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Ancient Thinking for a Green Age


Melissa Lane

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.


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Acknowledgements vii Part I INERTIA 1 Prologue to Chapter 1: Plato’s Cave 3 1 Introduction: Inertia as Failure of the Political Imagination 7 An Unconsciously Platonic Prologue to Chapter 2: Carbon Detox 27 2 From Greed to Glory: Ancient to Modern Ethics – and Back Again? 29 Prologue to Chapter 3: Plato’s Ring of Gyges 47 3 Underpinning Inertia: The Idea of Negligibility 51 Part II IMAGINATION 77 Prologue to Chapter 4: Post-Platonic Perspectives on the Republic 79 4 Meet Plato’s Republic 83 Prologue to Chapter 5: Plato on Why Virtue Matters 99 5 The City and the Soul 101 vi Prologue to Chapter 6: Plato’s Idea of the Good 127 6 The Idea of the Good 133 Part III INITIATIVE 157 Prologue to Chapter 7: Revisiting Plato’s Cave 159 7 Initiative and Individuals: A (Partly) Platonic Political Project 163 Notes 187 Works Cited 219 Index 235

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