Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics
William J. Frey
College of Business Administration
Preliminary, Meta-ethical
What environmental ethics is not
• It is not an accounting of all laws, statutes,
regulations relating to the environment.
• It is not the construction of markets to
determine quantitatively the strength of the
preferences individuals and groups have for
the environment
• It is not a scientific or even philosophical
description of nature as a whole or nature
through its parts
What is ethics?
• This is extraordinarily complicated
• Umbrella Definition (covers a lot)
• The systematic and critical study of moral beliefs,
rules, and practices
– Beliefs, rules, and practices considered good, right, or
virtuous (or conversely bad, wrong, and vicious)
– Develops and employs principles such as respect for
autonomy, justice, and beneficence (Systematic)
– This systematic study can issue in the assessment that
moral beliefs, rules, and practices come up short to
these higher standards (Critical)
What is Environmental Ethics?
• A systematic and critical study of practices,
beliefs, and rules applied to the environment
that are considered moral, i.e., good/bad,
right/wrong, and virtuous/vicious.
• Much of environmental ethics can be
summarized by the diagram in the following
Environmental Ethics Rectangle
Agrarianism: Humans
Ecocentrism: “A thing is
transform nature for
agriculture but understand
farm as ecosystem (Berry,
Jefferson, Jackson)
good if it promotes the
integrity, beauty, and
stability of the biotic
Focus on biotic community
conceived holistically
Biocentrism: Duties not
Individualistic ethical
approaches such as
Utilitarianism and
Deontology are extended
to cover non-humans.
(Singer for Utilitarianism
and Regan for Deontology)
to interfere with
teleological centers of a
life. Basic , non-human
telos can trump non-basic
and even basic human
Terms Explained
• Anthropocentric: Centered around humans.
(Comes from Greek word anthropo which means
– Humans are the central or sole inhabitants of the
moral community
• Non-anthropocentric: Not centered around
– Center could be non human living things or larger
wholes such as species, ecosystems, and the biotic
community as the organized systems of all living
Central Debate
• Can an anthropocentric environmental ethics pay
proper attention or assign proper worth/value to
non-human living things up to and including the
biotic community?
• Is anthropocentrism compatible with a long term,
sustainable human-natural environment relation?
– Deep Ecologists say no
– Pragmatists (Norton and Westin) say yes
Methodological Terms
• Individualistic
– The focus of moral inquiry consists of individuals, whether
human or non-human. This includes humans, animals,
plants, and other animate and inanimate beings all taken,
not as species, but as individuals.
• Holistic
– Wholes are collections of individuals. Here the focus could
be on species, ecosystems, the biotic community, or nature
expanded to include the inanimate as well as animate.
• One way to look at it
– What is the proper subject to which we predicate moral
value such as good, right, and virtue?
Singer: Animal Liberation
• Singer picks up on a comment by Bentham
– Because animals are sentient, they should count in the
utilitarian calculus
– What counts are the pleasures, not the nature of the
vessel in which pleasures and pains are occurring.
• All sentient beings have moral worth
– Sentiency includes consciousness and ability to feel
pleasure and pain
• Strict utilitarianism involves choosing that action that
maximizes good, i.e., according to hedonistic forms
maximizes pleasure (for the long term) and minimizes
Extended Utilitarianism Continued
• McDonald’s works with PETA (people ethical
treatment animals) and animal suppliers to lessen
the pain animals experience in various phases of their
• Temple Grandin
– Has autism. But also has special insight into how animals
feel. Has developed a “methodology for objectively
measuring animal welfare in slaughterhouses and audit
protocols based on these measures.”
– From Weber and Lawrence, Business and Society,
McGraw-Hill: 33
Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
• Moral consideration expanded to cover nonhuman moral patients
• Moral patients have “preference autonomy,” that
is, preferences (which can be satisfied or
frustrated) and the ability to act on them
• Humans have duties to respect preference
autonomy of moral patients (=animals)
• Since animals have only preference autonomy,
they do not have duties correlative to their rights.
Paul Taylor: Biocentrism
• Hursthouse summarizes:
– “Environmental Virtue Ethics” in Working Virtue edited by R. Walker
and P. Ivanhoe. Oxford: 163.
• Every living thing has a telos = a good of its own. (Fish
gotta swim, birds gotta fly)
• Helping the living thing achieve this telos or preventing
it from achieving this telos (=good) benefits or harms it
• All teleological centers of a life have “inherent worth as
members of the Earth’s Community of Life.”
• Positive duties to promote the telos
• Negative duties not to interfere with telos
Human Goods /
Non-Human Goods
Basic Non-Human
Non-Basic, NonHuman Good
Basic Human Good
Basic human good has
priority (Right of SelfDefense) Humans have
right to clear wilderness
to grow food.
Basic human good has
priority because a basic
good trumps a non-basic
good. Humans can cut
back tree branches to
prevent them from
falling and hurting
Non-Basic Human
The basic, non-human
good has priority
because a basic good
trumps a non-basic
good. I ought not cut
down trees to create a
parking space for my car.
