Toward a Comprehensive Environmental Ethic

Dissertation, Northern Illinois University (2004)

This dissertation explores the intellectual history of a science-based biocentric environmental ethic. Specifically, it examines how thinkers like John Howard Moore and Henry Stephens Salt used Darwinian evolution to justify the extension of ethics to individual animals, while others used ecology to justify extending ethics to entire species. Environmental ethics and animal rights, then, offered two distinct ethics depending on which science one used as a foundation. ;This is contrasted with earlier approaches to environmental ethics employed by American mystics. Nineteenth-century naturalists such as John Muir, for example, created an ethic toward nature that included both plants and animals. Once his mystical approach was dropped in favor of a science-based ethic, a split between animal rights and environmental philosophy occurred. ;Ethical systems based in ecology, such as that advanced by Aldo Leopold, actually broke completely from previous attempts to create an environmental ethic based on Darwinian theory. As a result, two environmental ethics appeared---one representing the animal rights tradition and the other representing ecological systems. The two are mutually exclusive, one not being an extension of the other. ;Finally, Joseph Wood Krutch looked to a third science, quantum theory, which allowed him to bridge the gap between animal rights and environmental ethics. In doing so, he managed to secularize the oneness of nature emphasized by earlier nature mystics like Muir. This approach also allowed him to retain a sense of meaning and purpose to the universe, one lost to mechanistic interpretations of cosmology
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