Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Communications and Arts / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications
Over the last 30 years, environmental philosophers and ecological researchers have turned their attention to the possibilities of narratives: the stories people tell about their lives in conjunction with the human and non-human agents they live with. An interest in narrative environmental ethics reflects a re-evaluation of canonical ecophilosophical texts. Works such as Paul W. Taylor’s Respect for Nature suggest an essentialist view of environmental ethics in which predetermined principles are imposed on places and situations. On the other hand, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac combines first-person prose with science-based explanations of the “biotic pyramid” towards the development of a land ethic. Examples, such as Leopold’s, of narrative ethics are thought to offer relational, place-based, non-authoritative, and non-anthropocentric models. This article examines three critical components of environmental narratives: self, context, and tradition. In order for environmental narratives to advance ecological ethics, they must be accompanied by the tradition of natural science (geology, ecology, and evolution) to provide the “sponsoring ground” for ethical concern and action. The role of natural science as a tradition—and indeed one of many—in narrative ethics provides the basis for ecological selfhood in the context of place. These assertions will be supported by an analysis of the environmental narratives of Karen Warren and Jim Cheney. However, in the temporally expansive and ecologically conscious poetic narratives of John Kinsella we find an environmental ethics deeply rooted in the material realities of place.