Metaphysics for Responsibility to Nature

Journal of Value Inquiry 52 (2):187-197 (2018)
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Abstract
On the notion of responsibility employed by John Passmore in his classic Man’s Responsibility for Nature, the relationship of responsibility can only hold between persons (human beings, subjects), or groups and communities of them, and other persons. And in this relationship the persons that are responsible 'to' other persons are responsible 'for' how their actions affect these other persons, not to the direct object of these actions (in this case: nature). If this is correct, we cannot be responsible to nature without conceiving of it as a ‘pseudo-person’, as Passmore calls it. However, non-anthropocentric environmental ethics requires such a moral relationship. The question is, therefore, how this can be allowed in a metaphysically acceptable way. To answer this I first provide an account of what it means to stand in the relation of being ‘responsible to’. Next, I describe two major paradigmatic examples of the metaphysics of nature that perfectly match the thesis that we can, and should, be responsible to nature (the Spinoza-inspired view and the Gaia hypothesis). Unfortunately, they have to be rejected for common sense or naturalist reasons. Finally, I therefore defend a 'fictionalist' view of nature (as person-like) that allows for this relationship.
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Archival date: 2020-04-16
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