17th International Conference in the Series “Humanistic Ecology”
“Environmental Philosophy and Ethics in the Face of the Ecological Crisis”
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland
Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia
Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia
Francis de Sales Scientific Society, Poland
Warsaw, September 20-21, 2023
Philosophy invariably attends humans in asking questions and looking for answers to the challenges they face at the successive stages of civilizational development. While in the eighteenth century, philosophical reflection focused on the “state issue,” and in the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, on the “social issue,” in the last quarter of the twentieth century and in the first decades of the twenty-first century, we have observed an increased reflection on the “ecological issue” (Łepko 1994, 21). Human attitude towards nature and the deepening ecological crisis require today a thorough philosophical reflection (Böhme 2002, 5). In the strict sense, no reflection of that type appeared before the 1960s and 1970s, however, its inspiration can be found in a rich philosophical tradition, especially in the philosophy of nature (Waloszczyk 1996, 200-207). Although the primary philosophical reflection was for centuries characterized by human domination over nature, one can see the “green thread” in the philosophical tradition, which inspires a harmonious relationship between humans and nature (Waloszczyk 1997, 229-230).
The awakening of ecological awareness in the 1960s was, on the one hand, a consequence of the shared experience of the severe effects of the environmental crisis and, on the other, a result of the publication of alarmist reports by international organizations and representatives of science. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the report by U Thant, the UN general secretary, entitled Problems of the Human Environment (1969) and The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (1972). An essential factor in awakening environmental awareness were also publications addressed to the general public and representatives of the humanities. In this regard, two books are especially significant: Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson and The End of Nature (1989) by Bill McKibben. Both publications show the ambivalent nature of technology, which, on the one hand, provides man with success in controlling nature and, on the other, constitutes a serious and often not fully realized danger for nature and man.
With the deepening of the discussion on the ecological crisis and acknowledging its complexity, it became evident that the problems of nature and the people living in it could not be solved solely by technical means and the involvement of natural sciences. It is, therefore, necessary to broaden the research on the ecological crisis by including philosophical reflection (Weizsäcker 1994; Schäfer 1993; Tyburski 2006, 7). Moreover, it has also been realized that an attempt to counter the ecological crisis only technologically will be ineffective and destructive for both nature and man himself (Łepko 2011, 88).
The ecological challenges faced by humans nowadays are combined with philosophical questions about the value of nature and the ethical assessment of human attitudes toward the surrounding world. Thus, there arise questions in the field of ethics as well as social and political philosophy, which concern, for example, justice in the context of pollutant emissions, obtaining natural resources, and bearing the undesirable consequences of these activities. Questions are also raised about the disproportionate distribution of benefits and threats to individual countries resulting from the exploitation of natural resources. The awareness of the fragility of the terrestrial ecosystem and the finite nature of its resources, both abiotic and biotic, raises questions about the responsibility of the contemporaries towards future generations. Intergenerational responsibility also raises questions about the current lifestyle and nonchalance with which the modern generation approaches the Earth’s finite natural resources. There is also a question about the responsibility for non-human species and the planet’s condition, which we will leave to future generations. Another critical issue is developing a realistic position on the place and role of humans in the world and their rights and obligations towards nature.
Philosophical reflection on the ecological crisis leads to the conclusion that this crisis has an anthropological character. In other words, it is not a crisis of nature but a crisis of civilization within which nature is exposed to abuse and destruction. The ecological crisis understood in this way is based on human apparent civilizational success which alienates people from nature to such an extent that their actions become destructive for both nature and themselves. A civilization that serves humans to defend themselves against nature and then to master it, leads to a state in which humans have almost conquered nature. The disturbance of the desired balance between nature and civilization brings about fatal diseases in nature. Therefore, a therapy is necessary that would make people aware of the seriousness of the situation, that will move away from symptomatic and emergency treatment – as was the case when the natural sciences alone were involved in it – and move on to treating the causes. Consequently, the success of this therapy must include humanistic reflection, which guarantees far-reaching and forward-looking thinking about the style of human presence in the world. The remedy for nature’s disease is not, however, a simple replacement of the domination of culture with that of nature. It is necessary to build a complex balance that would allow mutual respect for each other’s specificity. The final effect will be resolving the ecological crisis thanks to a symbiosis of civilization and nature (Łepko 2003, 170-171).
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