Matter Matters: On Our Moral Relationship with the Inanimate World
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This thesis asks how we should understand our moral relationship with inanimate matter. It argues that the philosophical history of Western modernity has led us to endorse an ontological framework which harbors problematic commitments to (Cartesian) dualism. It implicates this dominant dualist ontology in the current ecological crisis, and connects it to the subjugation of matter, which traditional ethics considers morally insignificant. The thesis first explains current standard views on the moral status of inanimate objects. Thereafter it outlines the history of the Western philosophical paradigm, demonstrates how the standard (environmental) ethical approaches are founded on problematic dualisms, and argues that Western commitments to dualism should be reconsidered. It analyzes the potential of commonly discussed alternatives to the standard ethical approaches, concludes that they fail to fully reject problematic dualisms, and argues that insights from ‘new’ materialist, ecofeminist, and Indigenous scholarship offer alternative ontological approaches which might help us reimagine inanimate matter as morally considerable. Finally, it discusses how these insights might change our understanding of the moral dimensions of a particular case study.