Emplotting Virtue

A Narrative Approach to Environmental Virtue Ethics

By Brian Treanor

Subjects: Environmental Philosophy, Hermeneutics, Ethics, Philosophy, Continental Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Environmental Philosophy and Ethics
Paperback : 9781438451183, 258 pages, June 2014
Hardcover : 9781438451176, 258 pages, June 2014

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Table of contents

1. Just What Sort of Person Would Do That?
Moral Reasoning in Contemporary Ethics
Virtue Ethics
2. Virtue Ethics and Environmental Virtue Ethics
Virtue and Flourishing
The Middle Way
Emotion and Action
Virtue and the Environment
3. Virtue: A Constellation of Concerns
Virtue and Living Well
A Typology of Virtue: Individual, Social, and Environmental
4. A Story of Simplicity: A Case Study in Virtue
The Scope of Simplicity: More Than Material Restraint
The Scope of Simplicity: A ‘Comprehensive’ Virtue
Thoreau’s Nature
5. The Challenge of Postmodernity
The Imprecision and Variability of Virtue Ethics
The Postmodern Condition
Postmodern Temptations: Hamlet’s Indecision and Meursault’s Indifference
“Postmodern” Virtue Ethics
6. Narrative Theory
Paul Ricoeur and Narrative Identity
Richard Kearney and Narrative Epiphanies
Martha Nussbaum and the Judicious Spectator
Wayne Booth and Coduction
Objections: The Return of Relativism and the Excesses of Imagination
7. Narrative Environmental Virtue Ethics
Introduction: Ethical Formation and Reformation
Ethical Education: Motivation and Transmission
Ethical Experimentation: Discernment and Understanding
Ethical Formation: Application and Cultivation
8. Epilogue: The “Narrative Goodness” Approach
The Need for Virtue Ethics and the Need for Narrative
Three Important Clarifications
The Literature of Life: A Life Worth Living, a Story Worth Telling

A rich hermeneutic account of the way virtue is understood and developed.


Despite its ancient roots, virtue ethics has only recently been fully appreciated as a resource for environmental philosophy. Other approaches dominated by utilitarian and duty-based appeals for sacrifice and restraint have had little success in changing behavior, even to the extent that ecological concerns have been embraced. Our actions often do not align with our beliefs. Fundamental to virtue ethics is an acknowledgment that neither good ethical rules nor good intentions are effective absent the character required to bring them to fulfillment. Brian Treanor builds on recent work on virtue ethics in environmental philosophy, finding an important grounding in the narrative theory of philosophers like Paul Ricoeur and Richard Kearney. Character and ethical formation, Treanor argues, are intimately tied to our relationship with the narratives through which we view the human place in the natural world. By reframing environmental questions in terms of individual, social, and environmental narratives about flourishing, Emplotting Virtue offers a powerful vision of how we might remake our character so as to live more happily, more sustainably, and more virtuously in a diverse, beautiful, wondrous, and fragile world.

Brian Treanor is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Environmental Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He is the coeditor (with Forrest Clingerman, Martin Drenthen, and David Utsler) of Interpreting Nature: The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics.