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Environmental Ethics. William J. Frey College of Business Administration UPRM. Preliminary, Meta-ethical Considerations. What environmental ethics is not. It is not an accounting of all laws, statutes, regulations relating to the environment.

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environmental ethics

Environmental Ethics

William J. Frey

College of Business Administration


what environmental ethics is not
What environmental ethics is not
  • It is not an accounting of all laws, statutes, regulations relating to the environment.
  • It is not the construction of markets to determine quantitatively the strength of the preferences individuals and groups have for the environment
  • It is not a scientific or even philosophical description of nature as a whole or nature through its parts
what is ethics
What is ethics?
  • This is extraordinarily complicated
  • Umbrella Definition (covers a lot)
  • The systematic and critical study of moral beliefs, rules, and practices
    • Beliefs, rules, and practices considered good, right, or virtuous (or conversely bad, wrong, and vicious)
    • Develops and employs principles such as respect for autonomy, justice, and beneficence (Systematic)
    • This systematic study can issue in the assessment that moral beliefs, rules, and practices come up short to these higher standards (Critical)
what is environmental ethics
What is Environmental Ethics?
  • A systematic and critical study of practices, beliefs, and rules applied to the environment that are considered moral, i.e., good/bad, right/wrong, and virtuous/vicious.
  • Much of environmental ethics can be summarized by the diagram in the following slide…
terms explained
Terms Explained
  • Anthropocentric: Centered around humans. (Comes from Greek word anthropo which means human)
    • Humans are the central or sole inhabitants of the moral community
  • Non-anthropocentric: Not centered around humans
    • Center could be non human living things or larger wholes such as species, ecosystems, and the biotic community as the organized systems of all living things.
central debate
Central Debate
  • Can an anthropocentric environmental ethics pay proper attention or assign proper worth/value to non-human living things up to and including the biotic community?
  • Is anthropocentrism compatible with a long term, sustainable human-natural environment relation?
    • Deep Ecologists say no
    • Pragmatists (Norton and Westin) say yes
methodological terms
Methodological Terms
  • Individualistic
    • The focus of moral inquiry consists of individuals, whether human or non-human. This includes humans, animals, plants, and other animate and inanimate beings all taken, not as species, but as individuals.
  • Holistic
    • Wholes are collections of individuals. Here the focus could be on species, ecosystems, the biotic community, or nature expanded to include the inanimate as well as animate.
  • One way to look at it
    • What is the proper subject to which we predicate moral value such as good, right, and virtue?
singer animal liberation
Singer: Animal Liberation
  • Singer picks up on a comment by Bentham
    • Because animals are sentient, they should count in the utilitarian calculus
    • What counts are the pleasures, not the nature of the vessel in which pleasures and pains are occurring.
  • All sentient beings have moral worth
    • Sentiency includes consciousness and ability to feel pleasure and pain
  • Strict utilitarianism involves choosing that action that maximizes good, i.e., according to hedonistic forms maximizes pleasure (for the long term) and minimizes pain
extended utilitarianism continued
Extended Utilitarianism Continued
  • McDonald’s works with PETA (people ethical treatment animals) and animal suppliers to lessen the pain animals experience in various phases of their raising
  • Temple Grandin
    • Has autism. But also has special insight into how animals feel. Has developed a “methodology for objectively measuring animal welfare in slaughterhouses and audit protocols based on these measures.”
    • From Weber and Lawrence, Business and Society, McGraw-Hill: 33
regan the case for animal rights
Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
  • Moral consideration expanded to cover non-human moral patients
  • Moral patients have “preference autonomy,” that is, preferences (which can be satisfied or frustrated) and the ability to act on them
  • Humans have duties to respect preference autonomy of moral patients (=animals)
  • Since animals have only preference autonomy, they do not have duties correlative to their rights.
paul taylor biocentrism
Paul Taylor: Biocentrism
  • Hursthouse summarizes:
    • “Environmental Virtue Ethics” in Working Virtue edited by R. Walker and P. Ivanhoe. Oxford: 163.
  • Every living thing has a telos = a good of its own. (Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly)
  • Helping the living thing achieve this telos or preventing it from achieving this telos (=good) benefits or harms it
  • All teleological centers of a life have “inherent worth as members of the Earth’s Community of Life.”
  • Positive duties to promote the telos
  • Negative duties not to interfere with telos
complexities of table
Complexities of Table
  • It’s a heuristic device, not carved in stone.
  • Sacrificing one good for another is always a last resort.
    • Look hard—really hard—for ways to fully or partially integrate the goods in conflict. (conservation makes it possible to avoid building the destructive irrigation project)
    • Accept trade offs only as a last resort and then try to offset the good sacrificed in another way or at another time.
      • AES’s cogeneration, coal based technology adds CO2 to the atmosphere. But they planted trees in Costa Rica reforestation project to erase carbon footprint.
    • The sacrifice of one good for another may be only necessary in the short term.
      • Try to develop transition measures that render this unnecessary in long term
  • Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” in A Sand County Almanac.
  • “There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus’ slave-girls, is still property. The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.”
  • “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”
  • “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
different interpretations of leopold s land ethic
Different Interpretations of Leopold’s Land Ethic
  • Non-anthropocentric
    • This is the most prevalent interpretation. Baird Callicott
    • Leopold started out with conservation mentality and changed as a result of the experience in American West (failed to think like a mountain)
  • Byran Norton
    • Within Pragmatic tradition, Norton argues that nature can be restored and protected from within the anthropocentric perspective.
is the land ethic a virtue ethic
Is the Land Ethic a Virtue Ethic?
  • Focuses on agent instead of the action
    • Act integrated into the context of the moral career of the agent, a practice or community, and a broader tradition
  • Virtue or excellence is the mean between extremes of excess and defect
    • Courage is the mean between cowardice and recklessness
  • Dispositions or habits that contribute to realizing goods internal and external to a practice or community.
  • Reformulates several basic ideas
    • Happiness is reformulated as harmony with broader context
    • Virtue moves spot light from the moral minimum to the exemplary (Virtue = Excellence)
    • Deliberation or Reasoning becomes the ability to hone in on moral salience
first land ethic virtue respect for nature
First Land Ethic Virtue: Respect for Nature

