Engineers, architects, and other technological professionals designed the genocidal death machines of the Third Reich. The death camp operations were highly efficient, so these technological professionals knew what they were doing: they were, so to speak, good engineers. As an educator at a technological university, I need to explain to my students—future engineers and architects—the motivations and ethical reasoning of the technological professionals of the Third Reich. I need to educate my students in the ethical practices of this hellish regime (...) so that they can avoid the kind of ethical justifications used by the Nazi engineers. In their own professional lives, my former students should not only be good engineers in a technical sense, but good engineers in a moral sense. In this essay, I examine several arguments about the ethical judgments of professionals in Nazi Germany, and attempt a synthesis that can provide a lesson for contemporary engineers and other technological professionals. How does an engineer avoid the error of the Nazi engineers in their embrace of an evil ideology underlying their technological creations? How does an engineer know that the values he embodies through his technological products are good values that will lead to a better world? This last question, I believe, is the fundamental issue for the understanding of engineering ethics. (shrink)
For much of its brief history, the field of environmental ethics has been critical of anthropocentrism. I here undertake a pragmatic reconsideration of anthropocentrism. In the first part of this essay, I explain what a pragmatic reconsideration of anthropocentrism means. I differentiate two distinct pragmatic strategies, one substantive and one methodological, and I adopt methodological pragmatism as my guiding principle. In the second part of this essay, I examine a case study of environmental policy—the problem of beach replenishment on Fire (...) Island, New York—as a pragmatic test of anthropocentrism. I conclude that the debate between anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism needs to be expressed in non-absolutist terms, i.e., in a language that permits compromise, flexibility, and a pluralism of values. Thechoice between anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism as the basis of both environmental policy and environmental ethics is highly contextual and thus requires a subtle examination of the concrete policy situation. (shrink)
Environmental pragmatism is a new strategy in environmental thought: it argues that theoretical debates are hindering the ability of the environmental movement to forge agreement on basic policy imperatives. This new direction in environmental philosophy moves beyond theory, advocating a serious inquiry into the practical merits of moral pluralism. Environmental pragmatism, as a coherent philosophical position, connects the methodology of classical American pragmatist thought to the explanation, solution and discussion of real issues.
We argue for the rejection of an anthropocentric and instrumental system of normative ethics. Moral arguments for the preservation of the environment cannot be based on the promotion of human interests or goods. The failure of anthropocentric arguments is exemplified by the dilemma of Third World development policy, e.g., the controversy over the preservation of the Amazon rain forest. Considerationsof both utility and justice preclude a solution to the problems of Third World development from the restrictive framework of anthropocentric interests. (...) A moral theory in which nature is considered to be morally considerable in itself can justify environmental policies of preservation, even in the Third World. Thus, a nonanthropocentric framework for environmental ethics should be adopted as the basis for policy decisions. (shrink)
In this essay, I use encounters with the white-tailed deer of Fire Island to explore the “call of the wild”—the attraction to value that exists in a natural world outside of human control. Value exists in nature to the extent that it avoids modification by human technology. Technology “fixes” the natural world by improving it for human use or by restoring degraded ecosystems. Technology creates a “new world,” an artifactual reality that is far removed from the “wildness” of nature. The (...) technological “fix” of nature thus raises a moral issue: how is an artifact morally different from a natural and wild entity? Artifacts are human instruments; their value lies in their ability to meet human needs. Natural entities have no intrinsic functions; they were not created for any instrumental purpose. To attempt to manage natural entities is to deny their inherent autonomy: a form of domination. The moral claim of the wilderness is thus a claim against human technological domination. We have an obligation to struggle against this domination by preserving as much of the natural world as possible. (shrink)
Anthony Weston has criticized the place of “inttinsic value” in the development of an environmental ethic, and he has urged a “pragmatic shift” toward a plurality of values based on human desires and experiences. I argue that Weston is mistaken for two reasons: (1) his view of the methodology of environmental ethics is distorted: the intrinsic value of natural entities is not the ground of all moral obligations regarding the environment; and (2) his pragmatic theory of value is too anthropocentric (...) and subjective for the development of a secure and reliable environmental ethic. The obligation to protect the natural environment should not be based on certain “correct” experiences of humans as they interact with wild nature. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
In “The Concept of the Irreplaceable,” John N. Martin claims that utilitarian arguments can explain the environmentalist position concerning the preservation of natural objects as long as human attitudes toward preservation are considered along with the direct benefits of environmental preservation. But this type of utilitarian justification is biased in favor of the satisfaction of human preferences. No ethical theory which calculates goodness in terms of the amount of human satisfaction can present an adequate justification of environmental preservation. Since human (...) interests must be considered primary, natural objects will only be preserved when their preservation is in accord with human preferences. (shrink)