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What does it mean to exist in complex relationships with machines? What insights can be offered to our understandings of these relationships by the theologically significant theme of ‘love’? What critical assessments can be made of our multiple uses of technologies in shaping our futures, by reflecting on our pasts?

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> Conference: Care and Machines
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Disquiet over the prevalence of social and economic individualism has a long history. In a world of mobile Capital and increasingly mobile people, communities of common tradition and locality appear to be under threat from the advent of a fragmented market society. Are these complaints against individualism justified? And crucially, how should Christians respond to them? Digging down into the substance of these questions, this project will consider the theological, liturgical and scriptural resources Christians have for understanding the notion of individualism in relation to issues of education, public life and the formation of democratic citizenship.

 

 

THE ETHICS OF NATURE – THE NATURE OF ETHICS

Saturday, 16th May 2015, University of Manchester

A7 Samuel Alexander Building

 

The question of ethics has been central to philosophical and theological traditions throughout history, and as time moves forward, investigations into ethics in the context of the relationship between humanity and nature have become more complex, taking account of advancements in the natural sciences and a growing appreciation of nature. How are we to understand our relationship with nature, and how does this have implications for our understandings of ethics? The links between nature and ethics appears prominently in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example: the symbolism of the tree of knowledge in Genesis may be interpreted as a realisation that there may be right and wrong way to toil the earth. Are we now realising the repercussions of our failure to take note of this forewarning in our experience of climate change?

 

In John’s prologue, the logos was in the beginning, which could suggest an abstract, objective moral code in nature. If so, how do we gain access to this code of ethics? Is it only accessible through revelation, as in some religious traditions, or is this code of ethics more generally accessible to humanity? Indeed, does such an abstract notion of ethics exist; could it be that ethics are a natural and subjective development? Is ethics a feature of nature, or have we invented it? This one-day conference seeks to explore these questions which emerge from considering the relationship between nature and ethics. This is not a conference engaged in considering normative ethical systems per se. Rather, it will take a broader approach exploring the nature (understood as essence or character) of ethics itself and whether nature (understood as natural world) has imbedded in it, a moral code.

 

Plenary Speakers:

Prof. Robert Stern, University of Sheffield – ‘Løgstrup, Ethics, and the Sovereign Expressions of Life’

Prof. Alison Stone, Lancaster University – ‘Hegel, Nature and Ethics’

Dr Christopher Southgate, University of Exeter - 'Wild nature and our care of nature'

 

*Booking now open - follow the link below

http://estore.manchester.ac.uk/browse/product.asp?compid=1&modid=2&catid=409

For more information and for booking, contact gary.keogh@manchester.ac.uk 

Conference Timetable:

 

Time

Event

Location

9.20-9.45

Registration/Tea/Coffee

 

North Foyer

9.45-9.50

Welcome Address

A7

9.50-11.00

Prof. Robert Stern:

Løgstrup, Ethics, and the Sovereign Expressions of Life

A7

11.00-11.10

Short Break

 

11.10-12.00

Short Paper Parallel Session A

A7, A18, A102, A104 – see timetable on next page

12.00-12.40

Lunch (provided)

 

12.40-1.55

Short Paper Parallel Session B

A7, A18, A102, A104 – see timetable on next page

1.55-2.05

Short Break

 

2.05-3.15

Dr Christopher Southgate:

Wild Nature and Our Care of Nature *via Skype

 

A7

3.15-3.25

Short Break

 

3.25-4.35

Prof. Alison Stone:

Hegel, Nature and Ethics

 

A7

4.35

Closing Address

A7

 

Wine Reception +

Invitation to Public Panel Discussion (see advertisement at end of booklet)

 

 

 

Parallel Session A Timetable:

11.10-1.00

 

Papers offered in these sessions will be 15 minutes long, with 10 minutes for discussion

 

 

A7

A118

A102

A104

Venue TBC

 

Chair: Dr Ben Wood

 

Chair: Charlie Pemberton

Chair: Dr Gary Keogh

Chair: Scott Midson

Chair: TBC

11.10-11.35

Putting humans back into the centre of nature: A theological exploration of a human-nature integrated system

Rachel Bathurst is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester

 

Ethical facts are not natural facts

Joey Montgomery – Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Manchester

 

What if Lions Could Talk? The Use of Evolutionary Counterfactuals in Debunking Moral Realism

Jerome Hopster, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Utrecht

 

Second Nature – an Offspring of Frustrations?

