Thought, Law, Rights and Action in the Age of Environmental Crisis
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Thought, Law, Rights and Action in the Age of Environmental Crisis

Edited by Anna Grear and Evadne Grant

In the climate-pressed Anthropocene epoch, nothing could be more urgent than fresh engagements with the fractious relationships between ‘humanity’, law and the living order. This collection draws together theoretical reflections, doctrinal analyses and insights drawn from rights-based praxis to offer thoughtful – and at times provocative – engagements with the limitations of law at it faces the complexities of contemporary socio-ecological life-worlds in an age of climate crisis.
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Chapter 4: Radicalism and conservatism in environmental law

Sean Coyle


The nature of law has long been a central question of the Western philosophical tradition. For much of its history, the question formed part of a broader inquiry into the human condition, and the means by which human beings, through collective effort, might realize a good and virtuous form of life. With the introduction of Christianity into Europe, these inquiries took on a different significance. Natural law theories sought to explain the entire basis of governance and law through contemplation of a divinely created natural order of which human beings are but one part. It is often remarked that the present appetite for human rights is explicable by the need to fill the gap left behind by the departure of natural law ideas in the West: that human rights doctrines are the pale, secularized echo of no-longer-held beliefs in a normative order immanent in nature. But the natural law theories of the major Christian writers centred upon ontological questions concerning the fundamental nature of being in the cosmos, rather than merely seeking to describe the content of an objective morality. For Augustine and Aquinas, and their intellectual heirs, questions of morality were to be derived from the inquiry into reality and being, not separated from it. Eventually, the attempt to ground the structure and content of law and government in broader credal positions was to collapse in the face of the fragmentation of Europe’s religious inheritance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

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