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November 9, 2018 / Congau

The Morality of a Tree

Imagine a tree. Is it a good tree or a bad tree? Can a tree be good or bad? Well, good for what? Bad compared to what? Is there a good in itself?

The tree can be good for something. It can give shade or produce delicious fruits for people to eat, but can it be good in itself?

Good must be compared to something, but that something can also be itself. Or rather, it can be compared to its possible selves.

A tree, before it starts growing, when it is still a seed, has many possibilities, many potentials. Depending on the conditions, it can grow to be big or only quite small. If the circumstances are favorable, if it falls into fertile soil and gets the right amount of water and light, it can become a beautiful tree, well-proportioned and strong. If all conditions are ideal, if there is not too much and not too little of anything, it can become a perfect tree. That would indeed be a good tree. It would be good in itself.

If we could help the tree develop like this, shouldn’t we do it? If, without sacrificing anything else, we could provide all these perfect conditions, wouldn’t it be our obligation to do so?

Nature has set the standard for itself and goodness is the fulfillment of that standard. The only creature capable of acting morally, the human being, is thereby given reliable guidelines. Whenever we act for the advancement of perfection in nature, we act morally.

The tree may not suffer if we cut it down and we may need it to build a house. We need houses and sometimes it’s good for us to cut down trees. But for the tree, considered all by itself, it is definitely not good. Any organism that exists should be allowed to develop towards its maximum potential, unless it interferes with another organism. In that case another one takes precedence, but it is still nature that defines its own goodness.

Any man-made thing is good when it fulfills its intended function, but does nature have an intention to fulfill? Potentiality in nature is the equivalent of human conscious intention; what it is programmed to do.

Let the tree grow then. Let it be good.

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