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Environmental Ethics

Guide to Environmental ethics at A2

Martin Brown

on 9 July 2018

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Transcript of Environmental Ethics

The study of the detrimental effect of civilization on the environment, with a view to prevent or reverse damage through conservation.
"Deep Ecology"
"Shallow Ecology"


The entire world and all ecosystems are good in and of themselves
The value of the environment is in its usefulness or utility
useful for humans
useful for creatures that can experience
Only humans have moral value. The environment and all other creatures can be used as a means to human ends.
All sentient beings have intrinsic value. The interests of all sentient creatures must be considered when deliberating about how to use the environment.
Jeremy Bentham
Peter Singer
"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do"
Hedonistic Utilitarianism
"The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation"
"The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny ... a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
Preference Utilitarianism
"...the fundamental principle of equality, on which the idea humans are equals rests, is the principle or equal consideration of interests...When we accept the principle of equality to humans, we are also committed to accepting that it extends to some nonhuman animals"
"...I approach each issue by seeking the solution that has the best consequences for all affected. By 'best consequences', I understand that which satisfies the most preferences, weighted by an accordance with the strength of the preferences. Thus my ethical position is a form of preference-utilitarianism."
"...speciesists give greater weight to the interests of members of their own species when there is a clash of interests between their interests and the interests of those of other species. Human speciesists do not accept that pain is as bad when it is felt by pigs or mice as when it is felt by humans."
Quantitative Utilitarianism
J. S. Mill
Qualitative Utilitarianism
Eudaimonistic Utilitarianism
"Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way."
"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question."
Higher 'v' Lower pleasures
R. Hursthouse
"old and familiar virtues"
"...new virtues, explicitly concerned with our relations with nature"
Virtues are character traits that enable their possessor to experience eudaimonia.
a disposition "to feel the emotion of wonder [to the environment] the right way"
"being rightly orientated to nature"
Character traits develop over time through habitual practise.
Imitate the actions of virtuous people.
Seek the 'wise person' in society to gain practical wisdom.
The appreciation and study of nature is one of the highest pleasures
Ruthlessly exploiting the environment to increase our wealth and consumption of products is immoral
Ignoring the long-term negative effects of our use of the environment in order to gain short-term advantages is immoral
Intentionally ignoring or failing to accept the damage we are causing, and failing to accept that we need to alter our lifestyles, is immoral.
Being unwilling to acknowledge our short-comings as humans will make us blind to the damage we are doing to the environment. This is immoral.
Being unwilling to risk the contempt of our peers by propounding unpopular [pro-environmental] views is immoral.
Considering the impact of your actions on future generations is moral
Attempting to challenge people's thinking about the need to preserve the environment is moral
Only using enough resources to enable us to have moderately comfortable lives is moral
Preserving the diversity and integrity of the environment is moral
Teaching children to get over disgust and fear of nature is moral
Materialism and consumerism is immoral
Living in harmony with nature is moral. Large urban areas and 'city-living' is immoral
Godfrey-Smith outlines 4 instrumental approaches
Cathedral view
Laboratory view
Silo view (rare herb argument)
Gymnasium view
The willful destruction of the wilderness and areas of outstanding natural beauty is immoral as it deprives humans of the ability to experience the higher pleasures
Having as a goal the preservation of the environment in order to raise the standard of living for those around you will bring eudaimonia.
...but will encounter conflicting uses!
How can we resolve such issues?
On what grounds? economic?
God's relationship with nature...
Cosmological dualism
Material world (nature) is bad.
Spiritual world (soul) is good.
The Christian must overcome/defeat the material world in order to liberate the soul
The Second Coming of Christ
Christ's return will occur at the end of the world.
Destroy the environment to hasten Judgement Day!
God created the world. Nature is, therefore, good!
But, then he created humans in his image, and told them to have dominion over nature
But God commanded humanity to take care and preserve his creation: Stewardship
But still allows humans to exploit the environment, so long as they don't break the covenant to 'take care' of the environment!
Nature is waiting for God to restore it to its ideal "Pre-Fall" status
Only God can redeem nature so why should humanity endeavor to do so?
