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Ecological Ethics and the Human Soul

Aquinas, Whitehead, and the Metaphysics of Creation

Francisco J. Benzoni

Publication Year: 2007

In Ecological Ethics and the Human Soul: Aquinas, Whitehead, and the Metaphysics of Value, Francisco J. Benzoni addresses the pervasive and destructive view that there is a moral gulf between human beings and other creatures. Thomas Aquinas, whose metaphysics entails such a moral gulf, holds that human beings are ultimately separate from nature. Alfred North Whitehead, in contrast, maintains that human beings are continuous with the rest of nature. These different metaphysical systems demand different ethical stances toward creation. Benzoni analyzes and challenges Thomas's understanding of the human soul, his primary justification for the moral separation, arguing that it is finally philosophically untenable. The author finds promising the alternative metaphysics of Whitehead, for whom human beings are a part of nature—even if the highest part; all creatures have a degree of subjectivity and creativity, and thus all have intrinsic value and moral worth, independent of subjective human valuation. Further, though there is difference, there is no moral gulf between God and the world. God is truly affected by the experience of creatures. Benzoni argues that if this vision of moral worth is articulated with sufficient force and clarity, it could help heal the human relation to our planet.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Chris Gamwell has provided valuable insights, continuous direction, and critical feedback throughout every phase of this process. His encouragement and dedication have been invaluable, and his thorough embodiment of the intellectual virtues has been inspirational. I am deeply grateful for his contribution to this work, and, more generally, to my intellectual...

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pp. 1-9

This is a work in ecological ethics. For many people, the need for such an ethic has become pressing in our time, yet demonstrating this need can be a surprisingly delicate business. To be sure, one can cite an endless list of existing and looming ecological problems. Let me provide a representative, but by no means exhaustive, list.1 If today is a typical one on our...

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PART I. Created Goodness and Moral Worth: Thomas' Bifurcation

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pp. 11-16

For Thomas, the world is suffused with goodness. It is good in each of its parts and especially as a whole. It is good literally to the very core of its being; it comes from the Good and is ordered to the Good. Further, all species of creatures are necessary, on Thomas' account, for the perfection of the...

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Chapter One: The Metaphysical Grounding of Goodness

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pp. 17-40

In this chapter, we ask how the goodness of creatures is related to their moral worth. This is not Thomas' question. Rather, Thomas' concern is to demonstrate both that the goodness of creatures is intrinsic (and, properly understood, substantial) rather than merely extrinsic and accidental and that this intrinsic goodness of creatures does not confuse the...

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Chapter Two: The Moral Bifurcation of Creation

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pp. 41-74

In this chapter, I argue that it is only in light of Thomas' teleology that the moral import of his ontology becomes clear. This moral import can be drawn out most directly through a consideration of the way creatures are ordered to one another and the way they contribute to the perfection of the universe. In order to clarify the broad outlines...

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PART II. The Human Soul: Analysis and Critique

This part is organized into two chapters. In Chapter 3, I intend to present Thomas' conception of the human soul by first introducing his general conception of the human soul, as a form and an entity. I next focus on Thomas' theory of cognition and explain, on the basis of this theory, how we gain knowledge of the human soul. My goals in this chapter are...

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Chapter Three: Thomas' Conception of the Human Soul

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pp. 77-92

The thirteenth century was, doctrinally speaking, a time of roiling controversy. Much of this controversy was precipitated by the flood of Aristotelian writings that engulfed the intellectual centers of the Latin West beginning in the twelfth century. These writings, with their unsparing criticism of some major tenets of Platonism, broke in on an age whose...

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Chapter Four: The Soul as an Entity: A Critical Assessment

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pp. 93-123

Thomas offers a number of different types of arguments for the subsistence of the human soul. In this chapter, I examine his most prominent ones and maintain that they do not succeed in demonstrating that the human soul is subsistent because they depend upon an inference between representative immateriality and ontological immateriality without any...

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PART III. The Unity and Moral Worth of All Creation

In this third part of the book, I present a viable alternative to Thomas' understanding of creation and the place of human beings therein. My goal in chapter 5 is to present an alternative conception of the human being, and of creatures generally, that avoids the problems in Thomas' account and accords all creatures some measure of moral worth. This...

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Chapter Five: An Alternative Metaphysics

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pp. 127-161

To clarify the parameters of what I will be addressing in this chapter, let us consider the following series of conditionals that act as a bridge from the previous chapters to the present one. If one seeks to develop an ecological ethic that accords moral worth to non-rational creatures (for example, because such an ethic reflects the reality of creaturely...

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Chapter Six: Intrinsic Value and Moral Worth

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pp. 162-177

In this chapter, I summarize the foundation for an ecological ethic that can be built on neoclassical metaphysics. I then demonstrate that the value theory embodied in this ecological ethic provides a basis for an understanding of intrinsic value that incorporates the best insights of, and avoids the problems that plague, two of the leading theorists in...

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pp. 178-182

The deteriorating state of the natural environment is among the foremost problems facing humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century. It is on our actions that the fate and, indeed, the very survival of much planetary life depend. We are entering unchartered waters, where the gradual accretion of alterations to our planet is exerting ever-increasing...

Appendix A: Spiritual Change and Materiality

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pp. 183-187

Appendix B: God's Nature: The Controversy

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pp. 188-190


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pp. 191-238


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pp. 239-245


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pp. 247-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780268075736
E-ISBN-10: 0268075735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268022051
Print-ISBN-10: 0268022054

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2007