Oliver O’Donovan on the roots of our ecological malaise

This comment from Oliver O’Donovan is still as valuable and perceptive as it was in 1986:

Yellow_flower“Thus arises the irony of our own days, in which the very protection of nature has to be argued in terms of man’s ‘interest’ in preserving his ‘environment’. Such a philosophy offers no stable protection against the exploitation of nature by man, since he can discern nothing in the relations of things to command his respect. And, of course, this unprincipled domination must extend itself to include his own psychosomatic nature, all that is not itself the devising mind, so that humanity itself dissolves in the polarization of the technological will and its raw material. Man’s monarchy over nature can be healthy only if he recognizes it as something itself given in the nature of things, and therefore limited by the nature of things. For if it were true that he imposed his will upon nature from without, then there would be no limit to it. It would have been from the beginning a crude struggle to stamp an inert and formless nature with the insignia of his will. Such has been the philosophy bred by a scientism liberated from the discipline of Christian metaphysics. It is not what the Psalmist meant by the dominion of man, which was a worshipping and respectful sovereignty, a glad responsibility for the natural order which he both discerned and loved.” (Resurrection and Moral Order, 52)

The ‘irony’ O’Donovan speaks of is the irony of man’s finding himself, as a result of its pervasive voluntarist approach to morality in which it forgets or refuses to acknowledge the givenness of created moral order, in a situation where he cannot even see that he is part of nature himself, and so can only justify protecting the environment by reference to possible benefits to himself.

The value of O’Donovan’s critique is that it shows how it is possible for all sides of debates about climate change and ecological crisis to share common assumptions or ways of approaching the natural order which make any solution inherently unstable. O’Donovan’s point is that if we only manage to protect nature on the basis of its value to us, we may have done something useful, but we are still driven by assumptions that profoundly distort our relation to natural order and so will inevitably bring further chaos in their wake. I think this is still a valuable insight.

One thought on “Oliver O’Donovan on the roots of our ecological malaise

  1. it’s a great quote – perhaps we need to approach ecological questions from the starting point of viewing nature as a fellow worshipper

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s