Isabel Kaeslin, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University

 

Reverence for Mother Earth: A Spiritual Pathway to a Better World

Prof. Kamran Mofid (Retired) is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, Cofounder/Editor, GCGI Journal, and a Patron of the Human Values Foundation

11.35-12.00

Natural Law and Mosaic Law in Luther’s Thought 

Juuso Loikkanen, MA, MSc, is a PhD Candidate in Systematic Theology at the University of Eastern

Changing natures: the production of nature across four historical moments and their implications for natural law

Jess Bradley, Ph.D. Candidate in Planning, University of Manchester

 

Michel Serres’ conception of a Natural Contract (1990)

Dr Vera Bühlmann, Zurich

A Defence of Kant's Ethics as Being a Universal Rational Requirement

Michael Lyons, Ph.D. Candidate at Trinity College, Dublin

 

Let there be Life: Gordon Kaufman’s naturalised ethics of Creation

Anthony Floyd, Ph.D. Candidate in Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester

 

 

Parallel Session B Timetable:

12.40-1.55

 

 

A7

A118

A102

A104

 

Chair: Dr Ben Wood

 

Chair: Charlie Pemberton

Chair: Dr Gary Keogh

Chair: Scott Midson

12.40-1.05

Adorno's Doctrine of Natural-History and Ethical Naturalism

Tom Whyman, PhD Candidate in Philosophy at the University of Essex

 

Reflections on how we practically put the ethics of nature into our lives and our neighbourhoods.

Dr Helena Mary Kettleborough, Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

The Moral Tragedy of the Biological Imperative: What Nietzsche can and cannot Teach us about the Evolution of Morality

Dr Scott M. James and Dr Matthew C. Eshleman, University of North Carolina

Has Machery Provided an Adequate Account of Human Nature? 

Gourav Krishna Nandi, Taught Postgraduate, London School of Economics and Political Science

1.05-1.30

Nature’s Norms and Morality

Joe Saunders, Ph.D. Candidate at Sheffield University

 

Cost-Benefit Analysis, Moral Deliberation, and Property Rights: Toward Agreement Between Deliberative Democracy and Austro-Libertarianism on Environmental Governance.

William Christmas, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Theory at the University of Manchester

 

On the Relevance of Evolutionary Biology to Ethical Naturalism 

Parisa Moosavi, Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy, University of Toronto

 

Nature in ethics in Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch

Dr Maria Silvia Vaccarezza is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Moral Philosophy University of Genoa, Italy

1.30-1.55 

From a Logos Point of View: On The Linguistic Nature of Ethics

Dr Matteo Bonotti, School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast, & Dr Yael Peled, Faculty of Law, McGill University

 

Ethics of Communicating the Effects of Climate Change on Extreme Weather

Prof. David M. Schultz, Environmental Sciences, & Vladimir Janković, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester

 

Noncognitivism’s Evolutionary Underpinnings

Ryan Marshall Felder, Ph.D Candidate, Binghamton University

 

The Hermeneutics of Trust: Løgstrup on the Source of Ethics

Simon Thornton, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Essex

 

 

Short Paper Abstracts

 

 

 

Putting humans back into the centre of nature: A theological exploration of a human-nature integrated system

Rachel Bathurst is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester

 

The practice of nature conservation, historically, separates pristine habitats and important species from human economic development in order to protect them from any likely resultant degradation. In doing this the integral relationship between human and nature has been overlooked resulting in our artificial isolation from nature. This phenomenon is mirrored in the dominant human system, the capitalist economic system, where natural systems are seen only as a deliverer of resources for human wellbeing. Increasingly however it is recognised that humans are an integral component to many ecosystems, our activity changing the ecosystem and its functions and processes both temporally and spatially. Policy and decision makers the world over, including the UN, have understood that it is time to change the long term conservation of nature from one of an isolated system of protected areas and species to that of an integrated system, so putting humans back into the centre of the ecosystem. This has largely been taken to mean integrating the mainstream economic system with ecological systems by placing nature as a subset of the economy, present solely for economic growth and human wellbeing. This paper begins to explore whether this is the right course of action at a time when the earth is in an unprecedented time of human induced environmental crisis caused largely through global economic growth. Can theological ethics and the doctrine of creation give any insight into whether a natural code of ethics might offer an alternative integrated approach to safeguarding the future of the planet?

 

 

From a Logos Point of View: On The Linguistic Nature of Ethics

Dr Matteo Bonotti, School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast, & Dr Yael Peled, Faculty of Law, McGill University

 

The capacity for moral reasoning and language are perhaps the two most elemental features of humanity and human nature. However, the particular ethics that derives from this common human capacity is, paradoxically, just as diverse as the languages in which they originate and develop. While some ethical traditions are sometimes (self-) perceived as universal, such as liberalism, contemporary research in the political philosophy of language and linguistic anthropology demonstrates that ethical traditions and vocabularies are often intimately linked to particular social and political environments via their languages. No single natural language, on that view, may adequately serve as a meta-ethical language, or an ‘ideological Esperanto’.

