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This article argues that environmental ethics can deemphasize environmental problem‐solving in preference for a more exemplarist mode. This mode will renarrate what we admire in those we have long admired, in order to make them resonate with contemporary ethical needs. First, I outline a method problem that arose for me in ethnographic fieldwork, a problem that I call, far too reductively, “solution thinking.” Second, I relate that method problem to movements against “quandary ethics” in ethical theory more broadly. Third, I discuss some interpretive work I am engaged in about Henry David Thoreau and how it bears on the methodological issues my fieldwork raised. I argue that some of the most important icons of right relation to environment, especially Francis of Assisi and Thoreau, should be envisioned as far more politically invested than they usually are. They demonstrate to scholars of religious ethics that an exemplarist ethic focused on character need not neglect politics.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

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Journal Article

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