Advertisement

Species Extinction and the Vice of Thoughtlessness: The Importance of Spiritual Exercises for Learning Virtue

  • Jeremy Bendik-Keymer
Articles

Abstract

In this paper, I present a sample spiritual exercise—a contemporary form of the written practice that ancient philosophers used to shape their characters. The exercise, which develops the ancient practice of the examination of conscience, is on the sixth mass extinction and seeks to understand why the extinction appears as a moral wrong. It concludes by finding a vice in the moral character of the author and the author’s society. From a methodological standpoint, the purpose of spiritual exercises is to create a habit of thoughtfulness in the writer, and by way of teaching, to suggest one to the reader. Such a habit is important, at least, because virtue is a habit. In other words, there can be no learning of virtue itself without habituation into it. Accordingly, I frame the sample spiritual exercise with a deliberately controversial objection to contemporary academic virtue ethics and with a justification for why the spiritual exercise is important for taking virtue ethically. And I end the paper with some further remarks explaining the form of the exercise and its relevance to doing philosophy. In this way, the paper makes and illustrates a methodological point about virtue ethics based on a meta-ethical assumption about virtue as a habit, and it does this by focusing on a pressing environmental problem in the twenty-first century.

Keywords

Species extinction Sixth mass extinction Virtue theory Spiritual exercises Meta-ethics Meta-philosophy 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thanks to many people who helped with this paper, but in particular, to Ken Baynes, Ben Bradley, Tom Brockelman, Phil Cafaro, Amber Carpenter, Aaron Conte, Eva Fernandes, Tabor Fisher, Joshua Graae, Kevin Hayes, David Keymer, Mari-Ann Kucharek, Irene Liu, Dan Meior, Sherine M. Najjar, Ron Sandler, Lauren Tillinghast; participants at the conference Human Flourishing & Restoration in the Age of Global Warming, Clemson University, September 5th, 2008; colleagues at the Le Moyne faculty symposium; three anonymous reviewers for this journal who did their job well; the Department of Philosophy at Case Western Reserve University; Irad Kimhi; and Elaine Wolf Steinberg, who surprised me at the end of the writing process. The long example of a spiritual exercise in this essay is the first of approximately six spiritual exercises comprising a short book-in-progress, The Sixth Mass Extinction: Spiritual Exercises for the Sake of Life. Each exercise takes the reader through a different dimension of the ethical, political, and economic problems involved in the sixth mass extinction. The link between each is an aporia ending a particular exercise and leading one to take up the next.

