Environmental philosophy: Beyond environmental ethics

Mark Colyvan
University of Sydney
Environmental ethics concerns itself with ethical issues arising from the relationship between humans and the natural environment. Of particular interest are ethical considerations in relation to human efforts to conserve the natural environment. Some of the key environmental ethics issues are whether environmental value is intrinsic or instrumental, whether biodiversity is valuable in itself or whether it is an indicator of some other value(s), and what the appropriate time scale is for conservation planning. But there is much more to environmental philosophy than environmental ethics. For a start, environmental philosophy covers a whole raft of issues in philosophy of science such as the role of mathematical models in population ecology,1 the relationship between the stability of ecosystems and the complexity of those ecosystems,2 the representation and treatment of uncertainty in ecological and conservation biology applications,3 and whether ecology has laws4. None of these issues has anything to do with ethics. But there is another sense in which environmental philosophy is much broader than environmental ethics: even in relation to topics where there are value or ethical issues, there are other philosophical issues that we would do well to disentangle from the ethics. I will argue that it is a mistake to think of the philosophical issues in question as merely environmental ethics.
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