Metastandards in the ethics of Adam Smith and Aldo Leopold

Environmental Ethics 29 (2):171-191 (2007)
Adam Smith is not an environmentalist, but he articulated an ethical theory that is increasingly recognized as a fruitful source of environmental ethics. In the context of this theory, Smith illustrates in a particularly valuable way the role that anthropocentric, utilitarian metastandards can play in defending nonanthropocentric, nonutilitarian ethical standpoints. There are four roles that an anthropocentricmetastandard can play in defending an ecocentric ethical standpoint such as Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. First, this metastandard helps reconcile ecocentrism with theodicy, either of the religious sort—showing that God is good—or of the evolutionary sort—showing that ecocentrism is consistent with human ethical dispositions as evolved through a process of natural selection. Second, using anthropocentrism as a metastandard helps reconcile our moral interest in human welfare with a thoroughly ecocentric standpoint. Third, defending ecocentrism by appeal to an anthropocentric metastandard provides a way of swaying die-hard anthropocentrists to adopt a more ecocentric perspective without showing disrespect to nature in the process. Finally, the systematic quasi-ecological connection between ecocentrism as an ethical standard and anthropocentrism as a metastandard has a beauty of its own that can provide additional motive to adhere to ecocentric ethical norms
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