Environmental Ethics

Published by Philosophy Documentation Center
Print ISSN: 0163-4275
Donald Lee has claimed that of three ethical values, freedom, justice, and security-survival, involved in the effects of population growth on the future and the survival of all human beings, security-survival is the most fundamental. As such, it should have priority over freedom and justice. Based on this hierarchy, Lee draws the conclusion that one does not have the right to unlimited procreation, and that ultimately it is the duty of government to impose limits on population growth. I accept Lee’s argument that personal rights must be balanced by personal responsibility, but I argue that justice is the fundamental ethical principle in this discussion. This is not a trivial distinction, for it leads to two significant conclusions. First, by focusing proper attention on justice, the threat to survival of the race from overpopulation is reduced to reasonable and realistic proportions. Second, and particulady important with regard to Lee’s position, the recognition of the need for justice brings to light the fact that the primary responsibility of government is to address itself to redressing injustice in society, injustice which does pose a very real threat to the survival of mankind. In this context, I argue that under no circumstances should government have the right or the responsibility to enforce limits on procreation.
This paper advances a holistic ecological approach based on a three-compartment model. This approach favors policy initiatives that lie at the intersection of the three major areas of concern common to most environmental controversies: environmental protection, provision of basic human needs, and advancing economic welfare. In support of this approach, we propose a "pluralistic stewardship" integrating core elements of anthropocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism. After presenting the basics of our model, we then explain why it is important to identify and promote a holistic ecological approach to sustainability. Here we employ the economic concept of path dependence, emphasizing that there exist multiple paths society can follow in environmental ethics and policy but once one has been chosen, implicitly or explicitly, there may be little opportunity to reverse such choices.
The Environmental TurnHumans: People and their WorldAnimals: Beasts in Flesh and BloodOrganisms: Respect for LifeSpecies and Biodiversity: Lifelines in JeopardyEcosystems: The Land EthicEarth: Ethics on the Home Planet
Can we use technology in the pursuit of a good life, or are we doomed to having our lives organized and our priorities set by the demands of machines and systems? How can philosophy help us to make technology a servant rather than a master? Technology and the Good Life? uses a careful collective analysis of Albert Borgmann's controversial and influential ideas as a jumping-off point from which to address questions such as these about the role and significance of technology in our lives. Contributors both sympathetic and critical examine Borgmann's work, especially his "device paradigm"; apply his theories to new areas such as film, agriculture, design, and ecological restoration; and consider the place of his thought within philosophy and technology studies more generally. Because this collection carefully investigates the issues at the heart of how we can take charge of life with technology, it will be a landmark work not just for philosophers of technology but for students and scholars in the many disciplines concerned with science and technology studies.
Automobility, or the myriad institutions that foster car culture, has rarely if ever been put under the lens of liberal political theory, even though driving is one of the most common and widely accepted features of daily life in modern societies. When its implied promise of guaranteeing both freedom and equality is examined more closely, however, it appears that the ethical implications of driving may be darker than initially supposed. Automobility may indeed be in violation of both the Kantian categorical imperative and Gewirth's principle of generic consistency, even though there has thus far been remarkably little ethical analysis to reveal these possibilities. It is conceivable that liberal political theory has turned a blind eye to automobility precisely because the latter has naturalized us into accepting what Roberto Unger has called a routine of false necessity, so that driving is now virtually imperceptible as a social fact worthy of critical analysis.
With the turning of wilderness areas into wildlife parks and the returning of developed areas of land to the forces of nature, intermediate hybrid realms surface in which wild and managed nature become increasingly entangled. A partitioning of environmental philosophy into ecoethics and animal welfare ethics leaves these mixed territories relatively uncharted - the first dealing with wild (animals), the second with the welfare of captive or domestic animals. In this article, we explore an environmental philosophy that considers explicitly these mixed situations. We examine a recent Dutch policy of introducing domesticated and semi-wild large herbivores in newly developed nature areas. Larger issues are at stake, such as the intertwinement of nature and culture, the dynamic character of de-domestication processes, and the relation between concepts of authenticity and the wild. We sketch a pluralistic, dynamic, and pragmatic environmental philosophy that is capable of dealing with the complicated ethical problems concerning creatures and land caught between domestication and the wild.
