Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics
William J. Frey
College of Business Administration
Preliminary, Meta-ethical
What ethics is not
• The law
– Laws seek to codify standards that a political body
considers right and wrong.
– Ethics provides principles to criticize this
– Ethical also deals with the morally exemplary
• Environmental Economics
– Economics understands values as things individuals desire
and measures the intensity of these preferences by means
of real or shadow markets
• 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
• Willingness to Sell: the amount that an individual would accept
from a bidder to take the resource out ;of its current natural state
and put to an economically beneficial use
What is the (economic) value of El Yunque?
• What would you, as a taxpayer, be willing to pay in a
bidding war to keep El Yunque a natural preserve?
– Willing to pay depends on available income
• What would you, as the owner of this resource along
with other Puerto Ricans, accept as the selling price for
El Yunque
– Willing to sell provides a better way of gauging value?
• Does El Yunque have a selling price?
– Is it a value (symbol) that is so central to Puerto Rican
identity that it has no selling price. Selling it would be
tantamount to selling out
What ethics is not
• A social science
– Not because ethics is normative and science is empirical
– And not because the subject matter of these fields do not
overlap because they often do (moral exemplar studies)
– There are differences in method
– Focus of ethics is more narrow (moral practices)
• Compliance Ethics
– Establishing standards of minimally acceptable behavior
and conduct
– Codifying these, i.e., converting them into principles of
conduct that specify circumstances of compliance such as
who, when, and what conduct
– Ensuring compliance by a system of punishments and
rewards (mostly punishments)
– Ethics, especially virtue ethics, treats the exemplary as well
as the minimum
What is ethics?
• The systematic and critical study of moral
beliefs, rules, and practices
– Moral = beliefs, rules, and practices considered
good, right, or virtuous (or conversely bad, wrong,
and vicious)
– Ethics applies principles such as respect for
autonomy, justice, and beneficence (= systematic)
– Ethics issues in criticism when assessment of
moral beliefs, rules, and practices come up short
(= critical)
What is Environmental Ethics?
• A systematic and critical study of
practices, beliefs, and rules that
taken in the context of the
environment are considered
good/bad, right/wrong, and
Some Historically Outstanding
Singer—Extending Utilitarianism
Regan—Extending Deontology
Paul Taylor--Biocentrism
Aldo Leopold—Ecocentrism
Singer: Animal Liberation
• Singer picks up on a comment by Bentham
– Because animals are sentient, they should count in the utilitarian
– What counts are the pleasures, not the vessel in which they are
– But the vessel could be the human person, an animal, or some other
sentient being
– Doesn’t the vessel count as well as the contents?
• All sentient beings have moral worth
– Sentiency includes consciousness and the ability to feel pleasure and
• Utilitarianism involves choosing that action that maximizes good
which can be
– One good or happiness
– Several intrinsic goods such as friendship, happiness, truth, beauty, etc
– Individual preferences (=what we desire)
Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
• Moral consideration expanded to cover non-human
moral patients (vs. agents)
• 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)
• But animals do not have duties to respect humans
– They lack moral autonomy or the ability to transcend the
ego-centric perspective into a moral, non-ego-centric
Thought Experiment #1
• Does extended utilitarianism require that we become
– Consider, for example, cattle raising and slaughter practices. Are
these inhumane? Would utilitarians permit eating meat if we
could find a way of eliminating suffering of animals?
• Does extending rights to animals (Regan) require that we
become vegetarians?
– Consider practices raising chickens for eggs and meat in areas
that restrict their movement and activity.
– Does this violate their preference autonomy?
• If you find that either extended utilitarian or deontological
approaches outlaw eating meat, then do you think this
invalidates the ethical approach? Or its application?
– In other words, react to the what these theories may or may not
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 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
Applying Taylor
• Construct basic non-human interests using the concept
of a “teleological center-of-a-life”
• What would a non-basic non-human interest look like?
• Develop a notion of human basic interests (if possible)
– Why would this be difficult?
– Why would the line between basic and non-basic human
interests be hard to draw
• The following slide presents ways of balancing human
and non-human interests when choosing among
projects that have impacts on the environment
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.
Hill: paving your back
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.
Factors to Consider When Using Table
• It’s a heuristic device.
