A role of the Environmental Ethics in the modern society
A role of the
Environmental Ethics in the modern society
student TBA-40 group Radchenko Nataliya
The inspiration for environmental
ethics was the first Earth Day in 1970 when environmentalists started urging
philosophers who were involved with environmental groups to do something about
environmental ethics. An intellectual climate had developed in the last few
years of the 1960s in large part because of the publication of two papers in
Science: Lynn White`s “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (March
1967) and Garett Hardin`s "The Tragedy of the Commons" (December
1968). Most influential with regard to this kind of thinking, however, was an
essay in Aldo Leopold`s A Sand County Almanac, "The Land Ethic," in
which Leopold explicitly claimed that the roots of the ecological crisis were
philosophical. Although originally published in 1949, Sand County Almanac
became widely available in 1970 in a special Sierra Club/Ballantine edition,
which included essays from a second book, Round River.
Most academic activity in the 1970s
was spent debating the Lynn White thesis and the tragedy of the commons. These
debates were primarily historical, theological, and religious, not
philosophical. Throughout most of the decade philosophers sat on the sidelines
trying to determine what a field called environmental ethics might look like.
The first philosophical conference was organized by William Blackstone at the
University of Georgia in 1972. The proceedings were published as Philosophy and
Environmental Crisis in 1974, which included Pete Gunter`s first paper on the
Big Thicket. In 1972 a book called “Is It Too Late?” A Theology of Ecology,
written by John B. Cobb, was published. It was the first single-authored book
written by a philosopher, even though the primary focus of the book was
theological and religious. In 1973 an Australian philosopher, Richard Routley
(now Sylvan), presented a paper at the 15th World Congress of Philosophy
"Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?" A year later
John Passmore, another Australian, wrote Man’s Responsibility for Nature, in
which, reacting to Routley, he argued that there was no need for an
environmental ethic at all. Most debates among philosophers until the mid-1980s
was focused on refuting Passmore. In 1975 environmental ethics came to the
attention of mainstream philosophy with the publication of Holmes Rolston,
III`s paper, "Is There an Ecological Ethic?" in Ethics.
Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher
and the founding editor of the journal Inquiry authored and published a paper
in Inquiry “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-range Ecology Movement” in 1973,
which was the beginning of the deep ecology movement. Important writers in this
movement include George Sessions, Bill DeVall, Warwick Fox, and, in some
respects, Max Oelschlaeger.
Throughout the 1970s Inquiry was the
primary philosophy journal that dealt with environmental ethics. Environmental
ethics was, for the most part, considered a curiosity and mainstream philosophy
journals rarely published more than one article per year, if that.
Opportunities for publishing dramatically improved in 1979 when Eugene C.
Hargrove founded the journal Environmental Ethics. The name of the journal
became the name of the field.
The first five years of the journal
was spent mostly arguing about rights for nature and the relationship of
environmental ethics and animal rights/animal liberation. Rights lost and
animal welfare ethics was determined to be a separate field. Animal rights has
since developed as a separate field with a separate journal, first, Ethics and
Animals, which was later superseded by Between the Species.
Cobb published another book in the
early 1980s, The Liberation of Life with co-author Charles Birch. This book
took a process philosophy approach in accordance with the philosophy of
organism of Alfred North Whitehead. Robin Attfield, a philosopher in Wales,
wrote a book called The Ethics of Environmental Concern. It was the first
full-length response to Passmore. An anthology of papers, Ethics and the
Environment, was edited by Donald Scherer and Tom Attig.
There was a turning point about 1988
when many single-authored books began to come available: Paul Taylor`s Respect
for Nature; Holmes Rolston`s Environmental Ethics; Mark Sagoff`s The Economy of
the Earth; and Eugene C. Hargrove`s Foundations of Environmental Ethics. J.
Baird Callicott created a collection of his papers, In Defence of the Land
Ethic. Bryan Norton wrote Why Preserve Natural Diversity? followed more
recently by Toward Unity among Environmentalists. A large number of books have
been written by Kristin Shrader-Frechette on economics and policy.
In the 1980s a second movement,
ecofeminism, developed. Karen Warren is the key philosopher, although the
ecofeminism movement involves many thinkers from other fields. It was then
followed by a third, social ecology, based on the views of Murray Bookchin. An
important link between academics and radical environmentalists was established
with the creation of the Canadian deep ecology journal, The Trumpeter. In 1989,
Earth Ethics Quarterly was begun as a more popular environmental publication.
Originally intended primarily as a reprint publication, now as a publication of
the Centre for Respect for Life and Environment, it is focused more on
international sustainable development.
The 1990s began with the
establishment of the International Society for Environmental Ethics, which was
founded largely through the efforts of Laura Westra and Holmes Rolston, III. It
now has members throughout the world. In 1992, a second refereed philosophy
journal, dedicated to environmental ethics, Environmental Values published its
first issue in England.