The paper examines the challenge posed by language-based ethical differences to contemporary moral and political philosophy, considering language as a unique crossroad between a universal feature of (human) nature on one hand, and the localized product of purposeful human in(ter)vention on the other. In particular, the paper examines the problems that emerge from an irreducible multilingual world whose multiple ethical vocabularies overlap only partially, as well as the opportunities that it presents. Being conscious of this language-based ethical partiality, the paper suggests, helps to develop our metalinguistic awareness; this, in turn, develops our meta-ethical awareness, our sensitivity to the often-covert link between morality and language, and understanding of the myriad and complex ways in which they interact.

 

Changing natures: the production of nature across four historical moments and their implications for natural law

Jess Bradley, Ph.D. Candidate in Planning, University of Manchester

 

This paper, by analysing four works of fiction, Robin Hood, Little Red Riding Hood, Pride and Prejudice, and James Cameron’s Avatar movie, and the social and natural environments around the time they were written, argues that conceptualisations of both human nature and the natural environment have shifted and changed throughout time. That our understandings of nature are socially contingent and dynamic poses a challenge to the framing of nature as Other, the universality of natural law, and of human exceptionalism. As such, this paper argues for an ethics which is not about formalising the right response to an exteriorised other, but about responsibility and accountability to the relational becoming within which we are all entangled.

 


 

Michel Serres’ conception of a Natural Contract (1990)

Dr Vera Bühlmann, Zurich

 

With his 1996 book The Natural Contract, Michel Serres has formulated a forceful critique on the notion of “ecology” – by leaving that word absent from his book altogether. In a 2006 interview, he explains why: as we are beginning to experience today the actuality of nature in its fragility, we ought to address nature in juridical terms, not in logical terms, he maintains. The proposal, as I understand it, is rather straightforward: all things, if they are to be considered according to

 

their nature, must be endowed with universal rights. Serres imagines the natural contract as the working out of the terms of these rights, and these terms must be entitled as terms according to a universal characteristics. The powerful philosophical idea behind Serres proposal is that the very idea of a determination of a nature of things can be formulated in no other way than in the terms of this determinations own reciprocal complement, namely an assumed nature of thinking. I will discuss Serres idea as a model of how we might think that nature indeed has embedded within it a moral code – yet one that cannot be deciphered without having, at the same time, contracted it in a particular way.

 

 

Cost-Benefit Analysis, Moral Deliberation, and Property Rights: Toward Agreement Between Deliberative Democracy and Austro-Libertarianism on Environmental Governance.

William Christmas, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Theory at the University of Manchester

 

Serious objections have been leveled against the use of cost-benefit analysis in environmental governance. Those from a, broadly speaking, Deliberative Democratic perspective (DDs), object to environmental decision making being subject to monetary calculation, rather than moral deliberation. They oppose Cost-benefit analysis because it is dependent upon the monetary valuation of environmental goods whose value is of a qualitatively different kind to that which can be captured by monetary valuation. The opposition to monetary valuation is often deployed against free market approaches to environmental governance for this reason. However, the free market perspective of Austro-Libertarians (ALs) offers an approach which, while it permits prices for environmental goods to form, does not require monetary evaluations thereof. The free market in environmental goods advocated by ALs is heavily shaped by wider moral and social concerns that cannot be captured in monetary terms, due to its insistence that we take seriously who environmental goods are privatised, and thus owned by. AL does not permit selling public goods to commercial firms but rather requires their socialisation to their users, occupiers: those with the closest relationships to them. Hence it places the authority to make cost-benefit decisions in the hands of precisely those who will be reluctant to evaluate the goods in question in monetary terms.

 

 

 

Noncognitivism’s Evolutionary Underpinnings

Ryan Marshall Felder, Ph.D Candidate, Binghamton University

 

A significant hurdle for any noncognitivist metaethics is the fact that the position requires that we jump through semantic hoops: a noncognitivist has to say something like, when one claims that ‘x is morally required’, that they really mean is that ‘I approve of x’, or ‘I feel that x is good’. Richard Joyce argues that this is a fatal problem for the noncognitivist. Why would we clothe our prescriptions in assertoric language, given that we have perfectly good prescriptive language available? I interpret Joyce as arguing for a transparency requirement (TR): in moral language use, the speaker’s intentions regularly correspond to the language they use. Joyce suggests that we can’t reject TR, which the noncognitivist must do, since we should generally assume that people mean what they say. In this paper, I argue that the noncognitivist can coherently reject TR, because a plurality of linguistic forms is compatible with them all being the same at a semantic level. If we imagine that noncognitivism were the true account of moral language, we can predict, on the basis of natural selection, that we would develop numerous sorts of moral language that more effectively suit its purpose. If all moral language is, say, fundamentally prescriptive, then competent speakers will develop assertoric moral language, because there are circumstances where prescriptive language is unlikely to accomplish its purpose. Sometimes, not saying what we really want is the best way to get it, and if this is the case, then we should reject TR.

