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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: November 2020

12 - The Politics of Wonder

from Part I - Historical Antecedents and Philosophical Debates


Nussbaum’s capabilities approach harks back to ancient Greek phūsis at the origin of the philosophical tradition, but it is a form of environmental humanism developing Enlightenment values. This complexity is not without its tensions. Using the contradictions I find contained in Nussbaum’s commitment to wonder as a universally important ethical experience, I push her extension of moral regard for other species farther than it can currently go. Nussbaum has transformed the Enlightenment concept of dignity to include other forms of life. Her considered position is a form of biocentric individualism. Biocentric individualism is the view that individual lives as such have dignity. However, I will show that her outlook, grounded in wonder, presents insurmountable obstacles to her biocentric individualism. I resolve these by suggesting that moral individualism ought to be jettisoned when species are not morally individualized in their form of life. I motivate this argument through the risk of a mass extinction cascade, which characterizes our planetary ecological situation and poses a threat both to human development and the moral and ethical commitments of the capabilities approach. I propose one general criterion for reasonable institutions regarding this risk, surrounding it with a call for environmental humanism in political culture.

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