Brian G. Henning
B.A., Seattle University, summa cum laude
M.A., Fordham University
M.Phil., Fordham University
A Genuine Ethical Universe: Beauty, Morality, and Nature in a Processive Cosmos
Dissertation directed by Jude Jones, Ph.D.
This project develops and defends a holistic, organic ethical theory grounded firmly in Whitehead’s aesthetico-metaphysics of process. The seminal insight of this ethic, which I refer to as the Ethics of Creativity, is the fundamental sense of beauty and value at the base of existence; there is no vacuous, valueless existence. As a result of this starting point, it is this project’s contention that it is not enough for an ethical theory merely to prescribe how we ought to interact with other human beings. Rather, insofar as everything is inherently valuable, ethics must be radically reconceived as directing how we ought to comport ourselves with everything to which we relate. Accordingly, rather than having one ethic for our interaction with inter-human relationships and another for the extra-human world, the Ethics of Creativity is at once an inter-human ethic and an environmental ethic; it is, in this sense, holistic. Thus, with William James, I believe that the aim of a truly adequate ethical theory is “to find an account of the moral relations that obtain among things, which will weave them into the unity of a stable system, and make of the world what one may call a genuine universe from the ethical point of view” (“Moral Philosopher” 141-2).
As there currently is no systematic development of an ethical theory based on a robust conception of Whitehead’s metaphysics and aesthetics, this project has the potential to be a substantial contribution to the field of process philosophy. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, I engage established ethical theories with the hope of transforming their basic presuppositions and indicating the need to move toward a process model. Thus, this project is at once critical and constructive.