Biology and Philosophy 13 (3):393-411 (1998)
A significant proportion of conservationists' work is directed towards efforts to save disappearing species. This relies upon the belief that species extinction is undesirable. When justifications are offered for this belief, they very often rest upon the assumption that extinction brought about by humans is different in kind from other forms of extinction. This paper examines this assumption and reveals that there is indeed good reason to suppose current anthropogenic extinctions to be different in kind from extinctions brought about at other times or by other factors. Having considered – and rejected – quantity and rate of extinction as useful distinguishing factors, four alternative arguments are offered, each identifying a way in which anthropogenic extinction is significantly different from other forms of extinction, even mass extinction: (1) Humans are a different kind of natural cause from other causes of extinction; (2) Extinctions brought about by humans are uniquely persistent; (3) Anthropogenic extinctions are effectively random whereas past mass extinctions are rule-bound; (4) The impact of the current anthropogenic extinction event differs from the impact of other extinction events of the past, such that future recovery may not follow past patterns. Together, these four arguments suggest that the present-day extinction event brought about by humans may be unprecedented and that we cannot clearly extrapolate from past to present recovery from extinctions. Although insufficient as justification for the claim that present-day extinctions are undesirable, the arguments provide some ammunition for conservationists' conviction that species extinction – in which humans play an accelerating role – ought to be prevented.
Keywords anthropogenic  extinction  species  speciation
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DOI 10.1023/A:1006567916998
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