Thoreau's Living Ethics is the first full, rigorous
account of Henry Thoreau's ethical philosophy. Focused on
Walden but ranging widely across his writings, the study
situates Thoreau within a long tradition of ethical thinking in the
West, from the ancients to the Romantics and on to the present day.
Philip Cafaro shows Thoreau grappling with important ethical
questions that agitated his own society and discusses his value for
those seeking to understand contemporary ethical issues.
Cafaro's particular interest is in Thoreau's treatment of virtue
ethics: the branch of ethics centered on personal and social
flourishing. Ranging across the central elements of Thoreau's
philosophy-life, virtue, economy, solitude and society, nature, and
politics-Cafaro shows Thoreau developing a comprehensive virtue
ethics, less based in ancient philosophy than many recent efforts
and more grounded in modern life and experience. He presents
Thoreau's evolutionary, experimental ethics as superior to the more
static foundational efforts of current virtue ethicists.
Another main focus is Thoreau's environmental ethics. The book
shows Thoreau not only anticipating recent arguments for wild
nature's intrinsic value, but also demonstrating how a personal
connection to nature furthers self-development, moral character,
knowledge, and creativity. Thoreau's life and writings, argues
Cafaro, present a positive, life-affirming environmental ethics,
combining respect and restraint with an appreciation for human
possibilities for flourishing within nature.
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