On the theoretical level, Taylor and
Rolston, despite many disagreements, can be regarded as objective
nonanthropocentric intrinsic value theorists. Callicott, who follows Aldo
Leopold closely, is a subjective nonanthropocentric intrinsic value theorist. Hargrove
is considered a weak anthropocentric intrinsic value theorist. Sagoff is very
close to this position although he doesn’t talk about intrinsic value much and
takes a Kantian rather than an Aristotlian approach. At the far end is Bryan
Norton who thought up weak anthropocentrism but wants to replace intrinsic
value with a pragmatic conception of value.
A brief history of environmental
consciousness in the western world places our views in perspective and provides
a context for understanding the maze of related and unrelated thoughts,
philosophies, and practices that we call "environmentalism."
Understanding where the questions being asked and analyzed are coming from is
essential in environmental analysis: the kinds of questions asked by an
environmental group and their interpretation of the results can be vastly
different from, for example, a utility, logging company or special interest
(ranchers grazing public lands, and so forth).
The term "environmental
ethics," in fact the whole field, is a very recent phenomenum, actually
only several decades old, although many particular concerns or philosophical
threads have been developing for several centuries. A Professor named Eugene
Hargroves began a journal he named Environmental Ethics in the late 1970s in
which controversies regarding environmental behaviour and visions could be
discussed. This name became an umbrella for a group of strange bedfellows. A
controversy had begun in 1974 when an Australian named John Passmore published
a book called "Man`s responsibility for nature: ecological problems and
western traditions" in which he argued that environmental preservation and
concern was inconsistent with western tradition. Robin Attfield replied 1983 in
a book entitled "The ethics of environmental concern" by holding that
the stewardship tradition was more important than dominion in western thought,
and that this is what forms the foundation for environmental ethics.
Environmental ethics is a collection of independent ethical generalizations,
not a tight, rationally ordered set of rules. Environmental ethics will be a
compilation of interrelated independent guidelines - a process field that will
be coming together for a long time.
Ethics really flow from peoples
perceptions, attitudes and behaviour - as in the case of environmental ethics
and animal liberation. Like chess, decision making in life is very perceptual
or intuitive - by analogy, there are l) favourite formations (of players or
arguments); 2) empirical investigation of these (with maximum and minimum
expectations); which leads to a progressive deepening of perspective.
The problem is only dimly perceived
in the beginning, but becomes clearer with thought and re-examination. What
holds a chess game together is not the rules but the experience the individual
player. A grand master at chess sees more on a chessboard in a few seconds than
an average player sees in thirty minutes.
Environmental ethics today
encompasses a diverse, not necessarily related, anthology including:
1. Animal rights.
2. The Land Ethic.
4. Deep Ecology.
5. Shallow Ecology.
6. The rights of rocks, and so
Bioethics could be defined as the
study of ethical issues and decision-making associated with the use of living
organisms and medicine. It includes both medical ethics and environmental
ethics. Rather than defining a correct decision it is about the process of
decision-making balancing different benefits, risks and duties. The word
"bioethics" was first used in 1970, however, the concept of bioethics
is much older, as we can see in the ethics formulated and debated in
literature, art, music and the general cultural and religious traditions of our
Society is facing many important
decisions about the use of science and technology. These decisions affect the
environment, human health, society and international policy. To resolve these
issues, and develop principles to help us make decisions we need to involve
anthropology, sociology, biology, medicine, religion, psychology, philosophy,
and economics; we must combine the scientific rigour of biological data, with
the values of religion and philosophy to develop a world-view. Bioethics is
therefore challenged to be a multi-sided and thoughtful approach to
decision-making so that it may be relevant to all aspects of human life.
The term bioethics reminds us of the
combination of biology and ethics, topics that are intertwined. New technology
can be a catalyst for our thinking about issues of life, and we can think of
the examples like assisted reproductive technologies, life sustaining
technology, organ transplantation, and genetics, which have been stimuli for
research into bioethics in the last few decades. Another stimulus has been the
There are large and small problems
in ethics. We can think of problems that involve the whole world, and problems
which involve a single person. We can think of global problems, such as the
depletion of the ozone layer which is increasing UV radiation affecting all
living organisms. This problem could be solved by individual action to stop
using ozone-depleting chemicals, if alternatives are available to consumers.
However, global action was taken to control the problem. The international
convention to stop the production of many ozone-depleting chemicals is one of
the best examples yet of applying universal environmental ethics.
Another problem is greenhouse
warming, which results mainly from energy use. This problem however can only be
solved by individual action to reduce energy use, because we cannot easily ban
the use of energy. We could do this by turning off lights, turning down heaters
and air conditioners, building more energy efficient buildings, shutting doors,
and driving with a light foot. These are all simple actions which everyone must
do if we are concerned about our planet, yet not many do so. Energy consumption
could be reduced 50-80% by lifestyle change with current technology if people
wanted to. New technology may help, but lifestyle change can have much more
Environmental ethics is a relatively
new field - and the name "environmental ethics" derives from Eugene
Hargrove`s journal, which was begun in late 1970s.
