Carly Lane, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

Monday, November 17, 2014
4:30 pm
Social Sciences Tea Room (SS201)

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“‘The Starry Heavens Above Me and the Moral Law Within’: Transcendentalism’s Claim Against Deep Ecology”

Presented in collaboration with the Theology and Religious Ethics Workshop

I open this paper with a brief but sympathetic survey of the instincts and aims of Deep Ecology. I argue that on its own terms Deep Ecology can neither justify its necessity or make coherent progress on its own stated goals: Dismissing the ‘transcendent subject’ as so much metaphysics, and “anthropocentrism” as a moral/ecological threat, Deep Ecology undermines its own conditions of possibility. Turning to the very philosophical sources Deep Ecology understands itself against, I develop an account of the relatively-transcendent (which is to say responsible, undetermined, free) subject and her aesthetic-cum-ethical judgment. I show this form of judgment to be at work—albeit contradictorily—throughout Deep Ecology literature. Borrowing from Arendt, I defend the appropriateness of this form of judgment, not least for community formation and political action. I conclude by tracing the intimate relationship between this form of judgment and poetic thinking: As an exemplary alternative to Deep Ecology I proffer the poetic thought of Henry David Thoreau who sounds out his aesthetic-ethical judgments that we might be recalled to our humanity, in both society and the natural world.

Refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (

Find our full workshop schedule here.