From Western to Asian Environmental Ethics

3989 Words16 Pages
The 20th century may be considered the ultimate expression of Western ideals and philosophy: "civilized" humanity's attempt to dominate "uncivilized" peoples and nature. The 21st century soberingly proclaims the shortsightedness and ultimate unsustainability of this philosophy. This paper shows the limitations of a modern Western world-view, and the practical applicability of ideas to be found in Asian philosophies. In outline, the contrast may be portrayed by the following overgeneralizations: (1) From a linear to a cyclical world view; (2) from divine salvation to karmic necessity; (3) from human dominion over nature to human place within nature; (4) from the perfectibility of humanity and the world through science; (5) from atomistic mechanistic individualism to organic interdependence; (6) from competition to cooperation; (7) from glorification of wealth to respect for humanhood; (8) from absolute cultural values to necessary common values. Each of these attitudes is examined in light of what we now know about the world in the 21st century, as Asian philosophy is found applicable to address future problems.

(1) From a linear to a cyclical worldview

The Judaeo-Christian-Islamic world-view epitomizes linearity. God creates the world out of nothing and destroys it when he pleases; the world has a beginning and an end. Moreover, the beginning and end of the world are within human memory and anticipation; humans trace their lineage back to Adam and anticipate the end of the world. Recent Christians may argue for a more ancient beginning in the Big Bang, but seem no less convinced of the temporality and linearity of the human project. Humans are born from nothing, live only once on this world, and then return to dust or are j...

... middle of paper ...

...f the earth.

If the human project is to be maintained more than a few generations into the future, considerations of population control, biological diversity, sustainability of technologies, and responsibility to future generations become unavoidable. These depend not on cultural tastes or traditions; they become minimum prerequisites for human continuity. The shrinking of the globe and the foreshortening of history demand new common values, not based on the power of one group over another, but based on a consciousness of our organic interlinking with each other. Stripped of their cultural paraphernalia and chauvinisms, some Western as well as Asian religious philosophies may already hold this ideal, but one need not be religious to understand and espouse it. The survival of the planet as we know it demands nothing less than human cooperation in this project.
Open Document