Clive Hamilton on “The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene”

Over the last two days, Clive Hamilton published a pair of essays that argue ethics in the Anthropocene are moot. The first essay largely lays out the problems of the continuing rampage besieging Earth systems. The second essay argues that neither consequentialism, deontology, or virtue ethics get any real purchase on the kinds of problems the Anthropocene poses. The argument is that describing the current milieu as unethical (or as unlawful if we see things as environmental crimes) is to commit a category mistake. The implication here is that ethics and law are not capacious enough to withstand the implications that the Anthropocene has on the categories of action and choice that exist when humans are major drivers of Earth systems.

It is an interesting argument, but nowhere does Hamilton consider either of two alternatives: (1) that ethics could be recuperated if some of its more cherished devices are reformulated (I have been working on a paper on this topic for some time now…slow going!); or, (2) that any case for action is going to be motivated out of existing norms because those are what make concrete options serious candidates for consideration (this is the old ‘ought implies can’ principle).

I don’t know if there is a third essay coming up, but I will keep an eye out for it.

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