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Environmental Philosophy/Ethics: An Overview
by J. Baird Callicott
Visiting Senior Research Scientist
University Distinguished Research Professor
Regents Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies
National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center
Annapolis, Maryland
September 9, 2014
Outline
Origins of environmental philosophy and ethics as an academic field
Social context
Major precursors
Agenda-setting seminal text: Lynn White Jr.’s “Historical Roots”
Seminal text: Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac
Major fault-lines
Major sub-fields
My areas of particular interest
Origins of Environmental Ethics as an Academic Field of Study
First college course—1971, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
by J. Baird Callicott
First published papers—1973, 1975:
“The Shallow and the Deep, Long-range Ecology Movements:
A Summary,” by Arne Naess (Norway)
“Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental Ethic?”
by Richard Routley (Australia)
“Is There an Ecological Ethic?”
by Holmes Rolston III (USA)
Origins of Environmental Ethics as an Academic Field of Study
First conference proceedings:
Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, William T. Blackstone,
editor (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974)
First monograph:
Man’s Responsibility for Nature: Ecological Problems and
Western Traditions, by John Passmore (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1974)
First journal—1979
Environmental Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Journal Dedicated
to the Philosophical Aspects of Environmental Problems
Eugene C. Hargrove, founding editor
Origins of Environmental Ethics as an Academic Field of Study
J. Baird Callicott
Arne Næss
Richard Sylvan (Francis Richard Routley)
Holmes Rolston III
Eugene C. Hargrove
John Passmore
Callicott
Rolston
Naess
Hargrove
Routley
Passmore
Context of Environmental Ethics as a Field of Study
Environmental Crisis of the 1960s—oil spills on beaches, rivers
polluted with municipal and industrial waste, indiscriminate
use of pesticides, smog over big cites (esp. LA and Houston)
Crisis Literature—Silent Spring by Rachael Carson (1962)
—The Quiet Crisis by Stewart Udall (1963)
Unrest on College Campuses—Protest against war in Viet Nam, Civil
Rights Movement—> demand for relevancy in the classroom
Photos of a beautiful blue planet Earth—taken by Apollo 8, 10, & 11
astronauts (including by the late Neil Armstrong) from the moon.
First National Earth Day1970—sponsored by Representative Pete
McCloskey (R. Cal.) and Senator Gaylord Nelson (D. Wis.)
Major Precursors of Environmental Ethics
Henry David Thoreau
John Muir
Aldo Leopold
1817-1862
1838-1914
1887-1948
HDT: Nature has “higher uses”—aesthetic, spiritual, as well as material
—anthropocentric (human-centered) / cultural ecosystem services
JM: Snakes, bears, alligators have “rights” & intrinsic value
—non-anthropocentric / individualistic
AL: “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.”
—non-anthropocentric / holistic
Agenda-Setting Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
Lynn White Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our
Ecologic Crisis”—Science 155 (1967):
1203-1207 (LW: historian of technology)
White’s Argument:
• Modern technology —> environmental crisis
• Technology as old as humanity: flaked stones,
sharpened-stick spears, bows-and-arrows—all technologies
• Modern technology = technology informed by science (previously
knowledge-for-knowledge’s sake), beginning in 18th century.
• Aggressive technology and the Scientific Revolution began in
Christendom—in Western Europe in late Middle Ages.
• (Judeo-) Christian worldview set out in the Holy Bible
• Therefore, the “historical roots” of our “ecologic crisis” are
traceable to the Judeo-Christian biblical worldview.
Agenda-Setting Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
The J-C biblical worldview—the Big Picture—set out in Genesis 1
“Man” alone is created in the image of God; to have dominion over the
animals (Gen. 1:26)—both male and female (Gen. 1:27)
God commands them to “be fruitful and multiply”; “replenish the earth”;
“and subdue it” (Gen.1:28)
Aldo Leopold anticipates White’s analysis: “Conservation is getting
nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept
of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity
belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we
belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. That land
is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to
be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”
Agenda-Setting Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
Beneath the lurid and cavalier environmental critique of the J-C
worldview is a more general subtext, repeated again and again
as a kind of refrain:
“What shall we do? No one yet knows. Unless we think about fundamentals, our specific measures may produce backlashes.”
“What people do about their ecology [environment] depends on what
they think about themselves in relation to things around them.”
“What we do about ecology [the environment] depends on our ideas of
the man-nature relationship.”
“We must rethink and refeel our nature and destiny.”
Agenda-Setting Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
Whose professional remit is it to think about fundamentals?
philosophers, that’s who.
In the early 1970s, White made some of us philosophers feel like only
we could save the world from a worsening environmental crisis.
