According to Rinkesh, Environmental ethics is a branch of ethics that studies the relation of human beings and the environment and how ethics play a role in this. Environmental ethics believe that humans are a part of society as well as other living creatures, which includes plants and animals. These items are a very important part of the world and are considered to be a functional part of human life.

Therefore, it is essential that every human being respected and honor this and use morals and ethics when dealing with these creatures.

According to Wikipedia, In environmental philosophy, environmental ethics is an established field of practical philosophy “which reconstructs the essential types of argumentation that can be made for protecting natural entities and the sustainable use of natural resources. The main competing paradigms are anthropocentrism, physiocentrism (called ecocentrism as well), and theocentrism. Environmmental ethics exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including environmental law, environmental sociology, ecotheology, ecological economics, ecology and environmental geography.

Global warming, global climate change, deforestation, pollution, resource degradation, the threat of extinction are few of the issues from which our planet is suffering. Environmental ethics are a key feature of environmental studies that establishes the relationship between humans and the earth. With environmental ethics, you can ensure that you are doing your part to keep the environment safe and protected.

Every time that a tree is cut down to make a home or other resources are used, we are using natural resources that are becoming more and more sparse to find. It is essential that you do your part to keep the environment protected and free from danger. It is not as difficult to do as you may think so long as you’re willing to make a few simple and easy changes.

With the rapid increase in the world’s population, the consumption of natural resources has increased several times. This has degraded our planet’s ability to provide the services we humans need. The consumption of resources is going at a faster rate than they can naturally replenish.

Environmental ethics builds on scientific understanding by bringing human values, moral principles, and improved decision making into conversation with science. It was Earth Day in 1970 that helped to develop environmental ethics in the US, and soon thereafter, the same ethics were developed in other countries, including Canada and North America. This is important because the ethics of the environment are of major concern these days.

What Causes Environmental Pollution?

The acts of humans lead to environmental pollution. The stronger demand for resources is also a factor that contributes to the problem as we all need food and shelter. When these things are so desired and need the natural balance of the environment is disturbed. Engineering developments are resulting in resource depletion and environmental destruction.

There are several environmental issues that have created havoc on our environment and human life. If ignored today, these ill effects are sure to curb human existence in the near future.

The major environmental issues include Pollution, Overpopulation, Industrial and Household Waste, Acid Rain, Climate change, Ozone Layer Depletion, Urban Sprawl, Genetic Engineering, Deforestation and Global Warming. These environmental issues have taken a toll on our environment and we’ve already started seeing some disastrous effects in the form of the effect of health on humans, rise in sea level, depletion of non-renewable resources, melting of glaciers, extinction of species, polluted landfills, toxic dust, decreasing soil fertility, rise in air and water pollution and many more.

Human beings are considered to be the most intelligent species living on earth. This could be why it is the only species on earth that has civilized itself over the decades to a large extent. Today, human beings boast as being superior to all other animals, but what is the use of such great intelligence when environment ethics are not followed?

Cutting down trees is something that many humans do for their own benefit without any concern for the animals, which are dependent on trees for survival. Using fossil fuels erratically, industrialization, pollution, disturbing ecological balance, all these are attributable to human activities.

Just because we are in possession of all of these natural resources does not mean that we can use those resources in any manner in which we choose without keeping anything for future generations.

Environmental Ethics and Environmental Philosophy

Environmental ethics has produced around environmental philosophy. Many scientists have taken up the belief of the philosophical aspect of environmental hazards, thus giving rise to environmental ethics. Currently, environmental ethics has become a major concern for mankind.

The industrialization has given way to pollution and ecological imbalance. If an industry is causing such problems, it is not only the duty of that industry but all the human beings to make up for the losses. But how long an artificial and restored environment will able to sustain? Will it be able to take the place of natural resources? Environmentalists are trying to find answers to these difficult questions, and all these together are termed as environmental ethics.

