The fate of nature : ethical naturalism in historical and critical context.
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Myers, Adam, 1985-
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Ethical naturalism is an ethical theory that holds that practical norms are a species of natural norms. It was a position held by almost all ancient ethical theorists, but despite a renaissance among some in the past three quarters of a century, it fell by and large into ill repute centuries ago. This dissertation aims to assess contemporary naturalism in light of that history. In chapter two, I note that contemporary ethical naturalism has had little interest in the historical background of their own theorizing, and I try to fill that gap. The remaining chapters contribute to this task. In chapter three, I explore the concepts of nature at work in some of the writings of Aristotle and Cicero, suggesting that Aristotle has a richer conceptual repertory than usually realised, which could be of use to contemporary ethical naturalists, and that Cicero is needlessly neglected by them. In chapter four, I consider two significant historical developments that make the use of nature concepts difficult today. First, I consider the rise of the empirical human sciences. Second, I consider a line of thinking that concerns nature’s relation to history and society, a line that moves from Rousseau through Kant. I consider too the legacy of this line of thought among neo-Kantians. In chapter five, I consider a final challenge for ethical naturalists, that of genealogy and reflection. Certain kinds of genealogies have been put forth to show the irrelevance of concepts of nature to ethics, but I try to vindicate the notion that ethical naturalism not only can but must be vindicated using a kind of genealogical method. In conclusion, I remark on the prospects of an ethical naturalism more explicitly in conversation with the human sciences and with the history of nature concepts in ethical life.