• 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
Thought Experiment #2
• The Super Aqueduct was proposed to alleviate chronic
summer water shortages in the San Juan Metro Area
• It proposed to take water from the Rio Grande estuary
near Arecibo and pump it via a large aqueduct to the
Metro Area
• Estuaries depend on a balance between fresh and salt
water that fluctuates between a narrow margin
• Can you identify basic human and non-human interests
at play in this scenario? What are they?
• How do these interact in the Super Aqueduct scenario?
– Can this be presented as a trade off between basic human
and basic non-human interests? (Or, is it more complex?)
• 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.”
Is Leopold’s land ethic
anthropocentric or nonanthropocentric?
Terms Explained
• Anthropocentric: Centered around humans.
(Comes from Greek word anthropo which
means human)
– Humans are the central or sole inhabitants of the
moral community
• Non-anthropocentric: Not centered around
– Center could be living individuals (biocentrism) or
larger wholes like species, ecosystems, and the
biotic community as the organized systems of all
living things (ecocentrism).
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
– Deep Ecologists say no
– Pragmatists (Norton and Westin) say yes
Different Interpretations of Leopold’s Land
• Non-anthropocentric
– This is the most prevalent interpretation. Baird Callicott
– Leopold started out with conservation mentality and
changed as a result of the experience in American West
(failed to think like a mountain)
• Anthropocentric
– Byran Norton, “The Constancy of Leopold’s Land Ethic”
– “Leopold opted in the end for a conservation ethic
based on our obligations to future generations of
humans—a forward-looking anthropocentrism.”
– Environmental Pragmatism, Light and Katz editors, 85
The Convergence Thesis
• Byran Norton
• Take an environmental problem
• How would a well-formulated anthropocentric
position respond to it?
• How would a well-formulated nonanthropocentric position respond to it?
• Norton predicts that most of the time—if not all
of the time—these two positions will converge on
a solution to the problem
Thought Experiment #3
• What is the impact of the Via Verde on the non-human
ecosystems that boarder its planned route?
– Is this impact acceptable? That is, from the standpoint of a
non-anthropocentric view, is the Via Verde acceptable.
(View through the lens of non-anthropocentrism)
• What is the impact of the Via Verde on the human
communities affected by its construction and operation
– Are these impacts acceptable from the human community
• Is Norton’s prediction correct? Do anthropocentric and
non-anthropocentric analyses of this project converge?
Why or why not?
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
A Virtue Approach to
Environmental Ethics
Wensveen, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological
Perspective,” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P.
Cafaro. Rowman & Littlefield: 176-177
Virtue Ethics
• Contrary to some critics and supporters, virtue
ethics does focus on individual actions
• But it assesses the moral worth of an
individual action by checking on its “fit” within
different larger contexts:
– Narrative of a morally exemplary career
– Practice or community
– Beauty, stability, integrity of the biotic community
(a non-anthropocentric or trans-anthropocentric
Context 1: Moral Exemplar
• Would this action fit into the career of a morally
exemplary …
– Engineer
– Business practitioner
– Community leader
• This action instantiates certain values. Would I
want these values to become central parts of my
core self identity?
– How does this action and the values it instantiates fit
into my own self-narrative?
Context 2: Practice
• Does this action resonate with the values professed
(and actually constitutive of) my practice or
– Doctor: Does this resonate with a practice devoted to
– Lawyer: Does this action resonate with a practice devoted
to an adversarial approach to justice and truth?
– Engineer: Does this action resonate with a practice
devoted to public wellbeing (health and welfare), client
fidelity, peer collegiality, and professional integrity
– Business practitioner: Does this practice resonate with the
prosperity and sustainability (taken in its widest sense) of
the community?
Context 3: Biotic Community
• To paraphrase Leopold, does this action resonate
with the beauty, stability, and integrity of the
biotic community (which includes inanimate as
well as animate matter).
• This involves four virtues (reconfigured from a
human context to a trans-human context)
Virtues of position
Virtues of care
Virtues of attunement
Virtues of endurance
• Louke Van Wensveen: “Cardinal Environmental Virtues”
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
• Examples:
– Humility, self-acceptance, gratitude, appreciation of
good in others, prudence, and practical judgment
• Question:
– Does the action or project resonate with virtues such
as humility? Or does it express corresponding vices
such as greed, arrogance, and imprudence?
