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Lane, Melissa


Ancient Thinking for a Green Age

Year of Publication: 2011

Oxford, 2011. X, 245 pp.
ISBN 978-1-906165-17-8 hb.  (Hardcover)

Weight: 0.610 kg, 1.345 lbs

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Book synopsis

The transition to a sustainable society is a profound challenge to ethics and political thought, as well as to humankind. It is comparable to the great transitions of the past, such as the Enlightenment. Yet the distinguished tradition of groundbreaking ideas has not so far been widely invoked in public debates in this area. What can we learn from the history of ethics and political thought to enable us to cope with climate change?
Climate change and sustainability are not just technical problems or problems in applied ethics: they require a new political imagination. Melissa Lane identifies Key messages – on the role of the individual, the household, the nature of citizenship, and the significance of the imagination – which bring the wisdom of the past to bear on the challenges of the present. Using these resources, and building on these insights, she calls for the construction of a ‘new normal’, remaking our imagination of our society and our selves. Drawing on Plato’s Republic as a model while also challenging aspects of Platonic politics, the book sets out the political and psychological challenges that we face in moving beyond the psycho-political settlement of modern commercial society.


Contents: Inertia as Failure of the Political Imagination – From Greed to Glory: Ancient to Modern Ethics - and Back Again? – Underpinning Inertia: The Idea of Negligibility – Meet Plato’s Republic – The City and the Soul – The Idea of the Good – Initiative and Individuals: A (Partly) Platonic Political Project.

About the author(s)/editor(s)

Melissa Lane is Professor of Politics at Princeton University. She taught for many years at the University of Cambridge. Her research and publications in political philosophy on the work of Plato and its modern reception are internationally recognized.


«To deploy Plato may seem one of the more desperate strategies for saving the planet. Classical Athens had no inkling of environmental catastrophe, and Plato hated democracy. But Melissa Lane succeeds wonderfully not only in separating the useful in Plato from the useless, but also in demonstrating that the useful contains a surprising amount of what we need if we are to survive. [She] emphasises the importance to us all of ‘legacy’. Do we want our epitaph to be that we did nothing? The point applies with particular force, I suggest, to those engaged in what some regard as ingenious irrelevance, the humanities. Lane demonstrates that the humanities, so far from being negligible, can play a vital role in averting environmental catastrophe.» (Richard Seaford, Times Literary Supplement 05/2012)

Radio broadcast

Follow this link to hear the broadcast on BBC Radio 3: "What is the Future of Civilisation as the Oil Runs Out?"