 

 

Let there be Life: Gordon Kaufman’s naturalised ethics of Creation

Anthony Floyd is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester

 

Gordon Kaufman considers it the theologian’s task to be in constant critical dialogue with the theological symbols of her epoch. Kaufman feels that the pursuit of greater moral understanding must override our, often ingrained, deference to tradition. If theological symbols are weighed and found wanting in the face of the fruits of social liberation then they ought, Kaufman argues, to be deconstructed and reformulated accordingly.  This is particularly true, Kaufman feels, with regards to the concept of sin. Traditional understandings of sin have been deeply ecclesial and theological. Such an understanding of wrong-doing is inadequate, Kaufman argues, in the nuclear age.  Humanity’s ever greater technological firepower, coupled with the insatiable appetite for growth displayed by the developed West, puts us in somewhat paradoxical situation. Humanity, as a whole, has never been more powerful, yet nor has it been more vulnerable. We possess the capacity to transform our environment beyond recognition and, more importantly, beyond habitability. It is this uncomfortable truth that Kaufman makes the centre of his reconstructed morality. Kaufman feels that human reason is a gift which allows us to wonder at the mysterious and unfathomable of process by which life came into being within the universe. When this wonder becomes united with our technological capacities we become able to harmonise our relationship with our environment and, in so doing, with ourselves and each other. This paper aims to explore the resources and problems that Kaufman’s reconstruction of moral philosophies generates for human identity and praxis.

 

 

What if Lions Could Talk? The Use of Evolutionary Counterfactuals in Debunking Moral Realism

Jerome Hopster, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Utrecht

 

Sharon Street’s ‘Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Values’ (2006) has sparked ongoing (meta-)ethical debate. According to Street, our evaluative attitudes have been saturated with evolutionary influence. As a result, these attitudes are unlikely to track mind-independent moral truth. This is the essence of Street’s Evolutionary Debunking Argument (EDA) against moral realism: if our moral evaluations have a contingent evolutionary genealogy, then moral facts cannot be ‘real’ in any robust sense.

In this presentation, I shall elucidate what Street means by evolutionary influence, and analyze her treatment of factual and counterfactual evidence. Appearances notwithstanding, Street’s EDA is only minimally informed by evolutionary facts. As a result, I shall argue, the scope of her EDA is limited: it only targets meta-ethical theories whose nature is distinctly anti-Darwinian. The ‘Darwinian Dilemma’ poses no challenge to species of moral realism that are evolutionarily informed. 

In the end, the meta-ethical implications of Street’s EDA are modest. EDAs that are more thoroughly fuelled by empirical evidence, by contrast, might turn out to have greater meta-ethical significance. Street has given debunkers a hammer: the real challenge is to turn it into a chisel.

 

 

The Moral Tragedy of the Biological Imperative: What Nietzsche can and cannot Teach us about the Evolution of Morality

Dr Scott M. James and Dr Matthew C. Eshleman, University of North Carolina

 

One reading of the evolution of human moral agency (in the biological and social sciences) empirically vindicates Nietzsche’s speculative account of moral psychology.  But a curious irony attends this vindication: Nietzsche prescribes a divergent value system that now appears biologically impossible.  It now appears that had it not been for the (proto-moral) pressures to regularly subordinate one’s own desires, no human agent would ever have evolved.  Current orthodoxy in biology has it that recurrent adaptive social pressures would have favored hominids that could obey (implicit) social rules of the group; this in turn would have favored psychological mechanisms of self-control.  Those individuals who were unable to restrain themselves in the face of a disputed resource (and blindly entered into conflict) fared worse, on average, than those who could reliably recognize instances wherein conflict would be costly.  And one way in which self-control is achieved is by primitive deferential dispositions—one felt the need to subordinate oneself to others. Indeed, social selection against despots appears to be much older than h. sapiens.  We argue, then, that so-called “false consciousness” was a biological prerequisite for hominid survival and that Noble morality, though it would persist, would remain biologically unstable. Nietzsche’s complaint that “one morality for all is detrimental to the higher men,” while perhaps true read ontogenetically, is false read phylogenetically.  However, we go on to claim that while social selection would not have favored a Noble morality, other selective pressures would have ensured that admiring such a system was biologically beneficial.  

