The Ethical Experience of Nature: Aristotle and the Roots of Ecological Phenomenology


  • Dylan B. van der Schyff



I demonstrate here how Aristotle's teleological conception of nature has been largely misunderstood in the scientific age and I consider what his view might offer us with regard to the environmental challenges we face in the 21st century. I suggest that in terms of coming to an ethical understanding of the creatures and things that constitute the ecosystem, Aristotle offers a welcome alternative to the rather instrumental conception of the natural world and low estimation of subjective experience our contemporary techno-scientific culture espouses. Among other things, I consider how his conception of orexis and eudaimonia (happiness or, as I prefer here, "the flourishing life") might be extended to include the eco-system itself, thus allowing us to better understand the moral meaning of nature. I conclude with a look at the way in which modern phenomenology re-addresses the fundamental Greek concern with ontology, meaning and human authenticity. I consider the ways in which phenomenology reasserts the value of direct human experience that was so important to Aristotle; and I consider how this view, and that of Deep ecology, may help us to experience nature - and all of Being for that matter - in a more authentic, meaningful and altogether ethical light.