This field - environmental ethics, -
will be subsumed as other areas of applied ethics develop more fully. The early
pieces or threads of environmental ethics were disconnected...one needs a quick
review to fully comprehend today`s "whole" - and know the directions
in which the threads lead.
Environmental ethicists as well as
policy-makers, activists etc. frequently speak about the need for preservation
of various parts of nature. Two main grounds are repeatedly presented for this
1. Our moral responsibilities to
future human beings (sometimes called sustainable development) require that we
stop using technology and science for short-term gains at the expense of
long-term risks of very negative ecological effects for future people. In
several official declarations and policy-documents this idea has been expressed
as "the precautionary principle", roughly the idea that we should not
use particular means of production, distribution etc. unless they have been
shown not to effect too serious risks. However, it is far from clear what is
meant by this. What determines whether or not the effecting of a certain risk
(in order to secure some short-term gain) is too serious or not? - and what
determines whether or not this has been "shown"? Some traditional
decision-theorists would say that it is a question of traditional instrumental
efficiency (i.e. rationality) in relation to morally respectable aims. Some
ethicists would instead claim that it is a question of whether or not the
severity of the scenario illustrating an actualization of the risk in question
makes the taking of this risk morally wrong in itself. Others, yet, hint that
they want to take a stand in between these two extremes, however, without
specifying what this could mean. There is also a rather grim debate regarding
whether or not it can ever be shown that a certain action does not effect too
serious risks, and this of course depends on what requirements should be laid
on someone who purports to show such a thing. In both cases, the questions seem
to boil down to basic issues regarding what is required of risky decisions in
order to make them morally justified. But, obviously, it must be a kind of
moral justification different from the one dealt with by traditional ethical
theories of the rights and wrongs of actions, since these only deal with
justification in terms of actual outcomes, not in terms of risks for such
2. Natural systems possess a value
in themselves which makes them worth preserving also at the expense of human
well-being and man-made constructs. This idea is less common in official
documents than the former (although it is explicitely set out as a part of the
basis of the Swedish Environmental Policy Act) than it is among environmental
philosophers and ethicists. However, also this idea is far from clear, since it
is not clear neither how a natural system is to be distinguished from a
non-natural one and why this difference is to be taken as morally relevant, nor
why preservation is the only recommendation which follows from the placing of
an intrinsic value in nature. Although there are several suggestion on what it
is that makes certain systems intrinsically valuable, it is has not been
sufficiently explained, first, why these characteristics (typically complexity,
self-preservation/replication, beauty etc.) do not justify preservation also of
systems normally not taken to be natural (such as metropolitan areas, hamburger
restaurants or nuclear power-plants), secondly, why this value does not imply a
recommendation to reshape rather than preserve natural systems, in order to
increase the presence and magnitude of the value-making characteristics. In
particular, it seems to be a challenge for a preservationist to argue in favour
of restoration of certain biotic variants, without leaving the door open also
for reshaping, for example by the use of modern biotechnology.
The aim of this research-project is
to attack these two families of issues, both connected to the justification of
common ideas regarding the importance of preserving various parts of nature. In
one part (carried out by christian menthe), the project will be aimed at
mapping out moral intuitions regarding the moral responsibility of the taking
of risks, in order to use these for developing a normative theory of the
morality of risk-taking which can be used to underpin a more specific version
of the precautionary principle. The other part of the project is instead aimed
at systematically reviewing various proposals (and new home-made to how to
distinguish between that (i.e. nature)) which should typically be preserved
according to preservationists and that which does not need to be so preserved,
and to resist the conclusion that reshaping of nature might be a better idea
from the point of view of typically preservationist values than actual
preservation. The focus here will be on ideas ascribing a value in itself to
nature or certain natural systems.
1. Charles Birch and John B. Cobb,
Jr., The Liberation of Life: From the C
ell to the
Community (Denton, Tex.: Environmental Ethics Books, 1990), 357 pages.
2. Yrjo Sepanmaa, The Beauty of
Environment: A General Model for Environmental Aesthetics, 2d ed. (Denton,
Tex.: Environmental Ethics Books, 1993), 191 pages.
3. John B. Cobb, Jr., Is It Too
Late? A Theology of Ecology, rev. ed. (Denton, Tex.: Environmental Ethics
Books, 1995), 112 pages.
4. Eugene C. Hargrove, Foundations
of Environmental Ethics (reprint ed., Denton, Tex.: Environmental Ethics Books,
1996), 229 pages.
5. Robin Attfield, The Ethics of
Environmental Concern (Denton, Tex.: Environmental Ethics Books, 1983), 237
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