It is the responsibility of all to ensure that environmental ethics are being met. It is somewhat difficult to make adjustments that are necessary to ensure that you are following all environmental ethics.

Ethics plays an important role in our society today, and environmental ethics and business ethics must be considered. This has become more prevalent in today’s society.

Both oil and coal are bad, but not only for the environment, but for all living creatures, including plants and animals. Both are highly toxic in their natural raw state. They pollute the air and ground and water, and whether or not they are helping to create these natural disasters should be irrelevant. They are both finite and will not last forever, and the sooner we rid ourselves of the need for these two demons, the better.

While oil and coal companies continue to promote their products, and the best yet is clean coal, which is an unethical definition of something that just isn’t possible, their ethics come into question, especially environmental ethics. Most of the world’s ills are derived from both of these, with oil spills, mining accidents, fires, and now climate change and global warming.

Ensure that you are doing your part and following all environmental ethics that are out there.

 

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Environmental Ethics and Its Principles

There are several approaches or principles to determine how we are to value our environment. It is such a huge field, and it is so vast that it is difficult for one principle to cover all the ground. Many theories have emerged over the years, and each one has stressed on various principles of environmental ethics. The list below states all the principles that have been predominantly found in those theories.

1. Anthropocentrism

It suggests that human beings are the most important beings. All other living beings are but accessories that would assist in their survival. Now, there are two further divisions of anthropocentrism. They are weak anthropocentrism and strong anthropocentrism.

While weak anthropocentrism believes that human beings are the centre because it is only through their perspective that environmental situations can be interpreted.

Strong anthropocentrism, however, believes that human beings are at the centre because they rightfully deserve to be there. Peter Vardy made this distinction.

2. Non-Anthropocentrism

As opposed to anthropocentrism, non-anthropocentrism, this principle gives value to every object, every animal in nature. It is a principle that believes in everything that sustains itself in nature.

3. Psychocentrism

Psychocentrism is the principle that believes that human beings hold more value in the environment since their mental capacities are better developed and far more complex than any other element in the environment.

4. Biocentrism

It is a term that holds not only an ecological but also a political value. It is a philosophy that imparts importance to all living beings. In terms of environmental ethics, biocentrism is the principle that ensures the proper balance of ecology on the planet.

5. Holism

The term holism had been coined by Jan Smuts in his book called Holism and Evolution (1926). Holism considers environment systems as a whole rather than being individual parts of something. It considers these environment systems to be valuable.

6. Resourcism

The principle of resourcism says that nature is considered to be valuable only because it has resources to provide with. Thus, nature ought to be exploited.

7. Speciesism

The principle of speciesism justifies the superiority of the human race. Thus, it also justifies the exploitation and maltreatment of animals by humankind.

8. Moral Considerability

This, too, is an important principle of environmental ethics. Intrinsic value is added to every being, which makes us consider being moral. Moral considerability towards a being means that we agree that all our interactions whatsoever with the being is bound by moral laws.

9. Instrumental Value

The instrumental value is the value imparted to a being as long as it can serve us with resources.

10. Intrinsic Value

Intrinsic value is the value attached to a being just for itself and not only for its resourcefulness.

11. Aesthetic Value

Aesthetic value is imparted to a being by virtue of its looks or its beauty.

12. Animal Liberation or Animal Rights

As is evident from its name, animal liberation or rights try to secure animal life and ensure their welfare by enforcing certain laws.

13. Animal Welfare

It ensures that the animals are treated well and humanely.

Types of Environmental Ethics

With the emergence of several theories, several environmental ethics have emerged. While some protect human beings, others protect plants, animals and other elements of nature. The types include:

  • Social ecology, which is the study of human beings and their relation to their environment.
  • Deep ecology promotes that all beings have an intrinsic value.
  • Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism that helps us look at earth as a woman so that we can respect it in a better way.

