Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

Towards an ecological philosophy of law: a comparative discussion

Vito De Lucia * *

Keywords: Earth Jurisprudence, legal philosophy, Natural Law, rights of nature, subjective rights, ecocentrism, property, ecology


Environmental law finds itself in a very delicate position. Its role is to elaborate rules and principles for addressing multiple ecological crises, yet environmental law is structurally and conceptually rooted in a broader legal tradition thoroughly implicated in the domination and ‘othering’ of nature. The ecological worldview challenges the roots of modern law, casting critical light upon Cartesian dualism and the epistemology of mastery. While environmental law has incorporated some of the new knowledge offered by ecology into its normative texture, and has shifted its focus from fragmented parts and individuals (for example, individual species) towards wholes, relationships and complexity (for example, biodiversity, ecosystems processes), it remains far from being a comprehensive translation of the ecological worldview into law. Against this background, this article will discuss and compare two frameworks – Earth Jurisprudence and Law for Nature – both of which aim to elaborate an ecological philosophy of law. It will be suggested that while their critical premises are similarly grounded on ecological critiques of central legal categories such as subject (persons), object (things) and property (ownership), their respective ethical stances and central strategies are quite different: Earth Jurisprudence aims at articulating an ecocentric narrative in which nature is understood as a plurality of legal subjects endowed with rights; Law for Nature starts from a concept of ecological normativity, which through a continuous transformative process re-orients law, and grounds the relationship between subject and object in the concept of patrimonium. The tensions between subjective rights and objective norms, between individual and community, and between practical action and long-lasting, radical re-orientation, operate as guides for the discussion offered here.

Author Notes

I am thankful to the Editorial Board of this Journal and to the anonymous reviewers for helping me improve the argument presented in this article. I am particularly thankful to Anna Grear for her support, encouragement and help. Any errors remain mine alone.

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