http://legaltheorylexicon.blogspot.com/2004/03/legal-theory-lexicon-028-conceptsand.html , accessed January 5, 2012) traces the distinction back to William Gallie’s 1956 “Essentially Contested Concepts”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 56 (1955 - 1956), pp. 167-198. 12. Plato, Republic. Many translations available. 13. For instance, in Plato’s Crito. Many translations available. 14. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics and Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Many translations available.
28 15. See the example of the “decent single mother” in my “The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Caused by Us” in Thompson and Bendik-Keymer (2012), pp. 263-280. 16. “Power”, New Oxford American Dictionary, Apple Inc., 2009 17. The form of power would include, then, the “storms” Gardiner (2011) analyzes as well as the discussion of evolved short-term thinking and “tribalistic” tendencies summarized in works like Matthew Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Penguin, 1998). 18. Iris Marion Young, Responsibility for Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 19. Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, “The Moral and the Ethical: What Conscience Teaches Us about Morality” in V. Gluckmann, ed. Moral Reasoning: Different Approaches. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012, page numbers not yet proofed. 20. Henry Shue, “Deadly Delays, Saving Opportunities: Creating a More Deadly World?” in Gardiner, Caney, Jamieson and Shue, eds., Climate Ethics: Essential Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 146-162 21. Again see my “The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Caused by Us” in Thompson and Bendik-Keymer (2012). 22. I am shadowing the first two of the three storms of injustice Gardiner (2011) identifies –the intergenerational and the global storms. Gardiner, to avoid what he sees as needless controversy now, does not address what he calls the ecological storm. Instead, he focuses on what he calls the theoretical storm. One of my constructive criticisms of Gardiner’s work here is to note that all the storms involve theoretical vagueness and so it hardly seems right to make theoretical vagueness a separate storm. Rather, it is a feature
29 of the storms. My own view is that the third storm is the ecological one, instead. There is enough wide-spread support for the intrinsic value of non-human nature to support such an analysis. See my The Ecological Life: Discovering Citizenship and a Sense of Humanity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006) for more on why I believe that respect for nature is a basic feature of common humanity. 23. On the role the “calculative order” has in establishing collective agency, see Vogler (2009). Vogler draws here on G.E.M. Anscombe’s Intention, 2nd edition (New York: Harvard University Press, 2000). 24. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. by Mary Gregor. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, section II [AK page to be added]. For a summary of the Law of Nature formulaton, see Professor Robert Barger’s summary taken from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2001) at: http://www.nd.edu/~rbarger/categorical-imperative.html , accessed January 8, 2012. 25. See Vogler (2009), chapter 5. 26. Cf. Michael Braungart and William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point Press, 2002 27. Thompson (2004) 28. Young (2011), p. 111 29. Ibid., p. 76 30. This concern with understanding how one can be decent and not support a tragic society is a line of questioning I have been following since my “Species Extinction and the Vice of Thoughtlessness: the Importance of Spiritual Exercises for Learning Virtue” (Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, n. 23, 2010, pp. 61-83). It became
30 explicit in my (2012) “The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Caused by Us.” The concern here, at bottom, traces back to the problem of the banality of evil, which I discuss in the last section of this essay. 31. In Martin Gorke’s The Death of our Planet’s Species (trans. by Patricia Nevers. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2003, part I) ecological complexity’s challenge to theoretical precision is explored. 32. Cf. Michael Walzer, Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 33. I discuss the concept of a practical orientation, which has some similarities to what I am discussing here, in my Conscience and Humanity. A Dissertation Submitted to the University of Chicago Department of Philosophy. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services, 2002, chapter 5. In that context, I was helped by Anthony Laden’s Reasonably Radical: Deliberative Liberalism and the Politics of Identity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001 and Christine Korsgaard’s The Sources of Normativity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 34. I disagree with both Martin Gorke (2003, pp. 216-217) and G.M. Teutsch (in “Schöpfung Ist Mehr als Umwelt”, in K. Bayertz, ed. Ökologische Ethik. Munich: Schnell & Steiner, 1988, pp. 55-65). Teutsch proposed the term “anthroponomy” to refer to the location of ethical judgment within a human perspective –an epistemic condition on valuation. This position is better called “anthroponoesis” –human mindedness. Being anthroponoetic is a condition on being anthroponomous. Oddly, Gorke (2003, p. 348, endnote 107) identifies the correct understanding of anthroponomy in Kant, who in the “Doctrine of Virtue” of The Metaphysics of Morals (trans. by Mary Gregor. New York:
31 Cambridge University Press, 1996, A47), identifies anthroponomy with the capacity to regulate humankind with “self-imposed laws.” I would differ from Kant only in speaking of the capacity for anthroponomy, where anthroponomy is self-regulation of humankind by law or custom. 35. Cf. Rawls (1999) –where on the one hand politics is supported by the moral sense of justice, but on the other hand, justice is the domain separable from private conceptions of what is right and wrong. 36. See Thompson and my (2012), chapter 1. 37. As should be clear, I am highly skeptical that such a separation could ever work or really does in any systematic moral philosophy from the history of ethics. That does not diminish its popular appear, however, nor the way even systematic practical philosophy at times assumes the division Benjamin Constant made between the modern and ancient conceptions of public and private life. See Thompson and Bendik-Keymer (2012), chapter 1 for our –admittedly too brief- discussion of Constant and the modern phenomenon. 38. Thanks to Julia Annas who, during a talk I gave at University of Arizona a decade ago, pushed me to think of how moral re-orientation can capture and transform traditional concepts such as integrity, rather than jettisoning or opposing them. 39. “Integrity”, New Oxford American Dictionary, Apple Inc., 2009 40. Arendt (2006), especially pp. 135ff. on obedience to law. 41. Gardiner (2011), chapter 10
32 42. On this thoughtlessness in an environmental context, see my (2012) “Species Extinction and the Vice of Thoughtlessness: the Importance of Spiritual Exercises for Learning Virtue.” 43. I wish to thank my late uncle Leonard A. Dudzinski, who died in late 2011. He grew up in the Depression and served in both Europe and the Pacific in World War II. Throughout his weekend of his funeral, I talked more than once with people of his generation, reflecting on how what was common sense then became b the 1980’s the claim that “greed is good”. I wrote about this contrast in my long poem, “53rd and Kimbark: a poetics of extinction” (2010), http://www.cwru.edu/artsci/phil/A%20poetics%20of%20extinction.pdf , accessed January 12, 2012, and was heartened to see the contrast discussed by Gardiner (2011) in his example of the difference between the “Great Generation” and the “Bloopers”.