Article published under the name Cox Buck, Susan Jane "The historical antecedents of Garret Hardin's 'tragedy of the commons' lie in the common grazing lands of medieval England. The concept of the commons current at that time is significantly different from the modern concept. The English common was not available to the general public but only to certain individuals who inherited or were granted the right to use it. The decline of the commons systems is attributed to widespread abuse of the rules governing its use, land reforms, and the effects of the industrial revolution. The traditional commons system isn't an example of an inherently flawed land use policy, but of policy which succeeded in its time."
The discovery of Earth-sized extrasolar planets orbiting distant stars will merit an expansion of the sphere of entities worthy of moral consideration. Although it will be a long time, if ever, before humans visit these planets, it is nevertheless worthwhile to develop an environmental ethic that encompasses these planets, as this ethic reflects on our view of life on Earth and elsewhere. A particularly significant case would be a planet that displays spectroscopic signatures of life, although the discovery of many lifeless planets might itself intensify the value of life on Earth. A derivation of Schweitzer's general principle of "reverence for life" and similar frameworks are appropriate ethics with which to view extrasolar planets. The development of an ethical framework for extrasolar planets might provide a means to fashion a deeper and more effective environmental ethic for Earth's biosphere.
Moves from is to good—that is, principles that link fact to value—are fundamental to environmental ethics. The upshot is fourfold: (1) for nonanthropogenic goods, only those moves from is to good are defensible which conceive goodness as goodness for biotic entities; (2) goodness for nonsentient biotic entities is contribution to their autopoietic functioning; (3) biotic entities also function “exopoietically” to benefit related entities, and these exopoietic benefits are on average greater than their own goods; and (4) the most general is-to-good principles that are defensible (and hence the ones of greatest importance for environmental ethics) concern a realm of nonanthropogenic goodness that encompasses both living and nonliving nature.
No abstract available.
This paper is a survey of a variety of hypocrisy charges levied against Al Gore. Understood properly, these hypocrisy charges actually support Gore's case.
In several works, Holmes Rolston III has argued that a satisfactory environmental ethic cannot be built on a virtue ethical foundation. His first argument amounts to the charge that because virtue ethics is by nature 'self-centred' or egoistic it is also inherently 'human-centred' and hence ill suited to treating environmental matters. According to his second argument, virtue ethics is perniciously human-centred since it 'locates' the value of a thing, not in the thing itself, but in the agent who is 'ennobled' by valuing it. I argue that these charges, though illuminating, are not in the final analysis compelling. The first, I suggest, misconceives the role of motivation in virtue ethics, while the second ultimately rests on a misunderstanding of the place of the human perspective in ethical considerations.
Any mediation of the humanity-nature divide driven by environmental concern must satisfactorily account for ecologically destructive human behavior. Holmes Rolston, III argues that human cultures should "follow nature" when interacting with nature. Yet he understands culture to necessarily degrade ecosystems, and allows that purely cultural values could legitimate the destruction of nature itself. Edward O. Wilson, meanwhile, argues that culture's evolutionary function is to fit humanity to its niche; culture necessarily follows "epigenetic rules" naturally selected for this purpose. However, because humanity cannot but follow these rules, any human behavior—even (post)modern societies' ecologically cata-strophic behavior—is entirely natural. Therefore, Rolston's reconciliation is too weak and Wilson's too strong. Yet the two can be mutually modifying. Rolston's "pure" culture should follow the natural value of human nature; yet, humans must be free to disobey (at their peril) Wilson's epigenetic rules. Humanity thus becomes reconciled to nature by freely following its own nature, which is violated when the wider natural world is treated unnaturally.
I develop a general framework for natural and human values based on the position that end value is constructed by persons, but not wholly referent to them, identify and analyze three hierarchically related levels of end value in relation to the functional values which support them and the held and ascribed values generated by entities possessing teleological value, use this framework to indicate the context in which economic values should be located, and assess the implications of the framework for environmental policy and future valuation work.
The concept of wilderness found in the black American intellectual tradition poses a provocative alternative to the preservationist concept. For black writers, the wilderness is not radically separate from human society but has an important historical and social dimension. Nor is it merely a feature of the external landscape; there is also a wilderness within, a vital energy that derives from and connects one to the external wilderness. Wilderness is the origin and foundation of culture; preserving it means preserving not merely the physical landscape but our collective memory of it. But black writers also highlight the racial essentialism that infuses both their own and traditional American concepts of the wild, giving us greater insight into why the wilderness celebrated by preservationists can be a problematic value for racial minorities.