Environmental Ethics and Politics

Deep Ecology

“Deep ecology” was born in Scandinavia, the result of discussions between Næss and his colleagues Sigmund Kvaløy and Nils Faarlund (see Næss 1973 and 1989; also see Witoszek and Brennan (eds.) 1999 for a historical survey and commentary on the development of deep ecology). All three shared a passion for the great mountains. On a visit to the Himalayas, they became impressed with aspects of “Sherpa culture” particularly when they found that their Sherpa guides regarded certain mountains as sacred and accordingly would not venture onto them. Subsequently, Næss formulated a position which extended the reverence the three Norwegians and the Sherpas felt for mountains to other natural things in general.

The “shallow ecology movement”, as Næss (1973) calls it, is the “fight against pollution and resource depletion”, the central objective of which is “the health and affluence of people in the developed countries.” The “deep ecology movement”, in contrast, endorses “biospheric egalitarianism”, the view that all living things are alike in having value in their own right, independent of their usefulness to others. The deep ecologist respects this intrinsic value, taking care, for example, when walking on the mountainside not to cause unnecessary damage to the plants.

Inspired by Spinoza’s metaphysics, another key feature of Næss’s deep ecology is the rejection of atomistic individualism. The idea that a human being is such an individual possessing a separate essence, Næss argues, radically separates the human self from the rest of the world. To make such a separation not only leads to selfishness towards other people, but also induces human selfishness towards nature. As a counter to egoism at both the individual and species level, Næss proposes the adoption of an alternative relational “total-field image” of the world. According to this relationalism, organisms (human or otherwise) are best understood as “knots” in the biospherical net. The identity of a living thing is essentially constituted by its relations to other things in the world, especially its ecological relations to other living things. If people conceptualise themselves and the world in relational terms, the deep ecologists argue, then people will take better care of nature and the world in general.

As developed by Næss and others, the position also came to focus on the possibility of the identification of the human ego with nature. The idea is, briefly, that by identifying with nature I can enlarge the boundaries of the self beyond my skin. My larger—ecological—Self (the capital “S” emphasizes that I am something larger than my body and consciousness), deserves respect as well. To respect and to care for my Self is also to respect and to care for the natural environment, which is actually part of me and with which I should identify. “Self-realization”, in other words, is the reconnection of the shriveled human individual with the wider natural environment. Næss maintains that the deep satisfaction that we receive from identification with nature and close partnership with other forms of life in nature contributes significantly to our life quality. (One clear historical antecedent to this kind of nature spiritualism is the romanticism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as expressed in his last work, the Reveries of the Solitary Walker)

When Næss’s view crossed the Atlantic, it was sometimes merged with ideas emerging from Leopold’s land ethic (see Devall and Sessions 1985; also see Sessions (ed) 1995). But Næss—wary of the apparent totalitarian political implications of Leopold’s position that individual interests and well-being should be subordinated to the holistic good of the earth’s biotic community (see section 4 below)—has always taken care to distance himself from advocating any sort of “land ethic”. (See Anker 1999 for cautions on interpreting Næss’s relationalism as an endorsement of the kind of holism displayed in the land ethic; cf. Grey 1993, Taylor and Zimmerman 2005). Some critics have argued that Næss’s deep ecology is no more than an extended social-democratic version of utilitarianism, which counts human interests in the same calculation alongside the interests of all natural things (e.g., trees, wolves, bears, rivers, forests and mountains) in the natural environment (see Witoszek 1997). However, Næss failed to explain in any detail how to make sense of the idea that oysters or barnacles, termites or bacteria could have interests of any morally relevant sort at all. Without an account of this, Næss’s early “biospheric egalitarianism”—that all living things whatsoever had a similar right to live and flourish—was an indeterminate principle in practical terms. It also remains unclear in what sense rivers, mountains and forests can be regarded as possessors of any kind of interests. This is an issue on which Næss always remained elusive.

