Organism, community, and the "substitution problem"

Environmental Ethics 7 (3):241-256 (1985)
Abstract
Holistic accounts of the natural environment in environmental ethics fail to stress the distinction between the concepts of comnlunity and organism. Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” adds to this confusion, for it can be interpreted as promoting either a community or an organic model of nature. The difference between the two concepts lies in the degree of autonomy possessed by constituent entities within the holistic system. Members within a community are autonomous, while the parts of an organism are not. Different moral conclusions and environmental policies may result from this theoretical distinction. Treating natural entities as parts of an organism downgrades their intrinsic value as individual natural beings, since the only relevant moral criterion in an organic environmental ethic is the instrumental value that each natural entity has for the system. This ethic allows instances of the “substitution problem”-the replacement of one entity in an ecosystem by another provided that the overall functioning of the system is notharmed. However, since substitution violates environmentalist principles, for example, calling for respect for the integrity of the entities in a natural system, an organic environmental ethic must be rejected. A community model focuses on both the functional value and the autonomous intrinsie value of natural entities in a system. A community environmental ethic thus avoids the substitution problem
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