The virtues of ecological citizenship

JAMES CONNELLY

In this reading, James Connelly presents a case for applying virtue ethics to environmental action and links this to the emerging debate on ecological citizenship. Rather than developing an account of virtue ethics that rigidly applies Aristotle's ideas to the present, he explores how virtues are both private and social - arguing that virtues are dispositions of character but also contribute to the collective good. As a result, he does not see virtue ethics as necessarily opposed to other ethical approaches but as compatible with them. On this basis, Connelly develops an account of the duties of ecological citizenship as self-imposed rather than through a reciprocal contract - duties can exist without corresponding rights. The remainder of this extract explores the role of agency and motive in promoting eco-virtues and explores how citizens can use these to understand the reasons for acting responsibly.

ยง [...] The starting point is the simple question, What are the appropriate responses to environmental problems? Clearly, externally motivated environmental actions are necessary but not sufficient. If flights are cheap, we will fly; if gas is cheap, we will drive. Some eco-citizens, already keen practitioners of environmental virtue, deliberately limit their choice of transport to what they deem environmentally sustainable; but most of us, most of the time, will act only in response to the external motivations of price, punishment, or prohibition. The use of legal or economic instruments is therefore a necessary part of the environmentally sustainable whole. Although these measures are valuable in their own way, however, they do not constitute the whole answer because they are all alike in providing a motive extrinsic to the desired goal or effect. External motivation will continue to be required for some purposes, especially to break through the deadlock of collective action problems, but legal instruments and economic incentives need to be supplemented by appropriate environmental virtues. Virtuous eco-citizens will internalize the purpose and value of good environmental practices, and their obedience will thus transcend mere compliance, going beyond it toward autonomous virtuous activity.1 [...]

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