Biospheric egalitarianism was modified in the 1980s to the weaker claim that the flourishing of both human and non-human life have value in themselves. At the same time, Næss declared that his own favoured ecological philosophy—“Ecosophy T”, as he called it after his Tvergastein mountain cabin—was only one of several possible foundations for an environmental ethic. Deep ecology ceased to be a specific doctrine, but instead became a “platform”, of eight simple points, on which Næss hoped all deep green thinkers could agree. The platform was conceived as establishing a middle ground, between underlying philosophical orientations, whether Christian, Buddhist, Daoist, process philosophy, or whatever, and the practical principles for action in specific situations, principles generated from the underlying philosophies. Thus the deep ecological movement became explicitly pluralist (see Brennan 1999; c.f. Light 1996).

While Næss’s Ecosophy T sees human Self-realization as a solution to the environmental crises resulting from human selfishness and exploitation of nature, some of the followers of the deep ecology platform in the United States and Australia further argue that the expansion of the human self to include non-human nature is supported by the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, which is said to have dissolved the boundaries between the observer and the observed (see Fox 1984, 1990, and Devall and Sessions 1985; cf. Callicott 1985). These “relationalist” developments of deep ecology are, however, criticized by some feminist theorists. The idea of nature as part of oneself, one might argue, could justify the continued exploitation of nature instead. For one is presumably more entitled to treat oneself in whatever ways one likes than to treat another independent agent in whatever ways one likes. According to some feminist critics, the deep ecological theory of the “expanded self” is in effect a disguised form of human colonialism, unable to give nature its due as a genuine “other” independent of human interest and purposes (see Plumwood 1993, Ch. 7, 1999, and Warren 1999).

Meanwhile, some third-world critics accused deep ecology of being elitist in its attempts to preserve wilderness experiences for only a select group of economically and socio-politically well-off people. The Indian writer Ramachandra Guha (1989, 1999) for instance, depicts the activities of many western-based conservation groups as a new form of cultural imperialism, aimed at securing converts to conservationism (cf. Bookchin 1987 and Brennan 1998a). “Green missionaries”, as Guha calls them, represent a movement aimed at further dispossessing the world’s poor and indigenous people. “Putting deep ecology in its place,” he writes, “is to recognize that the trends it derides as “shallow” ecology might in fact be varieties of environmentalism that are more apposite, more representative and more popular in the countries of the South.” Although Næss himself repudiates suggestions that deep ecology is committed to any imperialism (see Witoszek and Brennan (eds.) 1999, Ch. 36–7 and 41), Guha’s criticism raises important questions about the application of deep ecological principles in different social, economic and cultural contexts. Finally, in other critiques, deep ecology is portrayed as having an inconsistent utopian vision (see Anker and Witoszek 1998).

Environmental Ethics: Traditional Vs Contemprary

Although environmental ethicists often try to distance themselves from the anthropocentrism embedded in traditional ethical views (Passmore 1974, Norton 1991 are exceptions), they also quite often draw their theoretical resources from traditional ethical systems and theories. Consider the following two basic moral questions: (1) What kinds of thing are intrinsically valuable, good or bad? (2) What makes an action right or wrong?

Consequentialist ethical theories consider intrinsic “value” / “disvalue” or “goodness” / “badness” to be more fundamental moral notions than “rightness” / “wrongness”, and maintain that whether an action is right/wrong is determined by whether its consequences are good/bad. From this perspective, answers to question (2) are informed by answers to question (1). For instance, utilitarianism, a paradigm case of consequentialism, regards pleasure (or, more broadly construed, the satisfaction of interest, desire, and/or preference) as the only intrinsic value in the world, whereas pain (or the frustration of desire, interest, and/or preference) is the only intrinsic disvalue, and maintains that right actions are those that would produce the greatest balance of pleasure over pain.

