Environmental Ethics


  • Environmental Ethics studies the moral relationship between human beings and the environment, including its nonhuman contents. This discipline includes the value and moral status of the environment as well as questioning the moral superiority of humans to other species on earth. One of many questions investigated by environmental ethics is whether or not pollution and destruction of the environment is morally wrong because the natural environment has certain values that should be respected and protected, or simply because a sustainable environment is essential to humans. The latter of the two reasons is considered an anthropocentric, or human–centered, view. There are varying levels of anthropocentrism which are briefly touched on; weak, enlightened, and cynical anthropocentrism.
  • To understand the different environmental ethics theories it is important to know the distinction between instrumental and intrinsic value. Instrumental value is the value of things as means to the ends, whereas intrinsic value is the value of things as ends in themselves. It is commonly agreed that intrinsically valuable things generate moral duties to protect them. So the question becomes, is nature intrinsically or instrumentally valuable, and if it is the former, than we have a moral duty to protect it and keep it from destruction. Being as that we are part of an anthropocentric world, we assign ourselves great amounts of intrinsic value while significantly less amounts are assigned to non human things.
  • There are many different stances on environmental ethics formed different philosophers. Both White and Routley touch base of the fact that a change of values is needed in society. Western moral thinking doesn’t allow for the idea that natural things should have intrinsic value based on our Christian, anthropocentric thinking. Leopold created “land ethic” in which the “land” as a whole should be our moral concern, although he didn’t have a framework to support his ideas, he did stimulate other writers to look at ecological wholes, such as ecosystems. Many others have made stances on this controversial topic including feminist who consider the exploration of the environment as an extension of the oppression of women. A few major views of Environmental ethics include dualistic thinking, disenchantment, and deep and shallow ecology.
  • I’ll briefly explain some of these views. Deep ecology is the idea that all living things are alike and have value, regardless of whether they are useful to others. Shallow ecology fights against pollution and resource depletion because it will help the well-being of humans. Disenchantment is just as it sounds, we are not enchanted by the awe and wonder of the nature anymore because of limitless knowledge and power. This has changed our relationship with nature and created more destruction of the environment. Dualistic thinking refers to seeing the world in polar opposite terms. Feminist use this idea to explain that the world sees things on the male side (masculinity, reason, human, culture) as superior to those on the female side ( femininity, emotion, animal, nature).

Connection to themes in class:

  • Animal liberation is an important parallel to environmental ethics. One philosopher concludes that only things that have interests can have moral standing, which would exclude trees, mountains, ect. According to critics it is unclear in what sense bacteria, forests, and rivers can posses any kind of interests. Although Singer is for animal liberation, he makes the same distinction that ecosystems don’t matter because they don’t feel pain, while animals do feel pain so they matter. Specism is also mentioned when discussing how one decides which species are more intrinsically valuable than others.
  • Ideology is also touched on with the view of dualism. Looking at the world that way is a problem of ideology because there shouldn’t be a negative connotation to feminine things just as there shouldn’t be superiority to male things. Also things such as emotion, reason, active, and passive should not be looked at as either female or male because people from both genders can posses these qualities.

Three questions:
1. Has ideology blinded us from the serious problems we face with our environment or can we just chalk it up to ignorance?
2. Since Christianity led to anthropocentrism can we conclude that it also led to environmental damaging behavior?
3. Should developing countries be forced to idle their advancement so developed countries can continue to neglect their environmental responsibilities and overuse?

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