Foundations of Chemistry 18 (2):125-152 (2016)

This paper aims to connect philosophy of chemistry, green chemistry, and moral philosophy. We first characterize chemistry by underlining how chemists: co-define chemical bodies, operations, and transformations; always refer to active and context-sensitive bodies to explain the reactions under study; and develop strategies that require and intertwine with a molecular whole, its parts, and the surroundings at the same time within an explanation. We will then point out how green chemists are transforming their current activities in order to act upon the world without jeopardizing life. This part will allow us to highlight that green chemistry follows the three aforementioned characteristics while including the world as a partner, as well as biodegradability and sustainability concerns, into chemical practices. In the third part of this paper, we will show how moral philosophy can help green chemists: identify the consequentialist assumptions that ground their reasoning; and widen the scope of their ethical considerations by integrating the notion of care and that of vulnerability into their arguments. In the fourth part of the paper, we will emphasize how, in return, this investigation could help philosophers querying consequentialism as soon as the consequences of chemical activities over the world are taken into account. Furthermore, we will point out how the philosophy of chemistry provides philosophers with new arguments concerning the key debate about the ‘intrinsic value’ of life, ecosystems and the Earth, in environmental ethics. To conclude, we will highlight how mesology, that is to say the study of ‘milieux’, and the concept of ‘ecumeme’ proposed by the philosopher and geographer Augustin Berque, could become important both for green chemists and moral philosophers in order to investigate our relationships with the Earth.
Keywords Philosophy of chemistry  Green chemistry  Intrinsic values  Modes of access dependence  Levels of organization  Environmental ethics  Ethics of care  Pragmatism  Affordances  Ecumene  Mesology  Ecology
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DOI 10.1007/s10698-015-9242-z
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