Because to do anything effective about it depended on first
thinking about the man-nature relationship—or so White insisted.
So, here was the agenda for a future environmental philosophy:
1. Critique our inherited ideas about (a) human nature, (b) Nature, and
(c) the human-Nature relationship. Not all such ideas are biblical.
What about ancient Greek philosophy? What about Cartesian dualism?
Newtonian mechanism? Lockean private property? Etc.
2. Think up new, better, more environment-friendly ideas about
(a) human nature, (b) Nature, and (c) the human-Nature relationship.
Agenda-Setting Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
How do we “think up” new ideas about (a) human nature, (b) Nature,
and (c) the human-Nature relationship?
White offered two suggestions: (1) look for recessive memes in the
history of Western philosophy (in his own case, St. Francis of Assisi who
preached to animals and converted a rogue wolf to Christianity); (2) turn
to Asian traditions of thought for conceptual resources (in his case, Zen
Buddhism, popularized by D. T Suzuki, Alan Watts, and Gary Snyder)
(1) Naess found Spinoza’s philosophy to be environmentally friendly,
others offered up Pythagoras, Heraclitus, A. N. Whitehead, etc.
(2) In addition to Zen Buddhism, Daoism was especially appealing from
an environmental point of view; and the renowned world religions
scholar Huston Smith wrote an essay titled “Tao Now!”
Agenda-Setting Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
(3) I followed Aldo Leopold who found a new natural philosophy or
worldview in evolutionary biology and ecology.
(a) Human nature: humans are an evolved species, existing as a part of,
not apart from, the rest of Nature.
(b) Nature: not a collection of externally related objects, but a network
or system of co-evolved and interrelated parts of an integrated
whole.
(c) The human-Nature relationship: Not one of dominance and control,
but of coexistence, harmony, cooperation, and partnership.
Seminal Text of Environmental Ethics
On first encounter, the book seems like a
hodge-podge of essays, wildly varying in
length and topic, divided into three parts:
I. “the shack sketches” organized by months of
the year and all set on the Leopold farmstead.
II. Sketches Here and There scattered across
the continent and spanning a lifetime of experience
III. The Upshot with its climactic “The Land Ethic”
All united and driven by a single overarching theme: the exposition and
promulgation of an evolutionary-ecological worldview and its
axiological and normative implications
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Anthropocentrism vs Non-anthropocentrism
Anthropocentrism:
human action > affects > environment > affects > other humans for
better or worse
Example Rachel Carson: bioaccumulation of organochlorides causes
cancer in humans
But her title “Silent Spring” expands anthropocentrism in the direction
indicated by Thoreau—Nature has “higher uses”; humans may
be deprived of bird songs and many other “psycho-spiritual
resources” (or cultural services).
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Anthropocentrism vs Non-anthropocentrism
Non-anthropocentrism:
human action > affects > environment itself for better or worse
Forms of non-anthropocentrism:
animal rights (mammals) based on a Kantian platform
(Tom Regan)
animal liberation (vertebrates) based on a utilitarian platform
(Peter Singer)
biocentrism (all organisms) based on a Kantian platform
(Paul Taylor)
ecocentrism (species, ecosystems, biotic communities based
either on a Kantian platform (Lawrence
Johnson) or on a Humean/Darwian platform (me)
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Instrumental vs Intrinsic Value
Instrumental value: The value of something as a means to another’s ends
Paradigm cases: cars, clothes, tools, etc.
Problematic cases: humans (human trafficking)
Intrinsic value: The value of something as an end in itself
Paradigm cases: human beings
Problematic cases: animals of various sorts; species;
biodiversity; ecosystems
Not mutually exclusive: many things have both kinds of value
Paradigm cases: employees; spouses
Problematic cases: animals of various sorts; species
biodiversity; ecosystems
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Instrumental vs Intrinsic Value
Things having instrumental value are amenable to economic valuation:
(1) via the market (cars, clothes, tools, animals of various kinds,
etc.)
(2) via the ingenuity of environmental economists to assign a
“shadow price” for things not traded in markets—e.g.:
(a) travel-cost method—e.g., for national parks
money spent on gasoline, lodging, meals, fees,
foregone income, etc., x number of visitors–
(b) hedonic pricing—e.g., price of an ocean-front house
in Carmel vs. same house in Bakersfield
(c) contingent valuation—e.g., asking people how much
they would pay for a clear view of Mexico from
Big Bend NP free of maquiladora air pollution or
to know that snail darters are safe from extinction
= total bids after “protest bids” are discarded
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Instrumental vs Intrinsic Value
Things having intrinsic value are not amenable to economic valuation.