Over the past six decades, Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties have developed legal agreements to protect various aspects of the Antarctic environment. Strong anthropocentrism (e.g., unsustainable harvesting of marine living resources) is generally rejected, and stewardship (e.g., minimizing risks of contamination) is accepted while protection of nonanthropocentric values (e.g., wilderness and intrinsic values) is evoked when it furthers human interests. As one of the world's remaining large wildernesses, Antarctica is under threat from the continuous expansion of the human footprint and is in need of attention from the wider society, including the environmental ethics community. The interdependence of all life on this planet means that problems in Antarctica are not as far away and trivial as it may seem. Furthermore, Antarctica's extreme position at the edge of civilization challenges humans as moral agents to think about where our moral duties and rights begin and end on this planet, and elsewhere in the universe. Considerations of wilderness and intrinsic values, equity, and abiotic ethics are some of the issues that environmental ethics can contribute toward the protection of the Antarctic wilderness.
Arthur Tansley first defined the term ecosystem in his seminal work “Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts,” as an improved way of viewing the relationships between plants and their physical environments. However, his definition, while widely influential, privileges the living components over nonliving components of ecosystems, and has thus been unable to fully overcome the biocentrism of early plant ecologists. Moreover, the binary between life and nonlife is untenable, and serves only as a marker of the underlying biocentric values of a researcher. Drawing from Donna Haraway’s argument for situated knowledges, one can critically examine the biocentrism implicit in much of ecology (and conservation), and reconsider our definition of ecosystem in order to highlight our devaluation of the nonliving, and expand our normative universe.
Those residing in the Rocky Mountains enjoy both nature and culture in ways not characteristic of many inhabited landscapes. Landscapes elsewhere in the United States and in Europe involve a nature-culture synthesis. An original nature, once encountered by settlers, has been transformed by a dominating culture, and on the resulting landscape, there is little experience of primordial nature. On Rocky Mountain landscapes, the model is an ellipse with two foci. Much of the landscape is in synthesis, but there is much landscape where the principal determinant remains spontaneous nature, contrasted with the developed, rebuilt landscape in which the principal determinant is culture. Life in the Rockies permits both use and admiration of nature (fruited plains), with constant reminders (mountain majesties) that the human scale of values is rather tentatively localized in a more comprehensive environment.
David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human-World convincingly demonstrates the contribution that phenomenology, especially the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, can make to environmental theory. But Abram's account suffers from several limitations that are explored here. First, although Abram intends to develop an "organic" account of thinking as grounded in the sensible world, his descriptions castigate reflection and reverse, rather than rethinking, the traditional hierarchy between mind and body. Second, Abram's emphasis on perceptual reciprocity as the basis for an environmental ethic underplays the importance of the symbolic level of our interaction with others. Merleau-Ponty's later work, in particular his account of the reversibility of flesh, offers a fruitful alternative to Abram's methodology.
Analysis of academic forest scientists' ethical reasoning and values given decision-making scenarios indicates that Holmes Rolston, III's value theory, specifically his ethics of "following nature" is an important and current environmental ethics in forestry. Nevertheless, while academic forest scientists appear to espouse "following nature" in decision making, they also make use of numerous other values and ethics. Academic forest scientists' moral reasoning is more akin to a pragmatic approach to decision making rather than an approach based on building or advocating an internally consistent and coherent moral position. Rolston's environmental ethics is relevant and useful to decision making in forestry if it is interpreted as one among various value theories used to guide decision making rather than an ethical theory to be accepted or rejected en bloc.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, South America hosts the world's greatest diversity of plants and most animal groups, as well as a variety of environmental movements, involving urban and rural communities. South American academic philosophy, however, has given little consideration to this rich biocultural context. To nourish an emergent regional environmental philosophy three main sources can be identified. First, a variety of ancient and contemporary ecological worldviews and practices offer a rich biocultural array of South American environmental thought that can be disclosed and valued through the work of cultural anthropology, liberation philosophy, liberation pedagogy, liberation theology, ecofeminism, and biocultural conservation. Second, some recent academic environmental philosophy research and teaching teams have been formed in South American universities with the support of the interdisciplinary United Nations Environmental Programme or based on the individual interests of some scattered scholars. Third, social movements have increasingly demanded the incorporation of environmental values into regional policies and decision-making processes. These three sources can foster intercultural, international, and transdisciplinary dialogues to further develop a South American environmental philosophy grounded in its precious biocultural diversity.
Top-cited authors
J. Baird Callicott
  • University of North Texas
Bryan G. Norton
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
Ricardo Rozzi
  • University of North Texas
John Malcolm Gowdy
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Eric Katz
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology