Kantian Ethics and Environmental Policy Argument: Autonomy, Ecosystem Integrity, and Our Duties to Nature

Ethics and the Environment 3 (2):131-155 (1998)
In this essay I will argue that, preconceptions notwithstanding, Immanuel Kant does have an environmental ethics which uniquely contributes to two current debates in the field. First, he transcends the controversy between individualistic and holistic approaches to nature with a theory that considers humanity in terms of the autonomy of moral individuals and nature in terms of the integrity of functional wholes. Second, he diminishes the gulf between Conservationism and Preservationism. He does this by constructing an ideal-regarding conception of the former that values nature not as "merely" a thing to be used by human preferences and translated by markets, but as an essential component and prerequisite to the intrinsic autonomy of human beings. Simultaneously, he argues for a definition of preservation which places responsibility on humanity to harmonize moral agency with the functional integrity of natural systems. Here humanity and nature become the two unique and equally important components of what we might call the greater " Kantian ecosystem." In addition to the theoretical contributions of Kant's approach to our appreciation of the duties we owe to our natural environment, I will also suggest that Kantian Conservationism and Kantian Preservationism provide a sound moral basis for public policy arguments that wish to take the intrinsic value of humanity and nature into account. By requiring decision makers to consider citizens as ethical ends and nature as a functional end-in-itself, public choice becomes a process of restricting the use of the "kingdom of nature" to the essential requirements of the "kingdom of ends.".
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