References

  1. Anthony, K. A. (2008). Experiments in ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.Google Scholar
  2. Arendt, H. (1994). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil. New York: Penguin Classics.Google Scholar
  3. Aristotle. (1999). Nicomachean Ethics (T. Irwin, Trans.). Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  4. Bender, F. L. (2003). The culture of extinction: Toward a philosophy of deep ecology. Boulder, CO: Humanity Books.Google Scholar
  5. Bendik-Keymer, J. (2002). Conscience and humanity. Dissertation submitted to the University of Chicago Department of Philosophy, U.M.I./ProQuest, Ann Arbor.Google Scholar
  6. Bendik-Keymer, J. (2006). The ecological life: Discovering citizenship and a sense of humanity. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  7. Bendik-Keymer, J. (2008). Review of Pierre Hadot, What is ancient philosophy? Philosophical Practice, 3(2), 302–303.Google Scholar
  8. Bendik-Keymer, J. (2009). From humans to all of life: Nussbaum’s transformation of dignity. In F. Comim & M. Nussbaum (Eds.), Capabilities, gender, equality: Toward fundamental entitlements. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bendik-Keymer, J. & Thompson, A. (2008). Injustice & species extinction. In Eco-Res Forum (Ed.), Environmental (in)justice: Sources, symptoms and solutions. 11–24 April. http://eco-res.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=68. Accessed 22 July 2008.
  10. Bradley, B. (2001). The value of endangered species. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 35, 43–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carson, R. (2002). Silent spring. New York: Mariner Books.Google Scholar
  12. Carson, R. (2007). Under the sea wind. New York: Penguin Classics.Google Scholar
  13. de Spinoza, B. (2005). Ethics (E. Curley, Trans.). New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  14. Descartes, R. (1996). Meditations on first philosophy (J. Cottingham, Trans.). New York: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  15. Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  16. Einstürzende Neubauten. (1981). Kollaps. Berlin: ZickZack.Google Scholar
  17. Eliot, T. S. (1952). The hollow men. In T. S. Eliot (Ed.), Complete poems and plays, 1909–1950. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  18. Gore, A. (2006). An inconvenient truth: The planetary emergency of global warming and what we can do about it. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.Google Scholar
  19. Gottlieb, R. (2003). A spirituality of resistance: Finding a peaceful heart and protecting the earth. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  20. Gould, S. J. (1996). Full house: The spread of excellence from Plato to Darwin. New York: Three Rivers.Google Scholar
  21. Hadot, P. (1998). The inner citadel: The meditations of Marcus Aurelius (M. Chase, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hadot, P. (2002). Philosophy and philosophical discourse. In What is ancient philosophy? (M. Chase, Trans.), (pp. 172–233). Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hadot, P. (2003). Philosophy as a way of life: Spiritual exercises from socrates to foucault. A. Davidson (Ed.). New York: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  24. Heidegger, M. (1982). The question concerning technology, and other essays (W. Lovitt, Trans.). New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  25. IPCC. (2007). Summary for policy makers. In Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group II Report ‘Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm. Accessed 25 November 2008.
  26. Jamieson, D. (2008). Ethics and the environment. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Jankélevitch, V., & Hobart, A. (1996). Do not listen to what they say, look at what they do. Critical Inquiry, 22(3), 549–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kant, I. (2007). Critique of judgment (J. C. Meredith, Trans.). New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  29. Kanter, J. (2008). One in four mammals threatened with extinction, group finds. In The New York Times. 7 October. Accessed 8 October 2008.Google Scholar
  30. Kierkegaard, S. (1983). The sickness unto death (H. Hong & E. Hong, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton.Google Scholar
  31. Kierkegaard, S. (1988). Either/Or (H. Hong & E. Hong, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton.Google Scholar
  32. Leakey, R., & Lewin, R. (1995). The sixth extinction. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  33. Lovelock, J. (2006). The revenge of Gaia: Earth’s climate in crisis and the fate of humanity. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  34. McKibben, B. (2006). How close to catastrophe? In The New York Review of Books, November 16th. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19596. Accessed 9 July 2008.
  35. MNBC. (2007). Climate change is changing species. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17861866/. Accessed 9 July 2008.
  36. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2008). Global warming: Frequently asked questions. http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html. Accessed 25 November 2008.
  37. Neiman, S. (2008). Moral clarity: A guide for grown-up idealists. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar
  38. Nussbaum, M. (1992). Love’s knowledge: Essays on philosophy and literature. New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  39. Nussbaum, M. (2007). The frontiers of justice: Disability, nationality, species membership. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.Google Scholar
  40. Philander, S. G. (Ed.). (2008). The encyclopedia of global warming and climate change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Plutarch. (1992). On contentment. In Essays (R. Waterfield, Trans.), 211–238. New York: Penguin Classics.Google Scholar
  42. Podger, C. (2002). Quarter of mammals ‘face extinction’. On BBC News World Edition. 21 May. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2000325.stm. Accessed 9 July, 2008.
  43. Rachels, J. (2007). The legacy of socrates: Essays in moral philosophy. S. Rachels (Ed.). New York: Columbia.Google Scholar
  44. Roach, J. (2004). By 2050, warming to doom million species, study says. In National Geographic News, 12 Ju1y. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/01/0107_040107_extinction.html. Accessed 9 July 2008.
  45. Rolston, H., I. I. I. (1985). Duties to endangered species. BioScience, 35(11), 718–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rolston, H., I. I. I. (1988). Environmental ethics: Duties to and values in the natural world. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Rousseau, J.-J. (1969). Lettre à Beaumont. In Oeuvres Complètes, IV. Paris: Pléiade.Google Scholar
  48. Sandler, R. (2007). Character and environment: A virtue-oriented approach to environmental ethics. New York: Columbia.Google Scholar
  49. Seneca. (1995). On anger. In Moral and political essays (J. Cooper, Trans.), (pp. 1–116). New York: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  50. Snyder, G. (1990). The place, the region, and the commons”. In The practice of the wild. San Francisco: North Point.Google Scholar
  51. St. Ignatius Loyola (2007) The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Father Elder Mullan, Trans.). New York: Cosimo Classics.Google Scholar
  52. Strieker, G. (2002). Scientists agree world faces mass extinction. CNN. 23 August. http://edition.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/08/23/green.century.mass.extinction/index.html. Accessed 9 July 2008.
  53. Thompson, M. (2006). What is it to wrong someone? A puzzle about justice. In R. J. Wallace, P. Pettit, S. Scheffler, & M. Smith (Eds.), Reason and value: Themes in the moral philosophy of Joseph Raz (pp. 333–384). New York: Oxford.Google Scholar
  54. Thoreau, H. D. (2000). Walden, with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays on Thoreau. North Clarendon, VT: Everyman.Google Scholar
  55. Ulansey, D. (2008). The current mass extinction. Online resource database. http://www.well.com/user/davidu/extinction.html. Accessed 9 July 2008.
  56. University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. (2007). #19: Global warming. Iowa Review, 37 (2). http://international.uiowa.edu/centers/human-rights/projects/human-rights-index/19-2007.asp. Accessed 18 September 2008.
  57. Warrick, J. (1998). Mass extinction underway, majority of biologists say. In The Washington Post, April 21st.Google Scholar
  58. Williams, B. (1981). Persons, character, and morality. In B. Williams (Ed.), Moral luck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Wilson, E. O. (1999). The diversity of life. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Le Moyne CollegeSyracuseUSA

Personalised recommendations