 

 

Second Nature – an Offspring of Frustrations?

Isabel Kaeslin, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University

 

In virtue ethics the concept of second nature is traditionally considered to refer to human beings’ ‘higher’ nature, i.e. to that which accounts for what makes human beings human: for example culture, normativity, language, meaning, and freedom. It is what enables us to be fully human, to distinguish us from mere brutes or animals. I do not want to deny these aspects of second nature in this paper. But I want to turn the spotlights to a temptation that might arise from this picture: the temptation of a too ‘romantic’ picture of how human beings acquire second nature. By questioning such a romanticized picture of the acquisition of second nature, I hope to also be able to sharpen our view on what second nature in Aristotle’s sense can be and what it cannot be, and what that means for the notion of virtue.

In order to attack the romanticized picture of the acquisition of second nature it will be interesting to look at an account of moral psychology that arises from a modern point of view, as a (prima facie) challenge to the ancient one: Freudian moral psychology. Freud conceived of his insights into moral psychology as a second Copernican Revolution: certain formerly held believes about human psychology will not be defensible anymore after his insights. Whether or not this is true for the Aristotelian moral psychology inherent in the notion of second nature is the topic of the dialectic in this paper, for it is exactly the romanticized picture of the acquisition of second nature that gets attacked by the Freudian moral psychology, or so I will argue.

At the end of the paper I will ask the question what has to be preserved from Freudian moral psychology even if we do not want to give up the idea of second nature as being the ‘higher’ nature of human beings. This will require us to make the Aristotelian notion of virtue more precise: we will have to understand virtue in a more active way, as a constant process of re-establishing the unity of first and second nature. It is not implausible to think that this is how Aristotle wanted virtue to be understood in the first place, as he emphasized that virtue is an activity and not a static state of the soul. Taking Freudian moral psychology seriously can help us bring out this aspect of Aristotle’s notion of virtue more clearly.

 

 

Reflections on how we practically put the ethics of nature into our lives and our neighbourhoods.

Dr Helena Mary Kettleborough, Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

 

In this contribution, I wish to explore three elements arising out of my PhD research and ongoing work in communities, using cycles of inquiry and refection.

In the first cycle, I examine what methodology might be used to explore these questions of the ethics of nature. I suggest that using action research methodology might locate the research within ethical and participative contours. I draw upon Reason and Bradbury’s definition of action research (2001) and highlight Heron and Reason’s (1997) notion of action research located within a participatory paradigm. I specifically draw on notions of first person action research as being a key underpinning to exploring the ethics of nature, outlining how any such exploration might use extended ways of knowing (Heron, 1996) and living life as inquiry (Marshall, 1999). Such a methodology I argue might ensure that as researchers we are can locate the ethics of nature within our own lives, conduct, research and daily practice. 

Drawing on this methodology, I outline how I examined my own conduct in the light of the literature from Thomas Berry (1988), Stephan Harding (2006), Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams (2005). I explore how this enabled me to draw together some elements of the ethics of nature and how I came to understand the ethics of nature as nested within a planetary and cosmological paradigm as well as my own self and community.

Finally, I  consider the question of examining my own personal conduct and management  practice in order to start drawing out the contours of what a neighbourhood  practice might start to look like which includes the ethics of nature.

 

 

Natural Law and Mosaic Law in Luther’s Thought 

Juuso Loikkanen, MA, MSc, is a PhD Candidate in Systematic Theology at the University of Eastern Finland

 

Natural law can be defined as a system of moral principles derived from nature through the use of human reason. Natural law is unchanging and universal, a perfect moral law common to all people throughout the ages. In the context of Catholic theology, natural law is often understood to reflect the divine goodness of God and to reveal his true loving character. However, since not everyone is able to discover the natural law through reason, God has revealed it to us in the Mosaic law (the Ten Commandments). According to, e.g., Thomas Aquinas, the Mosaic law can be deduced from the natural law and is binding for all people. 

It is a commonly held perception that traditional Lutheranism rejected the existence of any kind of natural law. Certainly, Luther thinks that human reason and nature have been thoroughly corrupted by sin and that we can only learn to know God through faith. Yet, it was neither the understanding of Luther nor his successors to completely deny the existence of natural law. According to Luther, natural law does exist but it does not reveal the true character of God; it only reveals God as an angry judge. Nevertheless, natural law leads us to look for a loving God, the knowledge of whom can only be attained by faith. For Luther, the Mosaic law is not an answer; it is merely a temporal law meant for particular nation and is not binding on Christians. Luther holds that we should only adopt the Mosaic law insofar as it agrees with the natural law.

