Thomas Potthast

Reassessing Rights of Nature from (‘Western’) Ethics and Philosophy of Nature

// Thomas Potthast

Project pursued at Susimetsa Philosophicum, 29th July – 16th August 2023 

The issue of moral and legal rights of nature has been discussed abundantly, especially over the last five decades, ever since environmental ethics and sustainable development are at stake. In ‘Western’ ethics, this has mainly been discussed regarding personhood and/or dignity and/or intrinsic value. Yet in recent years, stimulated by indigenous groups from the Americas and Oceania, other ontologies and at the same time very pragmatic approaches for legal rights of nature have entered the debates and stimulated cases also in Europe (Spain). The understandable concern to give nature ‘in itself’ a higher status of protection through such rights has gained much attention as well as fundamental critique. Firstly, nature conservation is usually not about nature as such, but only about certain forms of nature to be characterized in more detail both epistemologically and ethically. Closely related to this difficulty, but of a different quality, is the second problem: many of the particularly endangered species and biotopes today are dependent on “assistance” from humans. The project aims at a reassessment of the debate on moral rights from both philosophy of nature and environmental ethics and relate this to current new debates on legal rights of nature or constituents of it.

Thomas Potthast is a biologist and philosopher. He holds the Chair of Ethics, Philosophy and History of the Life Sciences and is Director of the International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW) at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

Feedback from Thomas Potthast

What a privilege to be in Susimetsa for more than two weeks!
It feels like being in a little paradise – the wonderful house, the marvellous garden, sauna and pond for relaxing and swimming. At the same time, and very important, we also enjoyed having an enormous philosophical library around us, stimulating just to grab a book and read. It is excellent to work here in a both remote and stimulating environment.
Moreover, we took the opportunities of Pärnu for attending concerts, visiting the historical sites of the town as well as the beach, and enjoy one or the other meal.
Thanks to Margit Sutrop, we had the honour of visiting the Estonian Parliament in Tallinn and meeting the German Ambassador for exchange on the future options of Theda Rehbock’s Philosophicum at – as we liked to nickname – ‘Susimetsa Manor’ 😉
We hope that many visitors will have the chance to live, to think, to write, to discuss in an extraordinary place – and enjoy!

Thomas Potthast & Claudia Stöckl, Tübingen, Germany