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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


Acknowledgements This book was conceived in Cambridge, England, and completed in Princeton, New Jersey, with sabbatical support provided by the University of Cambridge and King’s College, Cambridge, in spring 2009; research support provided by Princeton University from the time of my moving there in the summer of 2009; and a return summer in Cambridge made easier by the hospitality of the Centre for History and Economics and the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law. I am grateful to all these institutions and to the colleagues and staf f in them, with special thanks to John Dolan, Carole Frantzen, Inga Huld Markan, Doug Rosso, and Debra Wintjen for making my logistical transitions work. In Cambridge, the idea for the book grew originally out of the conf luence between my study of Plato and of political thought and ethics more broadly, and the many opportunities given to me for over a decade by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, HRH the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme, and the Corporate Theatre, to convey why those ideas mattered to people in business, public policy, and charities in the UK, the US, and further afield. I can’t begin to calculate my debt to Polly Courtice, Jonathon Porritt, Martin and Sue Best, and all staf f and fellow faculty of these programmes, in particular Bill Adams, Bernie Bulkin and his partner Vivien Rose, Kate Owen, and Richard Newton. Thanks go to those who formed my knowledge of Greek thought – Myles Burnyeat, Malcolm Schofield, and Dominic...

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