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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

Questions In Environmental Ethics

& types of

environmental ethics


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

western monotheistic religion

Western Monotheistic Religion?

Critics cite 4 anti-nature tendencies in western religions

1 domination of nature
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."
2 rejection of animism pantheism
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
3 wilderness is cursed pastoral agricultural and city landscapes are holy promised lands
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


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
western philosophy another culprit

Western Philosophy -another culprit?

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

rene descartes is often blamed
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
francis bacon is also blamed
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

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


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

both holistic and individualistic environmental ethics address

Both holistic and individualistic environmental ethics address --

Whose interests count?

Whose interests must we consider?

i e who has standing human individuals
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
who has standing sentient animals
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
who has standing entities with interests
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.
problems with individualistic approaches
(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:
problems with individualistic approaches20
(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:
holistic approaches the basic idea
Holistic Approaches -- the basic idea:
  • The whole is greater (and more valuable) than the constitutive parts
3 holistic approaches
3 Holistic Approaches
  • Biocentrism
    • life-centered ethics
  • Ecocentrism
    • ecosystem-centered ethics
  • Deep Ecology
    • ‘identification’ and kinship ethics
biocentrism life centered ethics
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
biocentrism key problem
Still pre-ecological

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

Biocentrism- key problem
ecocentrism ecosystem centered ethics

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
leopold s ecosystem centered ethics
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
lovelock s holistic planetary gaia theory
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
deep ecology basic ideas
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
deep ecology the problem solution
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
holistic approaches key criticism
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"!

Ethics and Environmental Ethics

The Gradual Extension of Moral Concern