As the utilitarian focus is the balance of pleasure and pain as such, the question of to whom a pleasure or pain belongs is irrelevant to the calculation and assessment of the rightness or wrongness of actions. Hence, the eighteenth century utilitarian Jeremy Bentham (1789), and now Peter Singer (1993), have argued that the interests of all the sentient beings (i.e., beings who are capable of experiencing pleasure or pain)—including non-human ones—affected by an action should be taken equally into consideration in assessing the action. Furthermore, rather like Routley (see section 2 above), Singer argues that the anthropocentric privileging of members of the species Homo sapiens is arbitrary, and that it is a kind of “speciesism” as unjustifiable as sexism and racism. Singer regards the animal liberation movement as comparable to the liberation movements of women and people of colour. Unlike the environmental philosophers who attribute intrinsic value to the natural environment and its inhabitants, Singer and utilitarians in general attribute intrinsic value to the experience of pleasure or interest satisfaction as such, not to the beings who have the experience. Similarly, for the utilitarian, non-sentient objects in the environment such as plant species, rivers, mountains, and landscapes, all of which are the objects of moral concern for environmentalists, are of no intrinsic but at most instrumental value to the satisfaction of sentient beings (see Singer 1993, Ch. 10). Furthermore, because right actions, for the utilitarian, are those that maximize the overall balance of interest satisfaction over frustration, practices such as whale-hunting and the killing of an elephant for ivory, which cause suffering to non-human animals, might turn out to be right after all: such practices might produce considerable amounts of interest-satisfaction for human beings, which, on the utilitarian calculation, outweigh the non-human interest-frustration involved. As the result of all the above considerations, it is unclear to what extent a utilitarian ethic can also be an environmental ethic. This point may not so readily apply to a wider consequentialist approach, which attributes intrinsic value not only to pleasure or satisfaction, but also to various objects and processes in the natural environment.

Deontological ethical theories, in contrast, maintain that whether an action is right or wrong is for the most part independent of whether its consequences are good or bad. From the deontologist perspective, there are several distinct moral rules or duties (e.g., “not to kill or otherwise harm the innocent”, “not to lie”, “to respect the rights of others”, “to keep promises”), the observance/violation of which is intrinsically right/wrong; i.e., right/wrong in itself regardless of consequences. When asked to justify an alleged moral rule, duty or its corresponding right, deontologists may appeal to the intrinsic value of those beings to whom it applies. For instance, “animal rights” advocate Tom Regan (1983) argues that those animals with intrinsic value (or what he calls “inherent value”) have the moral right to respectful treatment, which then generates a general moral duty on our part not to treat them as mere means to other ends. We have, in particular, a prima facie moral duty not to harm them. Regan maintains that certain practices (such as sport or commercial hunting, and experimentation on animals) violate the moral right of intrinsically valuable animals to respectful treatment. Such practices, he argues, are intrinsically wrong regardless of whether or not some better consequences ever flow from them. Exactly which animals have intrinsic value and therefore the moral right to respectful treatment? Regan’s answer is: those that meet the criterion of being the “subject-of-a-life”. To be such a subject is a sufficient (though not necessary) condition for having intrinsic value, and to be a subject-of-a-life involves, among other things, having sense-perceptions, beliefs, desires, motives, memory, a sense of the future, and a psychological identity over time.

