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Aristotle’s Powers and Responsibility for Nature

Series:

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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Part II: Moral Considerability

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PART II MORAL CONSIDERABILITY 95 3. The Status of Organisms and Ecosystems Introduction From the discussion so far, it would appear that the quality in living things that sets them apart from other objects in the world can be described in terms of Aristotle’s dnamis, or in terms of at least one aspect of Spinoza’s conatus. It is a quality that permits living things to determine their own goals—consciously or unconsciously—and defines them as autonomous entities. There are several things this leads to, but before addressing these, it would be helpful to foreshadow an argument from the final chapters that living individuals are not mere existents but are bearers of a unique value that addresses an ‘ought’ to all moral agents. The unique value derives from each individual living thing having an internally- determined directiveness or purposiveness and so being an end-in- itself. As an end-in-itself, a living individual is also a good-in-itself because the individual in some sense values its own ends. This good- in-itself makes a claim to be protected and promoted and places any entity that recognizes the good under an obligation both to prevent it from being harmed and actively to support its flourishing. The prime example of this is a newborn baby. The baby is not a mere existent but an always already-valued existent that addresses an ‘ought to care’ to all moral agents. In the first instance the ought is addressed to the parents, but not only to them. The ought is...

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