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Natural purposes, Kantian analogies and environmental ethics

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Recent theories in environmental ethics are divided over the question whether we can ascribe intrinsic value to nature. According to anthropocentric approaches the sole locus of value is the human being and any obligation to protect our natural environment is ultimately reducible to a concern about humans. Biocentric accounts, by contrast, claim that nature has an absolute and intrinsic worth and that human beings therefore have a direct duty towards nature. While the anthropocentric perspective may be criticised for presenting nature merely as a resource for satisfying human needs and desires, biocentric approaches face the apparently insuperable problem of justifying the existence of independent value in nature. In this paper I develop an account which aims to overcome these difficulties by attributing to nature a value that is independent of its usefulness to human beings without making this value independent from the rational valuer. The account is inspired by Kant’s analogical conception of purposes in nature. This may come as a surprise to those who view Kant as the chief exponent of anthropocentrism.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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