In Communion with God’s Sparrow: Incorporating Animal Agency into the Environmental Vision of Laudato Sí
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Although a conventional environmentalism focuses on the health of ecological systems, Pope Francis’s 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Sí invokes St. Francis of Assisi to emphasize God’s love for the individual organism, no matter how small. Decrying the tendency to regard other creatures as mere objects to be controlled and used, Pope Francis urges our enactment of a ‘universal communion’ governed by love. I suggest, however, that Laudato Sí’s animal ethic, as focused on ordering human and animal need, is inadequate to its overarching vision of cross-species communion. This vision requires the sort of cross-species relational bridge implicit in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s view of agency as an irreducibly ‘animate’ expression of choice and afforded further definition in Kenneth J. Shapiro’s conception of a ‘kinesthetic empathy.’ As the phenomenological epistemology underlying both discourses makes possible a rough correspondence, I put these in conversation to demonstrate that a Merleau-Pontyan and reciprocal agency is a constitutive aspect of the fullest sort of cross-species relation, such that recognition of this agency can both deepen our understanding of ‘universal communion’ and foster engagement in its practice.
KeywordsCatholic Laudato Sí Communion Animal Agency Merleau-Ponty Kenneth J. Shapiro Pope Francis Pope Benedict XVI Nonmaleficence Saint Francis of Assisi Franciscan Kinesthetic empathy Telic naturalism Alasdair MacIntyre Phenomenology
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