Creating art or vexing nature?: ethics and the manipulation of nature, a critical study of arguments from Nature

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation comprises a series of five separate papers, arranged as chapters, linked thematically and also in their conclusions. The thematic connection between the chapters is that, in each, I investigate some aspect, either historical or contemporary, of how moral limits have been, or might be, applied to the human manipulation of nature through technology. More specifically, I explore how the concept of naturalness has been, and still is, employed in ethical arguments that seek to place limits upon or defend the use of various technologies. In each chapter, I argue that arguments which appeal to nature or naturalness as a normative concept make proper sense only when understood from the perspective of virtue ethics. The conclusions of each chapter are connected, and connected to the conclusions of the dissertation as a whole: firstly, that what I call 'arguments from nature', as they are used in debates about the moral limitations on the use of technology, are defensible only from within a virtue ethics framework; secondly, that such arguments have an important, although limited, role in such debates; and, finally, that virtue ethics more broadly can inform debates about the ethics of technology and the environment. In the first two chapters, by comparing contemporary debates over the ethics of technological manipulation of nature with historical debates over the proper relationship between art and nature, I demonstrate that virtue ethics have played, and still do play, a significant role in our ethical understanding of our relationship with the non-human world. I argue that the ethical issues that arise from our relationship with the non-human world, in response to advances in technology and to problems with the environment, indicate the need for an understanding of ethics that goes further than the mere consideration of rights and utility. In chapters three and four, I argue that virtue ethical theory provides the most promising understanding of th
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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