Eco­log­i­cal Gov­er­nance

To­ward a New So­cial Con­tract with the Earth

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews -

Bruce Jen­nings, West Vir­ginia Uni­ver­sity Press Soft­cover $18.99 (208pp), 978-1-94366-518-1

As di­rec­tor of bioethics for the Cen­ter for Hu­mans and Na­ture and ad­junct as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of health pol­icy at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity, Bruce Jen­nings writes widely about eth­i­cal de­ci­sion mak­ing. In Eco­log­i­cal Gov­er­nance, he as­serts that we must make “a new peace treaty with the planet.”

As the fos­sil-fuel era draws to a close, it is time to jet­ti­son the old model of treat­ing the earth as a com­mod­ity, he ar­gues. Rather than an in­stru­men­tal re­la­tion­ship, the hu­man-na­ture con­nec­tion needs to be a trustee­ship in which we ac­cept our col­lec­tive duty to care for and re­spect the earth. This re­quires a sense of com­mon moral pur­pose and an un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­de­pen­dence of all life.

By ex­pound­ing on the his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the no­tion of the so­cial con­tract—a key el­e­ment of works by po­lit­i­cal philoso­phers Thomas Hobbes, Jean-jac­ques Rousseau, and John Locke—jen­nings gives his ideas a solid the­o­ret­i­cal un­der­pin­ning. The so­cial con­tract, a set of ac­cepted rules and roles, was meant to re­flect the nat­u­ral or­der and be broadly ben­e­fi­cial. Jen­nings be­lieves that now that we are in the An­thro­pocene era, we can­not sim­ply keep adapt­ing old ways of do­ing things; we need to cre­ate a whole new eco­nomic world­view and “re­struc­ture our value pri­or­i­ties.”

Al­though this weighty ethics text mostly en­gages with the writ­ings of sev­eral philoso­phers, Jen­nings is care­ful to il­lu­mi­nate the ev­ery­day im­pli­ca­tions for lay­men. With in­ven­tive metaphors drawn from the arts—rang­ing from Da Vinci’s Vitru­vian Man to Ham­let—the book makes a clear case for “a way of be­ing in the world that one can come to take on as lightly and un­op­pres­sively as a smile or a style.”

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