Public Visions of the Human/Nature Relationship and their Implications for Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics 33 (1):25-44 (2011)
Abstract
A social scientific survey on visions of human/nature relationships in western Europe shows that the public clearly distinguishes not only between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, but also between two nonanthropocentric types of thought, which may be called “partnership with nature” and “participation in nature.” In addition, the respondents distinguish a form of human/nature relationship that is allied to traditional stewardship but has a more ecocentric content, labeled here as “guardianship of nature.” Further analysis shows that the general public does not subscribe to an ethic of “mastery over nature.” Instead, practically all respondents embrace the image of guardianship, while the more radical relationships of partnership and participation also received significant levels of adherence. The results imply that ethicists should no longer assume that the ethics of the public are merely anthropocentric. Finally, they call into question the idea of a single form of ecocentrism and favor a hermeneutic virtue ethics approach to the study of the interface between ethics and action
Keywords Environmental Ethics  Public Visions of Nature
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