Old Virtues

Old Vices

Self-indulgence & greed



Pride, vanity, dishonesty, and arrogance

  • Prudence
  • Practical wisdom
  • Compassion
  • Proper humility
respect for nature reconfigured
Respect for Nature Reconfigured
  • Respect for nature is based on refiguring prudence, practical wisdom, compassion and proper humility around nature
  • For Hursthouse virtues go deep; inculcating a virtue requires changing…
    • Attitudes toward nature (no longer yucky)
    • Emotions (developing compassion, care, love, awe for nature)
    • Perception (ability to hone in on ways in which actions and policies can harm nature)
  • Educational Program proposed by Hursthouse will take a generation
  • Prudence: "the midpoint between 'a mad rush into oblivion' and an 'intransigent do-nothingness'"
    • Is the Via Verde a “mad rush into oblivion”
    • Are Puerto Ricans so afraid of damaging environment, etc. that they have fallen into “intransigent do-nothingness”?
    • How do moral exemplars avoid the extreme of reckless action without falling into the other extreme of “paralysis of analysis”?
another virtue in the land ethic
Another Virtue in the Land Ethic?
  • Practical wisdom or judgment:
    • "showing 'sensitivity' to ecological communities and their members and sorting out the rival claims and interests within and among communities. ”
    • Can the construction of the Via Verde be reconfigured to avoid environmental and civic destruction?
    • See Shaw, "Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P. Cafaro. Rowman and Littlefield: 100.
two environmental virtues from wensveen
Two Environmental Virtues from Wensveen
  • Virtues of Position: "Constructive habits of seeing ourselves in a particular place in a relational structure and interacting accordingly.”
    • Designing highways to fit PR geography and landscape
  • Virtues of Care: "habits of constructive involvement within the relational structure where we have found our place. How widely do we cast our sensors in order to learn what is needed around us?“
    • Being attuned to weak points in the ecosystem and calibrating action to address these vulnerabilities
two more environmental virtues
Two More Environmental Virtues
  • Virtues of Attunement: "habits of handling temptations by adjusting our positive, outgoing drives and emotions to match our chosen place and degree of constructive, ecosocial engagement."
    • Can energy conservation be a source of solidarity and also defuse the current energy crisis in PR?
  • Virtues of Endurance: "habits of facing dangers and difficulties by handling our negative, protective drives and emotions in such a way that we can sustain our chosen sense of place and degree of constructive ecosocial engagement."
    • Can Puerto Ricans act resolutely and ethically in the face of environmental and economic crises? (Integration, compromise, and ethical trade-offs
  • Wensveen, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological Perspective,” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P. Cafaro. Rowman & Littlefield: 176-177
salient points
Salient Points
  • Virtue ethics does not outline a particular action in the face of current environmental situation.
  • Actions, policies, and conduct are integrated into broader contexts
    • Moral career of exemplary environmentalist
    • Community values like social justice and attachment to place (PR land ethic values)
    • Traditions: integrating past agrarianism in PR with current post-industrialism
more salient points
More Salient Points
  • The value of a virtue approach to environmental ethics is the educational program it outlines
  • Hursthouse
    • “You can’t just decide to have a virtue; virtuous character traits cannot be acquired theoretically by attending lectures or reading books or articles and just deciding to be that way. But they can be acquired through moral habituation or training, beginning in childhood and continuing through self-improvement”
educational approach continued
Educational Approach Continued
  • “the introduction or discovery of an unfamiliar, ‘new’, virtue would, on the face of it, need to involve the invention or coining of a new term or concept, which named a complex unity of dispositions to act and feel for certain sorts of reasons, and to see and respond to things in certain sorts of ways, which we had discovered, or realized, was a way human beings, given human psychology, could be. And this complex unity would have to be the sort of thing we could conceive of as being inculcated in children as part of their moral education—not totally against the grain, but expanding on and correcting some natural inclination(s) they have.”
some practical suggestions

