A Pluralistic Humean Environmental Ethic: Dealing with the Individualism-Holism Problem

Dissertation, Michigan State University (2003)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Environmental ethicists often argue for ethical holism, granting moral standing to ecosystems and species. However, this conflicts with traditional ethics and commonsense which attribute moral standing to individual organisms based on characteristics wholes do not possess, such as sentience or autonomy. Despite the apparent inconsistencies between these two approaches, any acceptable holistic environmental ethic must account also for these individual-oriented convictions. This is the individualism---holism problem. Marry Anne Warren and J. Baird Callicott have each offered solutions which they claim are monistic in that they provide a single systematic approach which can generate one right answer to each moral dilemma. I synthesize their views and reinterpret them as a pluralistic Humean ethic, one which ameliorates but cannot fully eliminate the conflict. ;Warren proposes a number of moral principles reflecting multiple sources of value which confer moral standing to both individuals and wholes. This, she argues, avoids the need for both higher level theories, which engender problematic conflicts between individualism and holism, and pluralism, which comes dangerously close to relativism. Callicott develops a community model in which the moral standing of various entities, and the strength of our corresponding obligations, is determined by their roles within nested circles of communities. His work builds on both Hume and Aldo Leopold by arguing that our increased ecological awareness should inform our sentiments in ways that incline us to include ecosystems and their constituent parts in our moral community. Warren's principles---revised here in light of my contention that interests play the central role in determining the moral standing of individual organisms---provide substance to Callicott's otherwise more abstract approach. Callicott's work, in turn, provides theoretical coherence for Warren's principles. ;Humean sentimentalism, however, is open to the charge of relativism, especially since Hume's appeal to universal agreement on central moral values and beliefs cannot be sustained in a world so obviously diverse. I respond by arguing that Humean sentimentalism can be reinterpreted pluralistically. Differences in experience and culture prevent universal agreement, but the common experience of living as humans in this world, with its particularities, limits the range of acceptable alternatives. Furthermore, because reason informs sentiment, there are grounds for critically assessing Humean moral claims. ;Despite Callicott's and Warren's rejection of pluralism, I argue that in making room for difference, their views become more consistent with the Humean insight that ethics exists only in the context of experience. A pluralistic approach to moral reasoning provides an alternative to the continuing theoretical and practical stalemate between individualists and holists. It allows room for both sets of concerns in theory building and encourages compromise as a morally justifiable, not simply a politically efficacious, solution to practical dilemmas. Choices may have ethical remainders, but neither side of a debate can so easily insist that compromise threatens their moral integrity



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 76,419

External links

  • This entry has no external links. Add one.
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Ecological morality and nonmoral sentiments.Ernest Partridge - 1996 - Environmental Ethics 18 (2):149-163.
Minimal, moderate, and extreme moral pluralism.Peter S. Wenz - 1993 - Environmental Ethics 15 (1):61-74.
A Humean Argument for the Land Ethic?Y. S. Lo - 2001 - Environmental Values 10 (4):523-539.
Holists and Fascists and Paper Tigers...Oh My!Michael P. Nelson - 1996 - Ethics and the Environment 1 (2):103 - 117.
No holism without pluralism.Gary E. Varner - 1991 - Environmental Ethics 13 (2):175-179.
The Schopenhauerian challenge in environmental ethics.G. E. Varner - 1985 - Environmental Ethics 7 (3):209-229.
Can a theory of moral sentiments support a genuinely normative environmental ethic?J. Baird Callicott - 1992 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 35 (2):183 – 198.
Intrinsic Value, Moral Standing, and Species.Rick O’Neil - 1997 - Environmental Ethics 19 (1):45-52.
Teaching Holism in Environmental Ethics.Michael P. Nelson - 2010 - Environmental Ethics 32 (1):33-49.


Added to PP


6 months

Historical graph of downloads

Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references