 

 

A Defence of Kant's Ethics as Being a Universal Rational Requirement

Michael Lyons, Ph.D. Candidate at Trinity College, Dublin

 

In her paper 'Is Ethics Rationally Required?', Alison Hills (2004) argues that, even if there were no other valid criticisms for Kant's moral theory, it still does not provide adequate rational justification. By analogising with Sidgwick's dualism of practical reason argument, Hills invents a 'K-prudential theory' of egoism, where one only has Kantian duties towards oneself, and none to others, and argues that Kant provides no rational justification for the claim that his theory should be chosen over the K-prudential theory. This argument plays a significant part in her book The Beloved Self (2010), in which she argues that since there is always this egoistic alternative to moral theories, an independent rational justification for defending a moral theory is required.

In this paper, what I attempt to do is defend Kant's ethics against this argument. More specifically, I will try to show that the largest problem with Hills' argument is her claim that the K-prudential theory and Kant's moral theory are in conflict. I will be arguing that in fact the K-prudential theory is simply an incomplete part of Kant's theory, in the sense that the former only pertains to Kant's duties to the self. Hills can only reject this claim if she accepts that the K-prudential theory is based on a different conception of pure practical reason to Kant's. Still, if instead the question becomes which conception of pure practical reason is better justified, the K-prudential one, or Kant's, it looks like the answer may be in Kant's favour.

 

Reverence for Mother Earth: A Spiritual Pathway to a Better World

Prof. Kamran Mofid (Retired) is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, Cofounder/Editor, GCGI Journal, and a Patron of the Human Values Foundation

 

Today’s world, it seems, has become a world of continuing and deepening crises. Wisdom, must surely compel us to ask: Why? Is it lack of money or resources? Or Lack of technology and IT? Or Lack of people holding PhDs and MBAs that are causing these crises? No. What we lack is moral and spiritual imagination and compass: Lack of wisdom and our choice of wrong, harmful, and worthless ways. Our crises can only be addressed, reversed and resolved, if we change direction, adopt new values and be concerned about life’s bigger picture. We must reconnect ourselves with nature. We must begin to respect and admire nature and be inspired by it. Moreover, as members of the household of humanity, we must provide security, sanctuary and constructive engagement for all of our human family. Sustained by the bounty of all, called by the Sacred, and animated into action by the Spirit of peace, Justice, and Reverence for All Life, we must be guided by values inspired by nature, to brighten our path to build a world fit for the common good. This, in short, is the gist of my presentation: How we might change the world for the better through our spirituality, reverence for and engagement with nature. 

 

Ethical facts are not natural facts

Joey Montgomery – Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Manchester

 

Ethical Naturalism is the claim that ethical facts are natural facts, where natural facts are about the natural world and can be discovered through scientific method. Thus, Naturalists would claim that there being an ethical reason for helping Hannah would simply be some fact like ‘helping Hannah is what would maximise human welfare’ or  ‘Hannah can be helped with little effort’. Famous Naturalists include Jackson, Thomson and Nussbaum. If the Naturalist claim is true, then discovery of ethical facts should be left to scientists and not philosophers.

I argue against Ethical Naturalism. My argument is that there being an ethical reason for helping Hannah can be discovered, not through scientific method alone, but by discovering a non-natural fact which can be expressed as ‘helping Hannah is valuable’. I proceed, firstly, by applying Vayrynen’s (2013) argument that it appears too mysterious how, by discovering a natural fact, one could discover that there is an ethical reason. Secondly, I argue that it is not too mysterious how, by discovering a non-natural fact like ‘helping Hannah is valuable’, one could discover that there is an ethical reason for helping Hannah. One thing that this depends on is it not being too mysterious as to how one discovers this non-natural fact, which is something that I defend. It then follows that, other things being equal, we should claim that there being an ethical reason cannot be discovered through scientific method – in other words: ethical facts are not natural facts.

 

 

Has Machery Provided an Adequate Account of Human Nature? 

