“Aristotle, biophenomenology and responsibility”.
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This paper sets out an ethic of responsibility for nature based on Aristotelian biological teleology and the paired notions of bio-phenomenology and biosemiosis. This ethic applies to all living things, including humans. In it both the complexity of an organism and its capacity to interact with and affect its environment are relevant. There are five main aspects to this ethic. The first is the idea that value enters the world, and the existence of value becomes a fact of the world, with the emergence of internally-directed entities that, in Aristotelian terms, have an immanent telos. 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 because of the manner in which each occupies three types of niche: an ontological niche, a semiotic niche and an ecological niche. The capacity or potential of an organism to interact with its environment defines an ‘ontological niche’. Organisms of all sorts have an ontological niche value, but those with a more complex structure of receptors and effectors occupy a more complex ontological niche and occupy a richer phenomenal ‘space’ than less complex organisms. A semiotic niche value arises in organisms that can receive and respond to signals from the external (objective) world.Such organisms have the three basic elements of a semiotic relationship with that external world (object, interpreter and sign) that allow the organism to create an ‘understanding’ of the world it inhabits. In doing so it creates for itself a unique ‘semiotic niche’ the nature of which is defined by its own structure. In determining ecological niche value both capacity or potential to affect and actual interconnection with others in the environment are morally relevant factors. This ethic holds that an entity’s phenomenological creation of a world through its ability to ‘interpret’ signs is morally significant and that its structural complexity, the complexity of its sign-use capacity and its capacity for interaction are relevant in determining moral considerability relative to others. The third aspect of the ethic outlined in this paper 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 arises in at least two other ways: when, following Levinas, an a priori obligation to the other is triggered; and when one has fellow-feeling for,or empathises with, the other.The fifth element of this ethic is that when this responsibility is recognised and the agent chooses to act (and so acts) to protect, care for, nurture and help realize, the good-of-their-own that all living things have as a defining property the agent takes on the virtue of responsibility.
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