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Aristotle’s Powers and Responsibility for Nature

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Stephan Millett

This book addresses the theme of what «nature» is and humans’ obligations toward the natural world. It demonstrates that an approach based in metaphysics can help us to understand better what nature is and our obligations to the natural world. Beginning with ideas traced from Aristotle through some of the signifcant figures in European philosophy, the author shows that each living thing is a unique source of value.
He then argues that this value puts humans under an obligation and that adopting an attitude of responsibility to living things is an essential part of what it means to be human.

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Introduction 9

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9Introduction Forms of life are dying out at an unprecedented rate. But what is life, what does it mean to be living and why does it matter? Does it matter if species die out? Does it matter if human domination of the planet creates an impoverished world that becomes less and less habitable? Does it matter that we behave ‘responsibly’? Even if we answer ‘yes’ to each of these—and we should—why should we approach these issues through metaphysics as this book does? The simple answer is that if we revise our understanding of the way the world is we have to revise our ethical relationship to it. And understanding our ethical relationship is a necessary pre-condition for acting responsibly. This book sets out to re-assess how we understand the way the world is, what life itself is, what value there may be in living things and what this value means for those capable of recognising it. These are issues argued over in various forms over many years, starting with the ancient Greeks and, although there is very little acknowledgment of this, some key elements of ancient Greek thinking have persisted into some of the most influential modern theories of environmental ethics. Whitehead may have suggested that European philosophy was a footnote to Plato, but it turns out that some very important parts of contemporary environmental philosophy may be a footnote to Aristotle. Aristotle can, after all, be considered the first biologist. But this book turns primarily to his...

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