Beyond anthropocentrism and back again: from ontological to normative anthropocentrism

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Pelizzon, A & Ricketts, A 2015, 'Beyond anthropocentrism and back again: from ontological to normative anthropocentrism', The Australasian Journal of Natural Resources Law and Policy , vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 105-124.

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The emerging legal philosophy known as 'Earth Jurisprudence' has come to the fore in legal theory within the last decade. One of its most innovative suggestions is the rejection of what its proponents describe as a (legally dominant) anthropocentric worldview, whereby 'nature' is seen only as a collection of resources to be used for the exclusive benefit of humans, in favour of a more biocentric or even ecocentric one. However, when we begin to move from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, we become aware of the relative unimportance of the human species in the web of life, but we are also faced with the very practical challenge (and responsibility) of what as individuals, as societies, and ultimately as a species, we can do to address our role in the crises facing the biosphere. This engenders a creative tension, one in which a journey of exploration of ontological and normative possibilities can take place. This journey involves a movement from transcendence back to embodiment and can reveal ways in which an 'Ecological Jurisprudence' (a more inclusive term than Earth Jurisprudence, in the view of the authors) can engage with a post-transcendent normative anthropocentrism to develop politically strategic interventions and achieve practical and useful gains in positive law.

This article will argue that while we need to act with an expanded ecological awareness in order to address the detrimental effects of an assumed human sovereignty over the planet, we cannot at the same time escape our 'humanness'. Rather, we should embrace it as the unavoidable framework of reference for any political and legal discourse surrounding 'nature'. This new jurisprudential approach that is informed by ecocentrism can be described as a post-transcendent form of normative anthropocentrism. In light of this analysis, this article will suggest that existing and emerging discourses and policies that aim to respond to environmental crises can generate a growing ontological dissonance that in turn propels further innovative experiments in normative regimes. Through this process of exploring 'adjacent possibles', the law can edge ever closer to principles advocated by legal theorists writing in the field of Earth Jurisprudence. By offering the theoretical perspective introduced above, apparently constrained legal interventions can then be understood as examples of an emergent expanded ecological awareness.

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