While holist views such as ecocentrism have considerable intuitive appeal, arguing for the moral considerability of ecological wholes such as ecosystems has turned out to be a very difficult task. In the environmental ethics literature, individualist biocentrists have persuasively argued that individual organisms—but not ecological wholes—are properly regarded as having a good of their own . In this paper, I revisit those arguments and contend that they are fatally flawed. The paper proceeds in five parts. First, I consider some problems (...) brought about by climate change for environmental conservation strategies and argue that these problems give us good pragmatic reasons to want a better account of the welfare of ecological wholes. Second, I describe the theoretical assumptions from normative ethics that form the background of the arguments against holism. Third, I review the arguments given by individualist biocentrists in favour of individualism over holism. Fourth, I review recent work in the philosophy of biology on the units of selection problem, work in medicine on the human biome, and work in evolutionary biology on epigenetics and endogenous viral elements. I show how these developments undermine both the individualist arguments described above as well as the distinction between individuals and wholes as it has been understood by individualists. Finally, I consider five possible theoretical responses to these problems. (shrink)
Recent critics (Andrew Light, Bryan Norton, Anthony Weston, and Bruce Morito, among others) have argued that we should give up talk of intrinsic value in general and that of nature in particular. While earlier theorists might have overestimated the importance of intrinsic value, these recent critics underestimate its importance. Claims about a thing’s intrinsic value are claims about the distinctive way in which we have reason to care about that thing. If we understand intrinsic value in this manner, we can (...) capture the core claims that environmentalists want to make about nature while avoiding the worries raised by contemporary critics. Since the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic value plays a critical role in our understanding of the different ways that we do and should care about things, moral psychology, ethical theory in general, and environmental ethics in particular shouldn’t give up on the concept of intrinsic value. (shrink)
On most understandings of what an ecosystem is, it is a kind of thing that can be literally, not just metaphorically, healthy or unhealthy. Health is best understood as a kind of well-being; a thing’s health is a matter of retaining those structures and functions that are good for it. While it is true both that what’s good for an ecosystem depends on how we define the system and that how we define the system depends on our interests, these facts (...) do not force us to the conclusion that an ecosystem has no good of its own. Ecosystems and persons can have goods of their own in spite of the fact that the schemes we use to categorize them are matters that we decide upon. (shrink)
Earthcare: Readings and Cases in Environmental Ethics presents a diverse collection of writings from a variety of authors on environmental ethics, environmental science, and the environmental movement overall. Exploring a broad range of world views, religions and philosophies, David W. Clowney and Patricia Mosto bring together insightful thoughts on the ethical issues arising in various areas of environmental concern.
Most ethicists agree that at least some nonhumans have interests that are of direct moral importance. Yet with very few exceptions, both climate ethics and climate policy have operated as though only human interests should be considered in formulating and evaluating climate policy. In this paper I argue that the anthropocentrism of current climate ethics and policy cannot be justified. I first describe the ethical claims upon which my analysis rests, arguing that they are no longer controversial within contemporary ethics. (...) Next, I review work in climate ethics and policy, demonstrating the absence of consideration of nonhuman interests in both domains. Finally, I consider five possible justifications for omitting nonhuman interests in the evaluation climate policy options, arguing that none of these arguments succeeds. (shrink)
This essay provides an overview of the field of environmental ethics. I sketch the major debates in the field from its inception in the 1970s to today, explaining both the central tenets of the schools of thought within the field and the arguments that have been given for and against them. I describe the main trends within the field as a whole and review some of the criticisms that have been offered of prevailing views.
Environmental ethics—the study of ethical questions raised by human relations with the nonhuman environment—emerged as an important subfield of philosophy during the 1970s. It is now a flourishing area of research. This article provides a review of the secular, Western traditions in the field. It examines both anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric claims about what has value, as well as divergent views about whether environmental ethics should be concerned with bringing about best consequences, respecting principles and rights, or embodying environmental virtues. The (...) article also briefly considers two critical traditions—ecofeminism and environmental pragmatism—and explores some of the difficult environmental ethics questions posed by anthropogenic climate change. (shrink)
Neosentimentalism provides environmental ethics with a theory of value that might be particularly useful for solving many of the problems that have plagued the field since its early days. In particular, a neosentimentalist understanding of value offers us hope for making sense of (1) what intrinsic value might be and how we could know whether parts of the natural world have it; (2) the extent to which value is an essentially anthropocentric concept; and (3) how our understanding of value could (...) be compatible with both a respectable naturalism and a robust normativity. (shrink)
Neosentimentalist accounts of value need an explanation of which of the sentiments they discuss are pro-attitudes, which attitudes are con-attitudes, and why. I argue that this project has long been neglected in the philosophical literature, even by those who make extensive use of the distinction between pro- and con-attitudes. Using the attitudes of awe and respect as exemplars, I argue that it is not at all clear what if anything makes these attitudes pro-attitudes. I conclude that neither our intuitive sense (...) of the distinction nor the vague accounts of it that exist in the philosophical literature are especially helpful in sorting out the hard cases. What is needed is a more explicit and thorough account of what the valence of our attitudes consists in. (shrink)
Bryan Norton argues that my recent critique of anthropocentrism presupposes J. Baird Callicott's philosophically problematic distinction between intrinsic and instrumental value and that the problems that it raises for anthropocentrism in general are in fact only problems for strong anthropocentrism. I argue, first, that my own view does not presuppose Callicott's distinction, nor any claims about instrumental value, and second, that the problems it raises for anthropocentrism apply to weak and strong anthropocentrism alike.