Some authors have extended concern for individual well-being further, arguing for the intrinsic value of organisms achieving their own good, whether those organisms are capable of consciousness or not. Paul Taylor’s version of this view (1981 and 1986), which we might call biocentrism, is a deontological example. He argues that each individual living thing in nature—whether it is an animal, a plant, or a micro-organism—is a “teleological-center-of-life” having a good or well-being of its own which can be enhanced or damaged, and that all individuals who are teleological-centers-of life have equal intrinsic value (or what he calls “inherent worth”) which entitles them to moral respect. Furthermore, Taylor maintains that the intrinsic value of wild living things generates a prima facie moral duty on our part to preserve or promote their goods as ends in themselves, and that any practices which treat those beings as mere means and thus display a lack of respect for them are intrinsically wrong. A more recent and biologically detailed defence of the idea that living things have representations and goals and hence have moral worth is found in Agar 2001. Unlike Taylor’s egalitarian and deontological biocentrism, Robin Attfield (1987) argues for a hierarchical view that while all beings having a good of their own have intrinsic value, some of them (e.g., persons) have intrinsic value to a greater extent. Attfield also endorses a form of consequentialism which takes into consideration, and attempts to balance, the many and possibly conflicting goods of different living things (also see Varner 1998 for a defense of biocentric individualism with affinities to both consequentialist and deontological approaches). However, some critics have pointed out that the notion of biological good or well-being is only descriptive not prescriptive (see Williams 1992 and O’Neill 1993, Ch. 2). For instance, even if HIV has a good of its own this does not mean that we ought to assign any positive moral weight to the realization of that good.

More recently, the distinction between these two traditional approaches has taken its own specific form of development in environmental philosophy. Instead of pitting conceptions of value against conceptions of rights, it has been suggested that there may be two different conceptions of intrinsic value in play in discussion about environmental good and evil. One the one side, there is the intrinsic value of states of affairs that are to be promoted – and this is the focus of the consequentialist thinkers. On the other (deontological) hand there is the intrinsic values of entities to be respected (see Bradley 2006, McShane 2014). These two different foci for the notion of intrinsic value still provide room for fundamental argument between deontologists and consequentialist to continue, albeit in a somewhat modified form.

Note that the ethics of animal liberation or animal rights and biocentrism are both individualistic in that their various moral concerns are directed towards individuals only—not ecological wholes such as species, populations, biotic communities, and ecosystems. None of these is sentient, a subject-of-a-life, or a teleological-center-of-life, but the preservation of these collective entities is a major concern for many environmentalists. Moreover, the goals of animal liberationists, such as the reduction of animal suffering and death, may conflict with the goals of environmentalists. For example, the preservation of the integrity of an ecosystem may require the culling of feral animals or of some indigenous animal populations that threaten to destroy fragile habitats. So there are disputes about whether the ethics of animal liberation is a proper branch of environmental ethics (see Callicott 1980, 1988, Sagoff 1984, Jamieson 1998, Crisp 1998 and Varner 2000).

Criticizing the individualistic approach in general for failing to accommodate conservation concerns for ecological wholes, J. Baird Callicott (1980) once advocated a version of land-ethical holism which takes Leopold’s statement “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” to be the supreme deontological principle. In this theory, the earth’s biotic community per se is the sole locus of intrinsic value, whereas the value of its individual members is merely instrumental and dependent on their contribution to the “integrity, stability, and beauty” of the larger community. A straightforward implication of this version of the land ethic is that an individual member of the biotic community ought to be sacrificed whenever that is needed for the protection of the holistic good of the community. For instance, Callicott maintains that if culling a white-tailed deer is necessary for the protection of the holistic biotic good, then it is a land-ethical requirement to do so. But, to be consistent, the same point also applies to human individuals because they are also members of the biotic community. Not surprisingly, the misanthropy implied by Callicott’s land-ethical holism was widely criticized and regarded as a reductio of the position (see Aiken (1984), Kheel (1985), Ferré (1996), and Shrader-Frechette (1996)). Tom Regan (1983, p.362), in particular, condemned the holistic land ethic’s disregard of the rights of the individual as “environmental fascism”.

