On the Way to Ecological Responsibility: Husserl, Levinas, and Indeterminacy


Traditional individualistic conceptions of responsibility fail to provide an adequate account for the collective and long term sense of ecological responsibility. The lack of a suitable conceptual framework for understanding the sense of responsibility for ecological problems such as climate change increases the risks of dismissing such problems or postponing mitigating their causes. In this paper, I develop a phenomenological account of ecological responsibility that aims, first, to clarify the collective and diacronic sense of responsibility and thereby challenge traditional atomistic accounts and, second, to clarify the source of a call for ecological responsibility. To develop my account, I draw on phenomenological insights from Husserl and Levinas. From the later work of Husserl on transcendental phenomenology, I draw on insights into the horizonal structure of meaning, indeterminate horizons, and the intersubjective constitution of subjectivity to clarify the collective, diacronic sense of rational agency and to bring into view the significance of horizons of indeterminacy. From Levinas, I draw on his descriptions of the relation to the other as the source of a call to unlimited responsibility for the other. I then develop my phenomenological acount of ecological responsibility by drawing together insights from Husserl, with special emphasis on the significance of indeterminacy, with insights from Levinas on the ethical relation. In this way, I show how phenomenology can be applied to describe both the individual and collective senses of rational agency and the source of a call for ecological responsibility.