The Ethics of Survival: Responsibility and Sacrifice in Environmental Ethics

Ilan Safit


The primary concern of environmental ethics pushed to the limit is the question of survival. An ethic of survival would concern the possibility of morality in an environmental crisis that promises humanity immeasurable damage, suffering, and even the possibility of species extinction. A phenomenological analysis of the question of moral response to such future catastrophe reveals—in Heideggerian fashion contra-Heidegger—that the very question positions us in a relation of responsibility towards a world and a humanity that lies beyond one’s reach and extends into the future. Responsibility, then, arises as a constituting element that defines humanity and therefore cannot be bracketed away or suspended in a time of crisis. Through a reading of Hans Jonas’ notion of responsibility and a critique of some major notions of Environmental Ethics, this article argues that an ethic of survival is conditioned by the survival of humanity as a moral, responsible species. The main challenge of this responsibility is further suggested to be the clash between the autonomy and dignity of the individual and the vital needs of the larger community in the struggle for survival. 

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ISSN: 1913-4711