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Utilitarianism and Environmental Ethics

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Thomas O'Neill

on 24 March 2014

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Transcript of Utilitarianism and Environmental Ethics

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
Application of Ethical Theories to Environmental Ethics
What are the main issues in Environmental Ethics?
How might a Utilitarian evaluate the speed limit?
Peter Singer
Starting point is Bentham's principle
"each should count for one and no-one for more than one"
Can they suffer?
Speciesism just as repugnant as other forms of human discrimination
J.S Mill
Jeremy Bentham
Calculate the pleasure and the pain being caused by the speed limit
What is the CERTAINTY of the effects?
Will there be long term pleasure/pain?
Which action would fulfill the Principle of Utility?

Big Question? How can we apply Utilitarianism to Environmental Ethics

A2 Specification:
Candidates should be able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of:
This issue of how humans relate to the environment, its resources and species
How to apply ethical theories -Kantian Ethics, Natural Law, Virtue Ethics, Utilitarianism

Climate Change
Trapping of heat via the 'greenhouse effect'.
400PPM of C02 is the highest levels in 3 million years
Melting polar ice caps.

Human Impact on the Environment

By 2050 half of earth's species could be extinct due to demands for more intensive agriculture due to population increase

But what even counts in Ethics?

Perhaps the key issue.
Environmental ethics widens the circle of moral value.
Air pollution has caused acid rain, asthma, lung problems, and cancer
What are the main concerns regarding the environment?
"Environmental Ethics is concerned with the moral relations that hold between humans and the natural world. The ethical principles governing those relations determine our duties, obligations and responsibilities with regard to the earth's natural environment and all the animals and plants that inhabit it."
- Paul Taylor
'Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics'
Shallow Ecology
Instrumental Value

medium-deep/medium-shallow ecology
Intrinsic value


Deep Ecology
Intrinsic value
The Various Approaches can be placed in an expanding three-fold circle of moral value
N.B Candidates should be able to use CASE STUDIES in explaining environmental ethics and in applying ethical theories
Lake Windermere
In 2005 a 10mph speed limit was introduced on Lake Windermere
National Park - designated area of peace and tranquility
But England's biggest lake - popular with water-skiers, power boat enthusiasts
Sports activities contribute substantially to local economy
"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. "

William Wordsworth (inspired by Lake Ullswater)
In pairs attempt to answer the two questions on the hand out for each of the thinkers.
You might want to consider
Long-term vs Short-term benefits
Anthropocentric vs Ecocentric approaches
Hedonic Calculus / Higher + Lower Pleasures / Sentience
Can we assume that pleasure is uniform?
Concerned with Higher Pleasures
Ultimately human pleasure has a greater value as it is higher
QOL for humans is important. ie flood a valley to build a hydroelectric dam.
But listed the wonder of nature as one of highest pleasures...
"nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation" - John Stuart Mill (1848)
But as he doesn't extend moral circle beyond sentient beings, is he a shallow or deep ecologist?
"I'm really in between. I'm kind of medium deep or medium shallow, depending which way you're looking at it. I want to extend ethics to all sentient beings, to all non-human animals who can be conscious, who can feel something, they must count as part of any ethical calculation. But then on the other hand I don't want us to go as far as the deep ecologists who say that even non-sentient living things, like plants, count in themselves, not just because they are essential for sentient beings to live, or some deep ecologists would say that ecological systems or natural landscapes have intrinsic value. No, I think that natural landscapes or non-sentient being have value for sentient beings but not intrinsically"
Apply what we have discussed
Exam Question

"Utilitarianism is not the best approach to environmental issues." Discuss (35) (January 2010)
Because we have just looked at UT. Let us instead debate:
What are the strengths of UT for discussing environmental issues?
What are the weaknesses?
For those who have interviews.
Good Luck!
Be confident
Confident to answer the questions. They've seen your app and know you are able.
Confident to finish answering the question.
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