Toss up. Some nonbasic goods have
priority over others.
Humans may have a
right to preserve a
cultural landscape
rather than letting it
revert back to nature.
Complexities of Table
• It’s a heuristic device, not carved in stone.
• Sacrificing one good for another is always a last resort.
– Look hard—really hard—for ways to fully or partially
integrate the goods in conflict. (conservation makes it
possible to avoid building the destructive irrigation project)
– Accept trade offs only as a last resort and then try to offset
the good sacrificed in another way or at another time.
• AES’s cogeneration, coal based technology adds CO2 to the
atmosphere. But they planted trees in Costa Rica reforestation
project to erase carbon footprint.
– The sacrifice of one good for another may be only
necessary in the short term.
• Try to develop transition measures that render this unnecessary in
long term
• Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” in A Sand County
• “There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation
to land and to the animals and plants which grow
upon it. Land, like Odysseus’ slave-girls, is still
property. The land-relation is still strictly economic,
entailing privileges but not obligations.”
• “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the
community to include soils, waters, plants, and
animals, or collectively: the land.”
• “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.”
Different Interpretations of Leopold’s
Land Ethic
• Non-anthropocentric
– This is the most prevalent interpretation. Baird
– Leopold started out with conservation mentality
and changed as a result of the experience in
American West (failed to think like a mountain)
• Byran Norton
– Within Pragmatic tradition, Norton argues that
nature can be restored and protected from within
the anthropocentric perspective.
Is the Land Ethic a Virtue Ethic?
• Focuses on agent instead of the action
– Act integrated into the context of the moral career of the agent,
a practice or community, and a broader tradition
• Virtue or excellence is the mean between extremes of
excess and defect
– Courage is the mean between cowardice and recklessness
• Dispositions or habits that contribute to realizing goods
internal and external to a practice or community.
• Reformulates several basic ideas
– Happiness is reformulated as harmony with broader context
– Virtue moves spot light from the moral minimum to the
exemplary (Virtue = Excellence)
– Deliberation or Reasoning becomes the ability to hone in on
moral salience
First Land Ethic Virtue: Respect for
Old Virtues
• Prudence
Old Vices
• Self-indulgence & greed
• Practical wisdom
• Short-sightedness
• Compassion
• Cruelty
• Proper humility
• Pride, vanity, dishonesty,
and arrogance
Respect for Nature Reconfigured
• Respect for nature is based on refiguring
prudence, practical wisdom, compassion and
proper humility around nature
• For Hursthouse virtues go deep; inculcating a
virtue requires changing…
– Attitudes toward nature (no longer yucky)
– Emotions (developing compassion, care, love, awe for
– Perception (ability to hone in on ways in which actions
and policies can harm nature)
• Educational Program proposed by Hursthouse will
take a generation
• Prudence: "the midpoint between 'a mad rush
into oblivion' and an 'intransigent donothingness'"
– Is the Via Verde a “mad rush into oblivion”
– Are Puerto Ricans so afraid of damaging
environment, etc. that they have fallen into
“intransigent do-nothingness”?
– How do moral exemplars avoid the extreme of
reckless action without falling into the other
extreme of “paralysis of analysis”?
Another Virtue in the Land Ethic?
• Practical wisdom or judgment:
–"showing 'sensitivity' to ecological
communities and their members and
sorting out the rival claims and interests
within and among communities. ”
–Can the construction of the Via Verde be
reconfigured to avoid environmental and
civic destruction?
– See Shaw, "Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by
R. Sandler and P. Cafaro. Rowman and Littlefield: 100.
Two Environmental Virtues from
• Virtues of Position: "Constructive habits of
seeing ourselves in a particular place in a
relational structure and interacting accordingly.”
– Designing highways to fit PR geography and
• Virtues of Care: "habits of constructive
involvement within the relational structure where
we have found our place. How widely do we cast
our sensors in order to learn what is needed
around us?“
– Being attuned to weak points in the ecosystem and
calibrating action to address these vulnerabilities
Two More Environmental Virtues
• Virtues of Attunement: "habits of handling temptations by
adjusting our positive, outgoing drives and emotions to
match our chosen place and degree of constructive,
ecosocial engagement."
– Can energy conservation be a source of solidarity and also
defuse the current energy crisis in PR?
• Virtues of Endurance: "habits of facing dangers and
difficulties by handling our negative, protective drives and
emotions in such a way that we can sustain our chosen
sense of place and degree of constructive ecosocial
– Can Puerto Ricans act resolutely and ethically in the face of
environmental and economic crises? (Integration,
compromise, and ethical trade-offs
Wensveen, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological Perspective,” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R.
