Fitting Ethics to the Land: H. Richard Niebuhr’s Ethic of Responsibility and Ecotheology


  • Judith N. Scoville


Much of ecotheology and environmental philosophy has moved deductively from theological and ethical constructs to questions of how we should relate to the natural world. Such approaches are limited in their ability to guide us toward appropriate environmental action for they do not necessarily fit the way the natural world actually functions. Niebuhr’s ethic of response, on the other hand, begins with the concrete situation and is inherently ecological for it focuses on interrelationships in an on-going community. It is inductive in character and open to being informed by new findings in the natural and social sciences; thus it is exceptionally well suited to environmental problems, which involve complex scientific, social, and economic questions.