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Towards Gratitude to Nature: Global Environmental Ethics for China and the World

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This paper asks what should be the basis of a global environmental ethics. As Gao Shan has argued, the environmental ethics of Western philosophers such as Holmes Rolston and Paul Taylor is based on extending the notion of intrinsic value to that of objects of nature, and as such it is not very compatible with Chinese ethics. This is related to Gao’s rejection of most—if not all—Western “rationalist” environmental ethics, a stance that I grant her for pragmatic reasons (though I remain neutral about it theoretically). Gao argues that the Daoist notion of living in harmony with nature can instead become the basis of a Chinese environmental ethics. However, the involved Daoist conception of living in harmony with nature is, in my view, based on an aesthetic property. The paper argues that despite the appeal of the Daoist view for a Chinese environmental ethics, an aesthetic property cannot provide the basis for a global environmental ethics. The paper also considers another version of Daoist environmental ethics, which does not rely on an aesthetic notion, but I argue that it too fails as such a candidate. As an alternative, the paper considers and applies contemporary Western thinkers on gratitude (such as Robert Emmons and Elizabeth Loder), proposing that gratitude to nature (environmental gratitude) can indeed provide the needed basis.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, Tongji University


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