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Should animals have specific legal rights? Should trees have standing? Just how far do our responsibilities go toward nature, asks Ferry (Philosophy/Sorbonne) in this erudite and entertaining critique of environmentalism. Ferry (Political Philosophy, not reviewed, etc.) starts this study of environmental ethics back in the 16th century, when troublesome beetles and leeches were put on trial, when the rats of Autun were issued summonses -- well, at least they had their day in court. Such evenhandedness was dealt a death blow by Cartesianism, that perfect model of anthropocentrism in which all rights went to man and none to nature. Then Utilitarianism became ideologically ascendant and the notion that animals should not suffer -- as in the Utilitarian ""least suffering by the least number"" -- became common currency. These two schools continue to shape our relationships with nature (though Ferry details other influences: Rousseau and Kant, Aristotle and Heidegger, even the National Socialists). Now environmental activists are demanding a new ecological mindset, one in which nature writ large has the same rights as humans. At the far end of this movement are the deep ecologists, who question whether humans will ever be able to live in harmony with nature. Ferry finds them appalling: antihuman, with tendencies toward authoritarianism, dogmatism, and a strong anticulture streak. And just who are they, Ferry would like to know, to decide exactly what Nature wants, anyway? Ferry's advice is to mingle cosmopolitanism with rootedness, a ""synthesis of raw material and cultivated ideas,"" to avoid any degradation in the quality of life. Humans may have trashed the Earth, says Ferry, but it is also humans who have the capacity to set things right. Though his wit can fail him (""No one really expects Brigitte Bardot to develop a coherent doctrine as to the rights [and responsibilities?] of animals,"" he smirks), for the most part this is a closely argued, well-documented, sensitive critique.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0226244830
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago