Green Purpose: Teleology, Ecological Ethics, and the Recovery of Contemplation

Article by Andreas Nordlander in Studies in Christian Ethics.

According to one influential narrative, a significant root of our ecological crisis is to be found in the Christian appropriation of teleology, undergirding the anthropocentrism endemic to Western thought. This article challenges this argument in three steps. First, I present the Aristotelian understanding of teleology, which is intrinsic to living organisms, and which has been suggested as a resource for ecological ethics. Second, I argue that the rejection of intrinsic teleology in favour of an extrinsic teleology first occurs with modern philosophy, in tandem with a new pragmatic conception of knowledge. Third, I provide an alternative construal of the early Christian understanding of teleology, through the figure of Maximus the Confessor, arguing that his understanding of the contemplation of nature is a key resource to be recovered for ecological ethics. I end with a sketch of such a recovery, as articulated by Thomas Merton.