Sandler and P. Cafaro. Rowman & Littlefield: 176-177
Salient Points
• Virtue ethics does not outline a particular
action in the face of current environmental
• Actions, policies, and conduct are integrated
into broader contexts
– Moral career of exemplary environmentalist
– Community values like social justice and
attachment to place (PR land ethic values)
– Traditions: integrating past agrarianism in PR with
current post-industrialism
More Salient Points
• The value of a virtue approach to
environmental ethics is the educational
program it outlines
• Hursthouse
– “You can’t just decide to have a virtue; virtuous
character traits cannot be acquired theoretically
by attending lectures or reading books or articles
and just deciding to be that way. But they can be
acquired through moral habituation or training,
beginning in childhood and continuing through
Educational Approach Continued
• “the introduction or discovery of an unfamiliar,
‘new’, virtue would, on the face of it, need to
involve the invention or coining of a new term or
concept, which named a complex unity of
dispositions to act and feel for certain sorts of
reasons, and to see and respond to things in
certain sorts of ways, which we had discovered,
or realized, was a way human beings, given
human psychology, could be. And this complex
unity would have to be the sort of thing we could
conceive of as being inculcated in children as part
of their moral education—not totally against the
grain, but expanding on and correcting some
natural inclination(s) they have.”
Some Practical Suggestions
From the Pragmatists
Begin with Virtue of Humility: 5 key attitudes
• Pragmatist Framework:
– Anti-foundationalism: Rejects attempt to base
environmental ethics on a definitive account of the
inherent value of nature taken in its totality or in
terms of its individual inhabitants
– Fallibility: Conclusions (goals, means, measures) are
fallible and require constant testing in laboratory and
real world conditions. (Experimental Method with
ethics of experimenting)
– Contingency: For Pragmatists this entails that all
problems arise from a context and all solutions must
address this context specifically. This makes it
difficult—if not impossible—to generalize and transfer
them from one context to another
• Social Nature of Self:
– Negative Thesis—Destroying nature leads to an identity
cruses (identity comes partially from place).
– Positive Thesis—Place/context (cultural and natural) can
be an opportunity to build identity and solidarity.
• Pluralism: No no single, uniquely correct approach
to environmental ethics.
Rights—human communities,
Utilities—extending moral consideration to animals.
Holism—extending moral consideration to ecosystems
Biocentrism—teleological centers of a life
• Sometimes one must “think like a mountain”; but
other times it suffices to think like a human
Wicked Problems
• Norton, drawing from Webber and Rittel, characterizes
environmental problems as "wicked." They require an
interdisciplinary approach.
• Difficult to formulate and cover "ill-structured"
– Specifying requires creativity and imagination.
– No uniquely correct way of specifying a problem.
• Not numerical problems. (Non-computability)
– Have components that admit of quantification and others
that resist it.
– Requires more than just creating shadow markets to quantify
willingness to sell and willingness to buy
Wicked Problems
– Solutions must resonate with context
– Solutions cannot be wholly transferred between contexts
– Learning from the past gets us started.
– There are good and bad specifications but none of these are uniquely good.
– There are good and bad solutions but no one solution is uniquely good or
– Pragmatists ground this in falliblism and contingency.
– Economical, ecological, social, political, technical, and ethical dimensions
that must be reviewed and integrated.
– Ideally different disciplines mutually engage and challenge one another.
– These decisions require a group getting together, holding a constructive
dialogue, developing common ground, and developing trials to test
resonance with commonality
A Basis for Action?
• Establish the basis for a unifying dialogue that issues in
community environmental action
• Community Procedural Values: These are values (reciprocity,
publicity, and accountability) that, when adopted by a
community, help it to structure a fair and open community
deliberative process.
• Economic Values:
– (1) Willingness-to-Pay: the instrumental value of a resource is set
by the price an individual or group would be willing to pay to
acquire the resource;
– (2) Willingness -to-Sell: because WTP undervalues resources (it
ties value to the constraint of disposable income) a more accurate
measure of value would be the amount that an individual or group
would accept from a bidder to take the resource out of its current
use and put it to a different one.
Sustainability Values
• Risk Avoidance Values: Precautionary Principle--"in
situations of high risk and high uncertainty, always
choose the lowest-risk option." 238
• Risk Avoidance Values: Safe Minimum Standard of
Conservation--"save the resource, provided the costs
of doing so are bearable."348.
• Values Central to Community's Identity: Justice,
integrity, trust, responsibility, and respect can apply
here but they should be taken in their thick as well as
thin senses. These values, in their thick sense,
depend on the quality of the discourse generated
within the community.
• Meta-ethical excursion into defining,
provisionally, environmental ethics
• A look at four important approaches to
environmental ethics: extensionism, biocentrism,
ecocentrism, and virtue environmental ethics
• Examined (quickly) a pragmatic approach to
environmental decision-making that outlines how
a community can design environmental
“experiments” as vehicles for realizing their
deeply held values
William J. Frey
College of Business Administration
[email protected]
[email protected]
• http://cnx.org/content/m32584/latest/

similar documents