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Questions In Environmental Ethics & types of environmental ethics The roots of environmental degradation What are they?

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Questions In Environmental Ethics

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Questions in environmental ethics l.jpg

Questions In Environmental Ethics

& types of

environmental ethics


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The roots of environmental degradation

What are they?


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Agriculture displaced sustainable foraging lifeways, beginning 10,000 years agoAgricultures destroyed ecosystems and the foraging societies that had co-evolved with themPaul Shephard


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Western Monotheistic Religion?

Critics cite 4 anti-nature tendencies in western religions


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1) Domination of Nature

  • Genesis: God commands humans to "fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing...”

    • After the great flood God says to Noah: the animals will dread and fear you, and I will give you dominion over "everything that creeps on the ground, and over all the fish of the sea."


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2) Rejection of Animism & Pantheism

  • Animistsbelieve that every part of the environment, living and non-living, has consciousness or spirit. Therefore, all beings deserve reverence.

  • Pantheistsidentify deities with natural objects and processes. Therefore nature is sacred or holy and people should have reverence for it


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3) Wilderness is cursed; Pastoral, agricultural, and City landscapes are Holy, Promised Lands

4) The sacred is beyond the world - earth is devalued in favor of heavenly hopes


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Christians & Jews respond

  • Our traditions promote a care-giving stewardship not domination of nature. (Noah story)

    • Some admit the general destructive tendency, but say:

      • Minority "traditions within the wider tradition" are nature-beneficent.

  • Both traditions are currently mutating into forms increasingly concerned with the environment


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Western Philosophy -another culprit?

Critics blame its “dualism,” viewing humans as separate from and superior to nature


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Rene Descartes (1596-1650): believed that animals have no minds and cannot suffer

Humans have minds and souls, they are different from animals

His famous dictum -- `I think, therefore I am’ -- suggested to him that thought reveals not only existence, but also human superiority

So for Descartes, HUMANS are separate from nature and superior to it.

And the natural world became an objectified "thing."

Some critics say this objectification of nature is a key to science and ‘progress’

Rene Descartes is often blamed


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Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was the father of the Scientific method.

Critics say he promoted a view of nature as a machine.

See, e.g., New Atlantis "a mechanistic utopia"--1624

Many passages reveal that he thought nature was like women and slaves: They should be bound into the service of men

Many scholars think such thinking shaped the anti-nature views of Judaism and Christianity, and thus warped human-nature relations in the west

Francis Bacon is also blamed


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Proffered roots of ecological deterioration:* industrial civilization* technology* patriarchy* hierarchy* overpopulation


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More purported roots of ecological deterioration:* consumerism* socialism/capitalism* Agricultures * Pastoralism


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Two main types of Environmental Ethics:

Individualistic

&

Holistic


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Both holistic and individualistic environmental ethics address --

Whose interests count?

Whose interests must we consider?


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i.e.: Who has ‘standing’?Human Individuals?

  • Anthropocentrism: The environment is valuable to the extent is useful or necessary for human well being

    • Usually "rationality" or some "intellectual" criterion is critical in the West for moral standing

      • E.g. Kant & Descartes: only humans have "consciousness"

      • William Blacksone: all have a right to a liveable environment (EE, 105)

      • Kantian, deontological defense of human rights.

  • Not much new here in the overall approach


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Who has standing? Sentient animals?

  • Sentient animals are those who can experience pleasure and/or pain

    • Jeremy Bentham: an early utilitarian theorist, provided a basis for extending moral standing beyond humans

    • Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation" theory provides a utilitarian argument pro-Animal Liberation


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Who has Standing?Entities with ‘Interests”

  • Living entities that have "interests" -- a good that can be harmed -- have moral standing

  • Christopher Stone: Individual natural objects, including trees, can have standing

    • Conservator/trustee notion analogous to mentally deficient humans

  • Tom Regan: Animals who are "subjects of a life" have a "right" to that life.


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    (1)Animal Liberation: How can you measure pleasure/suffering

    a perennial problem with utilitarianism

    (2)Animal Rights: boundary of moral considerability is very restrictive

    and many plants and animals left out.

    (3)Feinberg, Regan and Singer base standing on human traits: having interests, capacity to suffer, beings subjects-of-a-life"

    I.e.: only if animals are like us in some important way will we grant them standing

    Problems with individualistic approaches:


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    (4) How can we determine what the "interests" of a living thing are?

    How should we decide who should be the trustee for non-rational, morally considerable entities?

    (5) Individualistic approaches provide no basis for prioritizing concern for endangered species

    Problems with individualistic approaches:


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    Holistic Approaches -- the basic idea:

    • The whole is greater (and more valuable) than the constitutive parts


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    3 Holistic Approaches

    • Biocentrism

      • life-centered ethics

    • Ecocentrism

      • ecosystem-centered ethics

    • Deep Ecology

      • ‘identification’ and kinship ethics


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    Precursors include Albert Schweitzer's "reverence for life" ethics and Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics: stressing character traits; awe, the inherent worth of each life

    Paul Taylor's Respect for Nature (1986)

    Living things have a good of their own, a will to live, and end of their own. Thus they have inherent worth

    With this perspective comes morally responsible behavior toward nature. Also:

    (1)humans are member of earth's life community

    (2)all species part of interdependent ecological system

    (3)all life pursues own good in own ways

    (4)Humans not inherently superior (all life has moral standing)

    Biocentrism life centered ethics


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    Still pre-ecological

    not really focused on ecosystems, but on individual life forms.

    Biocentrism- key problem


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    Precursors:

    Baruch Spinoza

    Henry David Thoreau

    John Muir

    Aldo Leopold’s watershed Land Ethic, 1949"All ethics rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.”

    Leopold argued that ethics involves self-imposed limitations on freedom of action and is derived from the above recognition

    Ecocentrism: ecosystem centered ethics


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    A land-use decision "is right when it tends to preserve the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

    Leopold spoke of the land as an organism, as alive.

    "the complexity of the land organism" is the outstanding 20th century discovery."

    This is a mystical revelation that sounds like pantheism and anticipates James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis

    The Land Ethic: "changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the [land-] community as such."

    Leopold’s ecosystem-centered ethics


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    Arguing the earth is a self-regulating living system that maintains the conditions for the perpetuation of life, James Lovelock advanced the Gaia Hypothesis.

    Although not intended as an ‘ethics,’ a biosphere-centered (large-ecocentric) ethics has been deduced from it, claiming:

    People ought not degrade this wonderful system in such a way that it can not function to keep its systems within the various delicate margins necessary for life

    Lovelock’s holistic planetary Gaia theory


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    Deep Ecology Basic ideas

    • All life systems are sacred and valuable -- apart from their usefulness to human beings

    • All life evolved in the same way and thus, all are kin, with kinship obligations

    • All species should be allowed to flourish and fulfill their evolutionary destinies


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    Deep EcologyThe problem & solution

    • Anthropocentrism (and reformist approaches) destroy nature

    • A transformation of consciousness is needed, replacing anthropocentrism with a broader sense of the self

      • identity should be grounded nature

    • When we understand that we are part of nature, eco-defense, as self-defense, will follow


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    Holistic Approaches -- Key criticism:

    • Individuals get hurt when you ignore them in favor of wholes

      • This is the key criticism of all ends-focused theories

      • In environmental ethics, the common charge is of "eco-fascism"!


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    Ethics and Environmental Ethics

    The Gradual Extension of Moral Concern


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    The ‘Earth Charter’(as global example)

    www.earthcharter.org


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