Gourav Krishna Nandi, Taught Postgraduate, London School of Economics and Political Science

 

Essentialism in species nature (and thus, human nature) has been refuted by Hull (1986) and Ghiselin (1997). Machery (2008) in an attempt to save the notion of human nature, provides an account that is biologically satisfactory. In this paper, I will reply to Machery’s account of the “nomological” notion of human nature; I will argue that Machery’s human nature is unable to offer a yardstick for ethical arguments concerning humans (or the concerned species). The nomological notion does not accommodate for normative statements. However, I argue that species nature and species rights are interrelated. In particular, I will adhere to Fukuyama’s (2003) assertion on the relationship between species nature and species rights. I argue that a cogent definition of human nature will accommodate the scrutiny from biology, and the ethical statements. Machery’s nomological notion, thus, needs to be improved upon or replaced, such that the novel definition of species nature can be used for ethical statements concerning species rights.

 

 

On the Relevance of Evolutionary Biology to Ethical Naturalism 

Parisa Moosavi, University of Toronto

 

Neo-Aristotelian metaethical naturalism aims to naturalize ethical normativity by showing that it is an instance of natural normativity, a kind of normativity already present among plants and animals. One of the major challenges for neo-Aristotelian naturalism is finding a place for natural normativity in the biological world. Aristotle had an essentialist, teleological, conception of nature that doesn’t seem to make sense in the context of modern post-Darwinian biology. Hence, Philippa Foot, Michael Thompson, and other defenders of neo-Aristotelianism often isolate this view from evolutionary biology. They account for natural normativity in terms of what is characteristic of a species, while rejecting that biology can offer an understanding of what is so characteristic. 

Critics like William Fitzpatrick have appealed to an evolutionary account of living things to reject the neo-Aristotelian account of natural normativity, an appeal that neo-Aristotelians have quickly rejected as irrelevant to their project. In this paper, I argue that biology is in fact relevant to assessing the naturalistic credentials of neo-Aristotelian naturalism. I argue that unless the neo-Aristotelian notion of normativity is underwritten by a naturalistic account of living things, its own naturalistic credentials are questionable and it cannot naturalize ethical normativity. However, far from being obvious that evolutionary biology opposes the neo-Aristotelian project, I argue that there is an understanding of evolution within philosophy of biology that supports the neo-Aristotelian notion of natural normativity. What I aim to show is that a sound philosophical understanding of evolutionary biology can contribute to this debate over naturalism about ethics.

 

 

Nature’s Norms and Morality

Joe Saunders, Ph.D. Candidate at Sheffield University

 

I want to explore two possible roles nature could play when it comes to morality. My starting point is neo-Aristotelian. I view nature as full of organisms that have various standards of flourishing, and norms associated with these.

I consider two accounts of moral normativity that draw upon this neo-Aristotelian conception of nature. The first looks to ground moral norms on what human beings need in order to flourish. At first glance, this approach appears to succumb to Prichard’s objection, in that it seems to provide non-moral reasons to be moral – if you want to flourish, then you ought to act morally. One easy way around this objection is to change the subject of flourishing from the individual to the species – the issue then is not what I should do if I want to flourish, but rather what I should do if we want to flourish. I contend that this approach falls short, in that although it manages to circumvent a version of Prichard’s objection, it still attempts to get something from nothing, ultimately providing us with non-moral reasons to be moral.

This leads me to my second (less ambitious) account, which does not attempt to ground moral norms in non-moral norms, but instead points to non-moral norms as instances of normativity in nature. This is then used to disarm the threat that nature might be entirely alien to normativity. Once this threat is disarmed, then there is less reason to be sceptical about the possibility of normativity in general, and moral normativity in particular.

 

 

Ethics of Communicating the Effects of Climate Change on Extreme Weather

Prof. David M. Schultz, Environmental Sciences, & Vladimir Janković, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester

 

With each new weather disaster, the media ask the question, “Was this disaster caused by anthropogenic climate change?”  Scientists, eager to motivate the public and governments to act on climate change, often link these individual weather events with climate change, often without substantial evidence to support the linkage or even whether it is an effective strategy. We argue the ethics of this approach to communicating science.  In the past, society responded to weather disasters with calls for greater resilience. Today, however, public awareness of anthropogenic climate change has given the climate time scales far greater importance than that of the weather time scales.   Is it ethical for scientists to argue this point, particularly when stopping all greenhouse gas emissions overnight would not prevent weather disasters from occurring?  Is it ethical as a society to prepare for a future 50–100 years in the future when thousands die in weather disasters each year worldwide?  Is it ethical that these deaths could be avoided by investing in weather resilience? 

Linking high-impact weather events with climate change perpetuates the idea that reducing greenhouse gases would be enough to reduce increasingly vulnerable world populations. In our view, this only confuses the public and policy makers as to the socioeconomic susceptibility to extreme weather. There is no quick fix, single-cause solution for the problem of human vulnerability to socioenvironmental change, nor is there a reasonable prospect of attenuating extreme weather events. Addressing such issues would give the world an opportunity to develop a two-pronged policy in climate security: reducing longerterm risks in conjunction with preventing shorter-term weather disasters.  

