Climate Change, Virtue, and Moral Agency
In the last decade, virtue ethics has steadily grown as a viable and useful framework for addressing the problems and challenges of climate change. Interest in broader concerns of environmental virtue ethics has intensified in the study of particularly “ecological” character traits that reveal how human flourishing is embedded in ecological relations, and that promote practices of restoration ecology. As an exercise in Muslim-Christian comparative theological ethics, cumulatively, this dissertation attempts to contribute to this ongoing discourse. More specifically, its principal task becomes clarified by the central methodological question of how virtue is acquired, cultivated, and may become developed. From a Catholic standpoint, the critical aim concerns developing the proper hermeneutic to both shape and inform virtue responses to climate change. In this regard, the ethical perspective continues to emphasize three crucial implications that must be kept at the forefront of any effective, systematic response to the urgent struggle of climate justice, namely, radical inequality that disproportionately affects the poor and most vulnerable, basic commitments to protect creation and care for non-human creatures, and solidarity with future generations. To this end, proposing practical means and key conditions for the pursuit of ecological conversion, this comparative theological approach is developed to cultivate a more suitable response. Building solidarity and practicing hospitality, this virtue-rooted approach proposes lessons in developing sobriety, attunement, and resilience in accord with hope.A core concern that I address is the lack of engagement with both concrete problems and shared challenges that transcend religious boundaries. In The Future of Ethics, Willis Jenkins contributes key focus toward “reform projects,” that is, actual cases of cultural change and religious creativity. In a pragmatic way, he suggests that these social movements offer vital lessons that demonstrate how to become better managers of humanity’s planetary powers. In a “prophetic” spirit, furthermore, he claims these lessons should enable and may inspire persons as moral agents to resist and overcome how conditions of “moral pluralism and cultural conflict” alienate ethical responses. From a comparative theological perspective, I critique his understanding of hospitality, how his strategy systematically ignores contributions of religious others and his relative lack of engagement with non-Christian sources. I argue that the discipline of comparative theology functions to make a particularly important contribution to this issue, pointing to the usefulness of virtue ethics that highlight the types of people we should become, the capabilities and distinct contributions of religious perspectives, and the methods of virtue cultivation that might serve climate ethics in understanding the complex goal of “reinhabitation.” I define this aspirational concept of reinhabitation as threefold, providing an altered sense of place, “spiritual landscape,” and practice of everyday life. In response to climate change, therefore, this dissertation attempts to forward a possible method of ethical reasoning as much as a discrete role for the discipline of comparative theology. As virtue ethics is supplemented dialectically with the use of case-based reasoning, the dialogical method allows a back-and-forth style of reasoning that enables judgments to be challenged and revised and even allows the possibility to listen and learn from others. The current literature of climate ethics tends to fall short of how theoretical work on virtue must be guided toward concretely affecting how flourishing becomes understood, implicating both the practice of everyday life and moral formation. While highlighting friendship as a possible basis for shaping ecological agency, I argue that the virtue ethics of Thomas Aquinas continues to provide important lessons in “broadening” justice to include those who are excluded from their “due” share, and encompasses the “community of the universe.” However, in Thomas’s understanding of ecological agency, Christian theology must confront, rehabilitate, and seek to reconcile limitations and inherited problems. In particular, I shall address habitual tendencies to either dominate or exclude other, non-human creatures in Christian visions of flourishing. In common, Islamic approaches seem to be developing the question of ecological agency with a more acute consciousness toward habits and virtues that integrate ecological concerns. In the virtue ethics of Abū Hamid al-Ghazālī, I turn to an alternative model of virtue cultivation that emphasizes bodily practices in its development perspective, with a more corporeal and therapeutic way to practice temperance, enact justice in accord with law, and perhaps fostering hope. In this dissertation, as a result of this dialogical engagement, I argue for the incorporation of both case-based reasoning and development of virtue ethics. Taken together, this method of reasoning can draw inquiry into cooperative habits of solidarity and may create conditions for practicing hospitality. In sum, what kind of justice is necessary? In the concluding chapter, based on the case of the Niger Delta, I begin to sketch the outlines for a model of restorative justice with the promising basis of Muslim-Christian dialogue, the key role of climate change witnesses, and building possible pathways toward building resilience in the name of the greater common good.