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The Affective Ground of Natural Goodness

Tyler Olsson
University of California, Santa Cruz

The concept of Natural Goodness is Philippa Foot’s moral appropriation of Michael Thompson’s analysis of the logical representation of life forms. Campagna and Guevara (C&G) have taken over the concept of Natural Goodness and applied it to their project of developing a new language for conservation in hopes that their application of it in this domain can help bring out what the philosophically empty notion of nature’s “intrinsic value” would otherwise communicate. They think that a new language toward this purpose will help shape our ethical thinking about conservation, and specifically they are interested in a language that can answer morally significant questions like “What is lost when a species goes extinct?” This paper reviews C&G’s project, both their motivations and the details and application of their theory thus far. I then point out that a crucial shortcoming of their work to date is that they have yet to address the issue of how we know, or how we are in touch with the value of Natural Goodness. In other words, what justifies us in claiming that the concept of Natural Goodness carries within it a moral value at all? I suggest that an Aristotelian conception of human virtue points toward affective perceptual capacities as the ground for knowledge of the moral value of Natural Goodness. I connect this to some of the insights put forth by Kant in his third Critique, arguing that the appropriate affective state for being in touch with the moral value of Natural Goodness is the feeling of disinterested pleasure. I consider some potential objections to my appropriation of Kant’s philosophy to this specific end, and I close with a Wittgensteinian word on the limits of language in communicating ethical or moral values generally.1 (more…)