The emergence of an ecological way of life

Joseph (Jay) Burner Smith, Fordham University


Is a simple refinement of the way we are living sufficient to address the environmental crisis? Is a wise use stance in which we produce and consume ‘smarter’ enough? This work not only answers no to the above question, but argues that a new way of life is already emerging—an ecological way of life. The ecological way of life is centered conceptually upon the ethical ideas first formulated in various policy documents, namely, that we are responsible to future generations in terms of sharing this planet. The obligation to future generations follows from the formation of a new kind of transgenerational community that differs significantly from both immediate descendants and the posterity models for such communities. The reference to future generations undercuts the traditional US-THEM distinction and opens up a future-to-come in opposition to a future-present. The ‘otherness’ of future generations is emphasized with the result that our task is one of living within a disciplined not-knowing. This transgenerational community formed around future generations provides a framework for the ecological way of life by providing the ethical context for such environmental obligations as the precautionary principle. Given that the reference to future generations undercuts the traditional motivation provided by an US-THEM distinction, the experiential dimension of the environmental movement comes to the fore. How can people be motivated to sacrifice for those that come after, especially as they are not immediately identified with an Us? I examine an existential arena I labeled as ‘living in the woods’. This space is an over-determined space of exile from the dominate culture that not only allows for social critique, but through the rediscovery of ‘natural’ rhythms and the experience of the beauty of a particular, provides an embodied experience of biophilia and of the earth as the fragile and vulnerable home of future generations. Not everyone has to ‘life in the woods’, but these experiences and reflections do provide, much as religious life in the monastery, an intense and articulated paradigm of a way of life for others. Finally, this dissertation was written for an intelligent, lay audience. The interconnections among environmental policies, political dynamics, and ethical concerns are all examined.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Smith, Joseph (Jay) Burner, "The emergence of an ecological way of life" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3108862.