Ecologically Relational Moral Agency: Conceptual Shifts in Environmental Ethics and Their Philosophical Implications

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study examines philosophically the idea of relationality as a feature of moral agency and analyses the implications of adopting such an idea in ethical theories as frameworks for environmental ethics. The purpose is to fill the gap in academic philosophical discussion concerning the relationality of the operations of moral agency. In environmental philosophy, relationality is a quite widely defended idea with regard to the concepts of nature and human nature. However, as far as I know, relationality as constitutive for moral operations has not been previously scrutinised to any large extent.
The main task consists of two parts. The first is to construct the idea of moral agency as ecologically relational on the basis of the parallel with the lines of thought taken in two critical stances in environmental ethics towards the mainstream modern conception of moral agency, namely evolutionary naturalism and ecofeminist constructivism. The second is to analyse the philosophical implications of this relational shift in moral naturalism and moral constructivism. Together they clarify the implications of relational moral agency for environmental ethics. The study starts by analysing the concepts of moral agency in the three distinguished strategies of environmental ethics: the modernist one, which is used as the reference line, evolutionary naturalism and ecofeminist constructivism. Both of the latter take a critical stance towards the first, but from philosophically opposing directions. This study shows that these two criticisms parallel each other and are directed towards a converging idea of ecologically relational agency. The concept of relational agency is sketched through interdisciplinary support from the natural sciences, psychological and philosophical anthropology, epistemology, and philosophy of mind and action. It is argued that a currently plausible notion of moral agency challenges the view widely presupposed by modern moral philosophy. According to the analysed sources, human mental processes, knowledge and value formation included, are extended to their environments, relationships providing knowledge, experience or even intention are mutually interactive, and even intentional activity can be a non-individual issue. Research on these features refer to environmental relationality of mental operations.
Relational agency fulfils the environmentalist’s quest for a plausible notion of agency. However, to consider moral identity, as well as knowing, reasoning and acting as ecologically relational challenges common conceptions of moral autonomy and rationality. Question is raised whether this compromises the autonomy and authority of ethics. The philosophical implications of ecologically relational notion of agency are analysed in contexts of Humean naturalism, neo-Aristotelian naturalism (especially Martha Nussbaum) and neo-Kantian constructivism (especially Christine Korsgaard). Korsgaard’s theory is proposed to offer a mediating tool to reconcile relational explanation with normative authority. It is argued that the relational approach to ethics can survive the quests for moral realism, although it challenges the usual restrictions of metaethical categories and points towards a modest, relationally realist ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Award date7 Apr 2020
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-5814-7
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-5815-4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2020
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Fields of Science

  • 611 Philosophy

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