Research Project “Towards an Environmental Ethic of ‘Fittingness'”

Both the notion of flourishing, and the ethics utilized in caring for the environment require rethinking. In contemporary public discourse, the discussion is often framed as competition between goods: the flourishing of people set against that of the environment. Further, it is primarily the data gleaned from the natural sciences that drive ethical prescriptions for the environment. However, it is increasingly clear that not only does science hold little motivational purchase upon the human heart, it is also not able to capture and articulate the whole of creation’s being and meaning. Rooting our ethics in scientific foundations alone can only lead, then, to a rather anemic outcome. As the ecological crisis deepens, environmental ethics urgently needs more than ever to be truly compelling.

One way of meeting that need is via the intuitively appealing concept of ‘fittingness’. This concept refers to a manner of relating – neighborliness. The very idea of ‘fitting in’, for instance, in a local context, implies the element of self-limit, which enables one to recognize not just “the other”, but the needs of the other as well. ‘Fittingness’ may thus serve as a powerful antidote to the anthropocentrism frequently connected to other forms of environmental aesthetics. Further, the concept has a broad span of reach across disciplines – it opens doors to productive dialogue between theology, the natural sciences and ethics that will result in an ethic that is both more robust and compelling than one that is informed strictly by scientific fact.

In this project, we seek to contribute to the theological appropriation of the concept of ‘fittingness’ in environmental ethics, investigating it from various angles, such as biblical studies, historical theology, systematic theology and Christian ethics. We do so because a distinctively Christian understanding of human flourishing understands that humanity’s very existence, as well as its flourishing, are inextricably interrelated with the rest of creation. Indeed, the health of humanity’s relationship to God, the human community, and the non-human creation form the core of a good life.