Under pressure from the charge of ecofascism and misanthropy, Callicott (1989 Ch. 5, and 1999, Ch. 4) later revised his position and now maintains that the biotic community (indeed, any community to which we belong) as well as its individual members (indeed, any individual who shares with us membership in some common community) all have intrinsic value. To further distance himself from the charge of ecofascism, Callicott introduced explicit principles which prioritize obligations to human communities over those to natural ones. He called these “second-order” principles for specifying the conditions under which the land ethic’s holistic and individualistic obligations were to be ranked. As he put it:

… obligations generated by membership in more venerable and intimate communities take precedence over these generated in more recently-emerged and impersonal communities… The second second-order principle is that stronger interests (for lack of a better word) generate duties that take precedence over duties generated by weaker interests. (Callicott 1999, 76)

Lo (in Lo 2001) provides an overview and critique of Callicott’s changing position over two decades, while Ouderkirk and Hill (eds.) 2002 gives an overview of debates between Callicott and others concerning the metaethical and metaphysical foundations for the land ethic and also its historical antecedents. As Lo pointed out, the final modified version of the land ethic needs more than two second-order principles, since a third-order principle is needed to specify Callicott’s implicit view that the second second-order principle generally countermands the first one when they come into conflict (Lo 2001, 345). In his most recent work, Callicott follows Lo’s suggestion, while cautioning against aiming for too much precision in specifying the demands of the land ethic (Callicott 2013, 66 – 7).

The controversy surrounding Callicott’s original position, however, has inspired efforts in environmental ethics to investigate possibilities of attributing intrinsic value to ecological wholes, not just their individual constituent parts. Following in Callicott’s footsteps, and inspired by Næss’s relational account of value, Warwick Fox has championed a theory of “responsive cohesion” which apparently gives supreme moral priority to the maintenance of ecosystems and the biophysical world (Fox 2007). It remains to be seen if this position escapes the charges of misanthropy and totalitarianism laid against earlier holistic and relational theories of value.

Individual natural entities (whether sentient or not, living or not), Andrew Brennan (1984, 2014) argues, are not designed by anyone to fulfill any purpose and therefore lack “intrinsic function” (i.e., the function of a thing that constitutes part of its essence or identity conditions). This, he proposes, is a reason for thinking that individual natural entities should not be treated as mere instruments, and thus a reason for assigning them intrinsic value. Furthermore, he argues that the same moral point applies to the case of natural ecosystems, to the extent that they lack intrinsic function. In the light of Brennan’s proposal, Eric Katz (1991 and 1997) argues that all natural entities, whether individuals or wholes, have intrinsic value in virtue of their ontological independence from human purpose, activity, and interest, and maintains the deontological principle that nature as a whole is an “autonomous subject” which deserves moral respect and must not be treated as a mere means to human ends. Carrying the project of attributing intrinsic value to nature to its ultimate form, Robert Elliot (1997) argues that naturalness itself is a property in virtue of possessing which all natural things, events, and states of affairs, attain intrinsic value. Furthermore, Elliot argues that even a consequentialist, who in principle allows the possibility of trading off intrinsic value from naturalness for intrinsic value from other sources, could no longer justify such kind of trade-off in reality. This is because the reduction of intrinsic value due to the depletion of naturalness on earth, according to him, has reached such a level that any further reduction of it could not be compensated by any amount of intrinsic value generated in other ways, no matter how great it is.