 

 

The Hermeneutics of Trust: Løgstrup on the Source of Ethics

Simon Thornton, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Essex

 

The question regarding the source of our ethical responsiveness to others is one of the major problems driving the ethical philosophy of Knud Eljer Løgstrup. In The Ethical Demand Løgstrup answers this question by claiming that the ethical demand emerges out of a ‘basic’ and ‘all-encompassing’ trust which belongs to existence.

According to Løgstrup, all human encounters presuppose a basic trust which is experienced first-personally in terms of a demand. This demand is generated by the other surrendering part of themselves. The agent is summoned to care for the part of the other’s life which has been surrendered to them because it has been surrendered to them. Why should we accept this claim?

In this paper, I draw critically on Philip Pettit’s notion of ‘trust-responsiveness,’ proposing a hermeneutic account of ‘trust-responsiveness’ in order to elaborate on and defend Løgstrup’s claim regarding the source of ethics.

Pettit’s conception of trust-responsiveness implies that if an agent is aware that she is being trusted, she will be inclined to respond in a trustworthy way insofar as the agent ‘seeks the good opinion of others’. I argue, however, that the kind of trust-responsiveness Pettit describes presupposes a more primitive form of trust-responsiveness.  This is what I propose to call hermeneutic trust-responsiveness: the pre-thematic and tacit responsiveness to the other which conditions and is constitutive of our mutual intelligibility as human beings. On this account, it is a hermeneutic condition of the possibility of meaningful human interaction that we are trust-responsive, and that this basic trust-responsiveness is the source of our thematic ethical responsiveness to others. My account of hermeneutic trust-responsiveness both lends support to and elucidates Løgstrup’s claim regarding the source of ethical responsiveness.

 

Nature in ethics in Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch


Dr Maria Silvia Vaccarezza is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Moral Philosophy University of Genoa, Italy

 

There are two main ways in which nature “enters” ethics: the first is the question whether there is a human nature, and if and how its existence has a normative value; the second concerns the naturalness of good. These two senses, of course, are connected. In my paper I want to examine briefly two attempts to articulate an answer to both questions made by two major British thinkers of the twentieth century: Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch. Philippa Foot, in her famous Natural Goodness, offers a contemporary version of the conception according to which what founds normativity is human nature, with its objective and universal traits, rooted in biology and in the functioning of the human being. At the same time, and consequently, as the title of her latest work suggests, the good is conceived as a natural property, namely, the actualization of rationality. An alternative view is that proposed by Iris Murdoch in her The Sovereignty of Good. While Murdoch has no doubt that the good is a non-natural property, she nevertheless maintains that moral properties are real, defining herself a certain kind of naturalist. As for human nature, rather than being a metaphysical concept indicating the human telos, nature is for Murdoch (following much more Freud than Aristotle, but also harking back on the doctrine of original sin) the fallen condition of human beings, that makes them selfish and unable to bear the otherness of reality. A condition from which one can redeem himself through asceticism, by virtue of another characteristic trait of nature: the opening to the good. Human nature consists therefore, for Murdoch, of two conflicting forces: one that pushes the subject inwards, and one that opens to the good.

 

 

Adorno's Doctrine of Natural-History and Ethical Naturalism

Tom Whyman, PhD Candidate in Philosophy at the University of Essex

 

Call it the 'Critical Theory Reason' (for rejecting ethical naturalism): the idea that whatever we can appeal to as 'natural' is really just the hypostatisation (or 'reification', or similar) of certain contingent social facts, in a way that illegitimately shunts them out of the space where they can be critiqued. Appeals to nature to justify certain social roles for women, or the eating of meat, might be invoked – using the Critical Theory Reason – as things we would be right to be suspicious of.

 

Theodor Adorno is someone who is uncontroversially a critical theorist. But he is also sometimes considered an ethical naturalist (cf. e.g. Freyenhagen 2013). Assuming that Adorno would affirm the Critical Theory Reason (which we have good evidence to think that he would), how is this possible?  My answer lies in his doctrine of 'natural-history', a radical re-conceptualisation of nature that plays an important role in his philosophy from its very beginnings (in the 1932 essay 'The Idea of Natural-History'), all the way up to Negative Dialectics. In this talk, I offer a brief unpacking of the idea of natural-history and explain how, as a 'de-ontologisation' of the idea of nature, it can help ethical naturalism to avoid falling foul of the Critical Theory Reason.