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The Jurisprudence of Thomas Berry

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On June 1 2009 Fr Thomas Berry passed away at his home in Greensboro N.C. In his final book before passing, Berry challenged human society to a carry out a transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner. This 'Great Work' encompassed religion, education, science and law. In this paper I will address Berry's argument that our current legal system supports the destruction of the environment and outline two ideas he put forward for evolving law. The first idea recognises that human law operates within and should be bound by the overarching laws of the natural world. From this perspective, the laws of nature are primary and human law would receive its legal quality and authority from its conformity with this law. The second proposal was to recognise that the earth consists of subjects, not objects and that all subjects are capable of holding rights. I will consider this argument in the context of two recent enactments of 'rights for nature' legislation in municipalities in the United States and in the constitution of Ecuador.

Affiliations: 1: University of Adelaide School of Law, Research Unit for the Study of Society, Law and Religion, Australia

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