As the notion of “natural” is understood in terms of the lack of human contrivance and is often opposed to the notion of “artifactual”, one much contested issue is about the value of those parts of nature that have been interfered with by human artifice—for instance, previously degraded natural environments which have been humanly restored. Based on the premise that the properties of being naturally evolved and having a natural continuity with the remote past are “value adding” (i.e., adding intrinsic value to those things which possess those two properties), Elliot argues that even a perfectly restored environment would necessarily lack those two value-adding properties and therefore be less valuable than the originally undegraded natural environment. Katz, on the other hand, argues that a restored nature is really just an artifact designed and created for the satisfaction of human ends, and that the value of restored environments is merely instrumental. However, some critics have pointed out that advocates of moral dualism between the natural and the artifactual run the risk of diminishing the value of human life and culture, and fail to recognize that the natural environments interfered with by humans may still have morally relevant qualities other than pure naturalness (see Lo 1999). Two other issues central to this debate are that the key concept “natural” seems ambiguous in many different ways (see Hume 1751, App. 3; Mill 1874; Brennan [1988] 2014; Ch. 6; Elliot 1997, Ch. 4), and that those who argue that human interference reduces the intrinsic value of nature seem to have simply assumed the crucial premise that naturalness is a source of intrinsic value. Some thinkers maintain that the natural, or the “wild” construed as that which “is not humanized” (Hettinger and Throop 1999, p. 12) or to some degree “not under human control” (ibid., p. 13) is intrinsically valuable. Yet, as Bernard Williams points out (Williams 1992), we may, paradoxically, need to use our technological powers to retain a sense of something not being in our power. The retention of wild areas may thus involve planetary and ecological management to maintain, or even “imprison” such areas (Birch 1990), raising a question over the extent to which national parks and wilderness areas are free from our control. An important message underlying the debate, perhaps, is that even if ecological restoration is achievable, it might have been better to have left nature intact in the first place.

Given the significance of the concept of naturalness in these debates, it is perhaps surprising that there has been relatively little analysis of that concept itself in environmental thought. In his pioneering work on the ethics of the environment, Holmes Rolston has worked with a number of different conceptions of the natural (see Brennan and Lo 2010, pp.116–23, for an analysis three senses of the term “natural” that may be found in Rolston’s work). An explicit attempt to provide a conceptual analysis of a different sort is found in Siipi 2008, while an account of naturalness linking this to historical narratives of place is given in O’Neill, Holland and Light 2008, ch. 8 (compare the response to this in Siipi 2011).

As an alternative to consequentialism and deontology both of which consider “thin” concepts such as “goodness” and “rightness” as essential to morality, virtue ethics proposes to understand morality—and assess the ethical quality of actions—in terms of “thick” concepts such as “kindness”, “honesty”, “sincerity” and “justice”. As virtue ethics speaks quite a different language from the other two kinds of ethical theory, its theoretical focus is not so much on what kinds of things are good/bad, or what makes an action right/wrong. Indeed, the richness of the language of virtues, and the emphasis on moral character, is sometimes cited as a reason for exploring a virtues-based approach to the complex and always-changing questions of sustainability and environmental care (Hill 1983, Wensveen 2000, Sandler 2007). One question central to virtue ethics is what the moral reasons are for acting one way or another. For instance, from the perspective of virtue ethics, kindness and loyalty would be moral reasons for helping a friend in hardship. These are quite different from the deontologist’s reason (that the action is demanded by a moral rule) or the consequentialist reason (that the action will lead to a better over-all balance of good over evil in the world). From the perspective of virtue ethics, the motivation and justification of actions are both inseparable from the character traits of the acting agent. Furthermore, unlike deontology or consequentialism the moral focus of which is other people or states of the world, one central issue for virtue ethics is how to live a flourishing human life, this being a central concern of the moral agent himself or herself. “Living virtuously” is Aristotle’s recipe for flourishing. Versions of virtue ethics advocating virtues such as “benevolence”, “piety”, “filiality”, and “courage”, have also been held by thinkers in the Chinese Confucian tradition. The connection between morality and psychology is another core subject of investigation for virtue ethics. It is sometimes suggested that human virtues, which constitute an important aspect of a flourishing human life, must be compatible with human needs and desires, and perhaps also sensitive to individual affection and temperaments. As its central focus is human flourishing as such, virtue ethics may seem unavoidably anthropocentric and unable to support a genuine moral concern for the non-human environment. But just as Aristotle has argued that a flourishing human life requires friendships and one can have genuine friendships only if one genuinely values, loves, respects, and cares for one’s friends for their own sake, not merely for the benefits that they may bring to oneself, some have argued that a flourishing human life requires the moral capacities to value, love, respect, and care for the non-human natural world as an end in itself (see O’Neill 1992, O’Neill 1993, Barry 1999).

 

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