If nature is 'fallen', then humans may exploit it and tame it...turn the wild forests into useful pasture and agricultural land
1. Universalise your maxim and reject if self-contradictory or contradicts duties to oneself
2. Do not treat the humanity in others as merely a means to an end
Maxims that involve destroying the environment, or the willful extinction of a species would be self-contradictory:
Maxim (M): I will hunt rhinos for pleasure
Universailsed Maxim (UM): To experience pleasure all people must hunt rhinos
Conclusion: self-contradictory as rhinos would become extinct and no one would be able to obey UM. The act that would cause pleasure would eventually deny the ability to feel pleasure.
Maxims could be created that allowed the exploitation of the environment, or at least the domination of humans over nature
As only humans are rational beings, and are therefore intrinsically valuable, nature can be used as a means for human ends e.g. animals for food, wilderness areas for agricultural land and mining
1. To perfect ourselves
2. To other....PERSONS
There are no specific duties to other creatures or living organisms. Therefore we can exploit them to fulfill our duties to be compassionate and sympathetic to humans
But if we are cruel to nature we could end up being cruel to people.
We have a "perfect" duty to avoid avarice, greed and malice as this does not perfect our moral nature. This would lead to a sustainable use of the environment.
We have an "imperfect" duty to be healthy. This would mean deliberately polluting the environment would be immoral.
Individual organisms have intrinsic value
Entire ecosystems (interconnected networks that create and sustain life/environments) have intrinsic value
Duet 20: 'When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, BECAUSE YOU CAN EAT THEIR FRUIT. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?'
Scripture alludes to instrumental value...
Matt 21: 'Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered'
Exploit animals, and their habitat, in order to enable humans to experience the higher pleasures.
Could an agent be virtuous in all ways, inadvertently damage the environment, and still experience eudaimonia?
Do we have enough time to wait for a generation to become more environmentally virtuous?
The virtuous people in Aristotle's time did not have to contend with an environmental crisis, therefore, we have no precedent to follow
People regarded as virtuous today (Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK) taught little, if anything, about the value environment and how to treat it?
In large urban sprawls, how do we locate our 'wise person'?
Aldo Leopold
"The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land."
"This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a
land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member
and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."
Wrote: "Sand County Almanac"
James Lovelock
Planet Earth has evolved into a single-living, self-regulating being. This system modifies global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and a whole host of other conditions to maintain its own habitability. It ensures that life can be maintained.
Paul Taylor
Humans have no special status.
Humans depend upon other organisms for their survival
Humans are a relatively new species
Humans are not the telos (goal) of life. The world could survive without them.
Natural world is an interdependent system.
All organisms are teleological centres of life, that have goods of their own (e.g. a plants preference for light)
God's relationship with nature...
God is a farmer who uses the skills of husbandry to create his 'wife', the material earth.
The 'wife' of the perfect God must be similarly perfect
Nature is not evil. The rhythms of pain, death and birth are part of the goodness of nature, which is sustained by God.
Christians have a duty, as stewards to maintain nature
Scripture alludes to intrinsic value...
God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good
Need to include welfare of organic beings in our moral deliberations.
Is it moral to build a hydroelectric dam that would create electricity for humans but destroy the habitat of a rare butterfly?
Is it moral to mine the Australian outback, ruining an area of outstanding beauty, to get tin for human use?
Do we have a duty to stop using DDT, which increases crop yields, because it damages the penguin population? Do we have duties to non-human life? What is a morally significant being?
Sentient beings should be included when measuring the 'extent' of a potential action when using the 'Hedonic Calculus'.
But, if the extinction of a species causes, all things considered, more pleasure than pain then it is morally permissible.
Denying future generations the preference to enjoy wilderness areas is immoral. Infact, the rarer a species or habitat is, the more valuable it becomes. We need to create 'world heritage sites' to enable future generations to enjoy these valuable places.
Can we assume that future generations will have a preference to enjoy wilderness areas. Could they not prefer large industrial areas with high employment?
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