In responding to global climate crises, moral philosophers, policymakers, and activists may find ourselves relying on concepts that are poorly suited to the problems we now face. In thinking about water-related challenges, this course asks participants not only to conceive our situation in familiar moral terms--managing disputes about water rights or water pollution control, for example--but also to see how our understanding of water, and our relation to it, transforms how we conceive of morality.
The shared moral reference points to which contemporary public discourse can most readily appeal include rights, reciprocal agreements, and alleviation of suffering. The first two principle-based concepts have been of some use in addressing clear cases of conflict among actual human beings' claims. Yet such conflicts represent only a fraction of the challenges related to environmental interdependence. Meanwhile, public alarm over suffering can draw attention to other symptoms of environmental crisis--namely, to the desperation of sentient beings in circumstances of scarcity, toxicity, inundation, or niche loss. Yet such concern over suffering also remains insufficient to orient us to our responsibility with respect to Earth's interdependent patterns of life.
This seminar will explore several marginalized and emerging ways of conceptualizing problems of value and agency, inquiring into how they help us recognize and rise to the challenges of environmental interdependence and volatility. We will attend especially to the challenge of making sense of an ethics animated by water metaphors such as fluency, dynamics, and circulation, rather than by the more solid conceptual touchstones of principles on one hand and results or outcomes on the other.