Can a theory of moral sentiments support a genuinely normative environmental ethic?

Inquiry 35 (2):183 – 198 (1992)
The conceptual foundations of Aldo Leopold's seminal land ethic are traceable through Darwin to the sentiment?based ethics of Hume. According to Hume, the moral sentiments are universal; and, according to Darwin, they were naturally selected in the intensely social matrix of human evolution. Hence they may provide a ?consensus of feeling?, functionally equivalent to the normative force of reason overriding inclination. But then ethics, allege K. S. Shrader?Frechette and W. Fox, is reduced to a description of human nature, and the question remains open whether one really ought or ought not value, approve, or do this or that. The moral sentiments, however, are informed by culture. Specific ethical injunctions, even so, are not culturally relative, because cultural beliefs are amenable to cognitive criticism. New experience and new discoveries of science may bring to light hitherto unrecognized ?proper objects? of our moral sentiments.
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DOI 10.1080/00201749208602287
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