Some Practical Suggestions

From the Pragmatists

begin with virtue of humility 5 key attitudes
Begin with Virtue of Humility: 5 key attitudes
  • Pragmatist Framework:
    • Anti-foundationalism: Rejects attempt to base environmental ethics on a definitive account of the inherent value of nature taken in its totality or in terms of its individual inhabitants
    • Fallibility: Conclusions (goals, means, measures) are fallible and require constant testing in laboratory and real world conditions. (Experimental Method with ethics of experimenting)
    • Contingency: For Pragmatists this entails that all problems arise from a context and all solutions must address this context specifically. This makes it difficult—if not impossible—to generalize and transfer them from one context to another
  • Social Nature of Self:
    • NegativeThesis—Destroying nature leads to an identity cruses (identity comes partially from place).
    • Positive Thesis—Place/context (cultural and natural) can be an opportunity to build identity and solidarity.
  • Pluralism: No no single, uniquely correct approach to environmental ethics.
    • Rights—human communities,
    • Utilities—extending moral consideration to animals.
    • Holism—extending moral consideration to ecosystems
    • Biocentrism—teleological centers of a life
  • Sometimes one must “think like a mountain”; but other times it suffices to think like a human
wicked problems
Wicked Problems
  • Norton, drawing from Webber and Rittel, characterizes environmental problems as "wicked." They require an interdisciplinary approach.
  • Difficult to formulate and cover "ill-structured" situations.
    • Specifying requires creativity and imagination.
    • No uniquely correct way of specifying a problem.
  • Not numerical problems. (Non-computability)
    • Have components that admit of quantification and others that resist it.
    • Requires more than just creating shadow markets to quantify willingness to sell and willingness to buy
wicked problems1
Wicked Problems
  • Non-repeatable.
    • Solutions must resonate with context
    • Solutions cannot be wholly transferred between contexts
    • Learning from the past gets us started.
  • Open-ended
    • There are good and bad specifications but none of these are uniquely good.
    • There are good and bad solutions but no one solution is uniquely good or right.
    • Pragmatists ground this in falliblism and contingency.
  • Interdisciplinary
    • Economical, ecological, social, political, technical, and ethical dimensions that must be reviewed and integrated.
    • Ideally different disciplines mutually engage and challenge one another.
  • Collective
    • These decisions require a group getting together, holding a constructive dialogue, developing common ground, and developing trials to test resonance with commonality
a basis for action
A Basis for Action?
  • Establish the basis for a unifying dialogue that issues in community environmental action
  • Community Procedural Values: These are values (reciprocity, publicity, and accountability) that, when adopted by a community, help it to structure a fair and open community deliberative process.
  • Economic Values:
    • (1) Willingness-to-Pay: the instrumental value of a resource is set by the price an individual or group would be willing to pay to acquire the resource;
    • (2) Willingness -to-Sell: because WTP undervalues resources (it ties value to the constraint of disposable income) a more accurate measure of value would be the amount that an individual or group would accept from a bidder to take the resource out of its current use and put it to a different one.
sustainability values
Sustainability Values
  • Risk Avoidance Values: Precautionary Principle--"in situations of high risk and high uncertainty, always choose the lowest-risk option." 238
  • Risk Avoidance Values: Safe Minimum Standard of Conservation--"save the resource, provided the costs of doing so are bearable."348.
  • Values Central to Community's Identity: Justice, integrity, trust, responsibility, and respect can apply here but they should be taken in their thick as well as thin senses. These values, in their thick sense, depend on the quality of the discourse generated within the community.
  • Meta-ethical excursion into defining, provisionally, environmental ethics
  • A look at four important approaches to environmental ethics: extensionism, biocentrism, ecocentrism, and virtue environmental ethics
  • Examined (quickly) a pragmatic approach to environmental decision-making that outlines how a community can design environmental “experiments” as vehicles for realizing their deeply held values

William J. Frey

  • College of Business Administration
  • UPRM
  • freyuprm@yahoo.com
  • williamjoseph.frey@upr.edu
  • http://cnx.org/content/m32584/latest/