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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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Part III: Value and Responsibility

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205 6. Value, Complexity and Obligation Introduction The ethic of responsibility developed in this and the next chapter relies on the idea that living organisms have an immanent telos and a good of their own. To this will be coupled the notion that the emergence of this immanent telos (which occurs with the emergence of living things) introduces value into the world and that the presence of this value imposes an obligation of responsibility on moral agents—a responsibility to protect, care for, nurture and help realize, the good-of-their-own that all living things have as a defining property. Accepting and exercising such responsibility is a virtue. There are five aspects of an ethic based on an Aristotelian biological teleology that need in particular to be expanded and clarified. The first is the idea that, with the emergence of entities with a good-of-their-own, interest and value enters the world. The second is a claim that the relative complexity of entities is important, with more complex organisms having a stronger prima facie claim on moral agents than do less complex organisms. The third aspect is the notion that the obligation under which moral agents are placed is one of responsibility, where responsibility is an obligation that requires moral agents to act to protect the good of moral subjects and where all living things are moral subjects. The fourth is the idea that recognition of responsibility is not necessarily based only in a narrow form of reason, but is also rooted in feeling....

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