CfP: European Summer School in Process Thought

25. – 29.08.2014

The Metaphysical Foundations of a Non-Dualistic Environmental Ethics

Although there is widespread agreement in moral philosophy, that the role of humankind as an agent in ecological systems implies moral obligations towards ecological systems, important premises of such obligations remain unresolved.

Despite continuing scepticism towards ontological-metaphysical speculations in moral philosophy, one of the main problems in environmental ethics is precisely that subjects which set values are opposed to a prima facie value-neutral nature, which remains dependent on being ascribed the status as a morally relevant object by humans. While some environmental ethicists accordingly try to justify the protection of biodiversity, ecological systems and natural resources by their importance for mankind (conservation ethics), other authors seek to ascribe to nature as a whole the quasi-human status as a moral subject and to subordinate humans to it (deep ecology). It often remains unclear as to what exactly is to be understood by the notion of subject and in how far human subjects need to be differentiated from entities, such as ecological systems or an all-encompassing natural cycle, that are also to be regarded as subjects. In both cases, the dichotomy between humankind and nature persists, turning the quarrel about the moral relation between both sides into a question of faith with regard to the status of the human environment.
One approach, which seeks to overcome this dichotomy and which has increasingly evolved into an alternative to the conflicting positions, is based on a fundamentally different concept of nature. Especially Alfred N. Whitehead’s process metaphysics has proven fruitful for the development of an environmental and bioethics by providing an ontological grounding for values. With the notion of organism, which forms the fundamental processual structure of the metaphysical level of description for lifeworld relationships, Whitehead conceptualises (as opposed to Arne Næss, Brenden MacDonald or Eccy de Jonge) reality not as a strong hierarchy of discrete forms of subjectivity but as a continuum of essentially independent processes.
In the endeavour to derive moral obligations from Whitehead’s primarily scientific-aesthetic cosmology, a number of urgent research questions arise: On the one hand, it seems problematic, how far Whitehead’s metaphysics can actually justify normative claims without relapsing into the fundamental is-ought-gap. On the other hand, it appears to be possible to transform or integrate environmental ethics into a purely descriptive organismic aesthetics. In so far as a change in the way of perceiving the world already implies a change in the opportunities of action and in concrete action itself, the strong demands on justifying a normative ethics could be avoided, while at the same time evading the anthropocentrism of a conservation ethics. Thus the primary philosophical task would consist in finding a terminology for redescribing our worldview with regard to its intrinsic value in order to found a basis for individual and social discussions about specific value conflicts instead of demanding the political and individual realization of absolute norms. Moreover, it needs to be asked how far an integration of Whitehead’s thought into debates in environmental ethics can already draw on the historical context. So far, research has not investigated, how far Whitehead’s former colleagues at Harvard, the leading biologists Lawrence J. Henderson and William Wheeler, served as important points of reference for a metaphysical foundation of ecological and ethical perspectives. Normativity, aesthetics and historical context thus form the three philosophical corner stones of the European Summer School in Process Thought, which takes Whitehead’s process philosophy as a systematic starting point for the elucidation of the relationship between the ethical and aesthetical dimensions of a non-dualistic description of nature.
The event format combines introductory lectures, moderated discussions and seminar units. Five main lectures as well as fifteen call-for-papers presentations are planned. The presentations should not exceed 20-30 minutes and will be followed by 30-40 minutes for questions and discussion. Acceptance of the paper covers board and lodging at the conference venue and a substantial travel grant. Invited speakers: Brian Henning (Gonzaga, USA), Regine Kather (Freiburg), Vesselin Petrov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), Spyridon Koutroufinis (Berlin/Berkeley), Barbara Muraca (Jena). A publication of selected contributions to the European Summer School in Process Thought 2014 is planned.

Abstract Submission Deadline: 22.06.2014
Venue: Haus der Universität, Schadowplatz 14, Düsseldorf