Two Environmental Virtues from
• 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?“
– Honing in on weak points in the ecosystem and calibrating
action to address these vulnerabilities
– (Do we put out fires stemming from natural causes?)
• Examples:
– Attentiveness, benevolence, loving nature, friendship
• Question:
– Does the action or project resonate with virtues such as
attentiveness and benevolence? Or does it fall into vices such as
insensitivity and malevolence (or indifference)?
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? (reconfigures
• Examples:
– Frugality and simplicity
• Question:
– Does the action or project resonate with virtues like frugality
and simplicity? Or does it result in the construction of systems
of manifest and concealed complexity? (Winner)
Two More Environmental Virtues
• 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 engagement."
– Can Puerto Ricans act resolutely and ethically in the face
of environmental and economic crises? (Integration,
compromise, and ethical trade-offs
• Examples:
– Tenacity (mean between apathy and obsession), loyalty,
• Question:
– Does the action or project resonate with virtues such as
tenacity, loyalty (to what?), and perseverance? Or does it
target the corresponding vices?
Thought Experiment #4
• Windmar Project
• The private company, Windmar, has proposed
building a windmill farm on a piece of land
adjacent to the Bosque Seco de Guanica
• Examine this project in terms of its resonance
with the virtues sets of position, care,
attunement, and endurance. Try focusing on
the questions. Look to see if the project falls
into any of the corresponding vices.
How Pragmatism has sought to break
through the impasse on
environmental ethics
Anti-Theory: 5 key attitudes
– 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
crisis (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
Recognizing Environmental
Problems as Wicked Problems
Problem-solving in Ill-Structured
Wicked Problems
• Norton, following Webber and Rittel, characterizes
environmental problems as "wicked."
• Require an interdisciplinary approach.
– But disciplines, themselves, need to establish
intermediate “trading zones” built out of a common,
shared, vocabulary
• Difficult to formulate because they emerge from
"ill-structured" situations.
– Specifying requires creativity and imagination.
– No uniquely correct way of specifying a problem.
Wicked Problem Continued
• WPs are not numerical problems.
• Non-computability
– Have components that admit of quantification and
others that resist it.
• Economics can help
– Shadow markets measure environmental value
– Willingness to pay the instrumental value of a
resource set by the price an individual or group would
pay to acquire the resource; limited because tied to
disposable income
– Willingness to sell: WTP undervalues resources; a
more accurate measure of value—the amount an
individual would accept from a bidder to put a
resource to a different use
Other Components of WPs
• Non-repeatable.
– Solutions must resonate with context
– Solutions cannot be wholly transferred between contexts
– Learning from the past just gets us started.
• Open-ended
– 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 right.
– Pragmatists ground this in fallibility and contingency.
• Collective
– These decisions require a group getting together, holding a
constructive dialogue, developing common ground, and
developing trials to test resonance with commonality
Developing Community
Discourse Ethics: Reciprocity,
Publicity, Accountability
Starting Dialogue: Virtue of Reasonableness
Pritchard, Reasonable Children, 11
• Seek relevant information
• Listen and respond
thoughtfully to others
• Be open to new ideas
• Give reasons for one’s views
• Acknowledge mistakes and
• Compromise (without
compromising personal
Not Reasonable
• Defect
– Feel a need always to agree
with other committee
– Lack deeply held beliefs and
convictions that may differ
fundamentally with those of
– Be willing to change virtually
any belief or conviction ,
however deeply held
• Excess
– Insist that they are necessarily
right and other wrong
– Insist on having their own way
Identifying Values: Norton’s Suggestions
• 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
– (2) Willingness -to-Sell
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 Sensitive to Context:
Signal Events
Environmental and social justice
Health and Safety
Identification with Land, History, Tradition. These values, in
their thick sense, depend on the quality of the discourse
generated within the community.
Sustainability Values
• Values Sensitive to Context:
– Values Expressed by Signal Events (Cogentrix,
Copper Mining, CAPECO explosion, Zoe
Colocotroni Oil Spill)
– Environmental and social justice
– Health and Safety
– Autonomy
– Identification with Land, History, Tradition. 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
• Exploring a different thought experiment
designed to test and probe each approach
• Suggestions in the appendix for exploring
community values to serve as anchors for
environmental virtues in Puerto Rico
William J. Frey
College of Business Administration
[email protected]
[email protected]
• http://cnx.org/content/m32584/latest/

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