Understanding Historical and Contemporary Ethics and Earth Ethics
Wood, G, Understanding Historical and Contemporary Ethics and Earth Ethics, Inspiring Earth Ethics: Linking Values and Action, Australian Earth Laws Alliance, M Maloney, J Grieves, B Adams and E Brindal (ed), Banyo, Queensland, Australia, pp. 7-12. ISBN 9780648713708 (2019) [Other Book Chapter]
This is an account of a journey from an ancient understanding of Earth Ethics, through a period of ‘forgetting’ about the true nature of ethics by many within so-called ‘WEIRD’ cultures, and back to a contemporary ‘remembering’ of that ancient understanding of Earth Ethics. When compared to all of human history, the limiting of the sphere of ethical responsibility to humans is a relatively recent phenomenon. This phenomenon is due to the perceived diminishing of the connection between humans and their environment that emerged with the move from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture and the subsequent development of towns and cities that all began around 10,000 BCE. Before that humans existed in small egalitarian groups closely connected to their environment. Ethics among these humans incorporated the ethical status of the environment in which they lived. With agriculture emerged a period of human history in which the understanding of ethical responsibilities to the environment were forgotten among many humans. But other humans did not forget. Ancient understanding of humanity’s ethical relationship to the environment is remembered among the Indigenous cultures of Australia, along with other Indigenous cultures of the world. Today as human impacts grow, some people are coming to realise that the perceived diminishing of the ethical connection between humans and their environment was just that, a perception, and more importantly a mistaken perception. Humanity has always been intimately connected with the environment within which it exists. Only now are members of ‘WEIRD’ cultures realising that the sphere of ethical responsibility does not end at the boundary of the human world. Rather the sphere of ethical responsibility extends to the Earth as a whole. These humans are remembering a forgotten truth: a truth preserved by the custodians of this ancient wisdom, now being rediscovered by ‘WEIRD’ culture under the name Earth Ethics.