Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 8, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2001

Environmental Virtue Ethics

Kari Väyrynen
Pages 137-148

Virtue Ethics and the Material Values of Nature

For Aristotle, man is part of nature, a “political animal” with the faculty of reason. In this sense, Aristotelian virtue ethics can be said to relate virtues to nature. On the one hand, virtues lean on the natural dispositions of man as a social animal. On the other hand, virtues are connected to praxis, that is, with man’s active realization of his inherent biological, social and cultural potential. Recently, the material value ethics of Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann developed the Aristotelian tradition in a naturalistic direction, posing the problem of the value of life and connecting this question to the question of virtue. Virtues sensitize us to values and are, therefore, especially important for ethical praxis. I claim that precisely because of its historical and cultural concreteness, virtue ethics can be successfully applied to environmental issues. In critical connection with common mentalities, naturalistic virtue ethics can be a politically effective way of ethical thinking. Furthermore, we can avoid the trap of relativism by suggesting strong environmental values and virtues. An example would be the health of ecosystems and of humans.