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Autopoiesis and immanent teleology: Toward an Aristotelian environmental ethic

Millett, Stephan (1996) Autopoiesis and immanent teleology: Toward an Aristotelian environmental ethic. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Autopoiesis attempts to provide an operational definition of living systems regardless of the actual form a system takes. One of the key claims of autopoiesis is that a concept of teleology is not needed to explain what it is to be living. In this dissertation I contend that the theory of autopoiesis sets up an impoverished conception of teleology against which to argue and that, partly as a result, autopoiesis is not a fully-coherent concept. I show that the theory of autopoiesis in fact requires living things to have an immanent teleology and that there is consequently a significant convergence between a theory of autopoiesis thus amended, Aristotelian physics — especially as it concerns Aristotle’s concept of δύναμις (dunamis) — and Spinoza’s concept of conatus. I then take this convergence and show how it is relevant to an understanding of contemporary environmental ethics.

After an exegesis of the concept of autopoiesis I demonstrate that the concept can be expressed in terms of Aristotle’s δύναμις; and that Spinoza’s concept of conatus owes a major debt to Aristotle in general and to the concept of δύναμις; in particular. Having established that autopoiesis and conatus can be expressed in terms of δύναμις, I examine some theories of environmental ethics in which the presence of autopoiesis or conatus, specifically, or immanent teleology, generally, are considered to be morally relevant properties and in which those things possessing these properties are morally-considerable. I then develop my own (Aristotelian) environmental ethic in which moral agents are faced with a moral imperative to take responsibility for all things which possess an immanent teleology.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Malpas, Jeff
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