Indeed one function of assigning intrinsic value to something is
to remove it from the econosphere
—paradigm case: the prohibition of slavery
(and all forms of “human trafficking”)
Corollary 1: intrinsic value ≠ existence value; existence value
can be shadow priced; things of intrinsic value should
not be
Corollary 2: all values are not preferences. E.g., slavery
is contrary to our “transcendent values”
—interesting case: the prohibition of trade in ivory,
rhino horn, and other parts of endangered species
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Instrumental vs Intrinsic Value
All values are of subjective provenance. Value is not an objective
property like mass or velocity. Only when things are valued
do they “have” value.
Preferences are literally objectified via the market—the built and
manufactured environment reveals our human preferences.
Transcendent values (including intrinsic value) are objectified,
in a democratic form of governance, through rational debate,
legislation, and jurisprudence
Quantification of intrinsic value: penalties and sanctions associated
with harming things having intrinsic value provides a measure
of how much intrinsic value society accords things
legislatively or jurisprudentially awarded it.
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Instrumental vs Intrinsic Value
Interactions between things having intrinsic value and things having
only instrumental value in the real world—
(1) Trade-offs: Having intrinsic value shifts the burden of proof from
defender to destroyer. Legal analog: “innocent until proven
guilty” Economic analog: Safe Minimum Standard
alternative to Benefit-Cost Analysis
(2) Unintended effect: Creates a black market in things having
intrinsic value Examples: human trafficking and trafficking in
animals and animal parts of species listed under CITES
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Instrumental vs Intrinsic Value
The US ESA and CITES (both enacted in 1973) thus implicitly
assign intrinsic value to listed species.
UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1992): “Conscious of the
intrinsic value of biological diversity and of the ecological, genetic,
social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and
aesthetic values of biological diversity and its components . . .”
UN Earth Charter (2000): “1. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.
a. Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of
life has value regardless of its worth to human beings”—which is
one definition of “intrinsic value.”
The difference between 1973 and 1992/2000: Environmental philosophers
created a discourse for an otherwise inchoate value intuition.
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Individualism vs. Holism
Modern Western ethics has been both militantly anthropocentric and
militantly individualistic
Animal liberation and animal rights are non-anthropocentric, but also
individualistic.
Biocentrism (all organisms) is also individualistic
But distinctly conservation/environmental concerns are holistic:
species extinction (not specimens), biotic communities,
ecosystems, biodiversity
Major Fault Lines in Environmental Ethics:
Individualism vs. Holism
Aldo Leopold: “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single principle:
that the individual is a member of a community of
interdependent parts.”
Ecology “simply expands the boundary of the community to include
plants, animals, soils, and waters or collectively: the land.
“A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the
land community to plain member and citizen of it; it implies
respect for fellow-members and for the community as such.”
“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.”
Major Sub-fields in Environmental Philosophy:
Ecofeminism
Emerged in the 1980s as a synthesis of environmental ethics and feminist
philosophy
Main premise: feminist analysis of social injustices: a “logic of
oppression” based on historical hierarchical dualisms—
male/female; civilized/savage; master/slave can be
applied to the human/nature relationship
Principal architects: Karen J. Warren, Val Plumwood, Greta Gaard
Major Sub-fields in Environmental Philosophy:
Environmental Pragmatism
Emerged in the 1980s as an application of classic American Pragmatism
(C. S Peirce, Wm. James, John Dewey) to environmental concerns
Main approach: prioritize policy; treat theory as a tool kit; pluralistic.
Generally hostile to intrinsic value of nature and militantly
anthropocentric
Principal architects: Bryan G. Norton, Andrew Light, Paul Thompson
Major Sub-fields in Environmental Philosophy:
Comparative Environmental Philosophy
Emerged in the 1980s as a synthesis of comparative philosophy
(Western with non-Western, mainly Asian) and environmental
philosophy
Main premise: Non-western traditions of thought (Buddhist, Daoist
Confucian, various indigenous) represent rich conceptual
resources for environmental philosophy and ethics
Principal architects: J. B. Callicott, C. K. Chapple, Mary E. Tucker
Major Sub-fields in Environmental Philosophy:
Ecophenomenology
Emerged in the 1990s as an application of Continental philosophy
(Husserl, Heidegger, Meleau-Ponty, Levinas, Foucault) to
environmental issues and concerns
Main focus: describing lived experience of nature, human
relationships with animals, emphasis on place and
particularity, hostility to both science and ethics
Principle Architects: Ed Casey, Irene J. Klaver, Ted Toadvine
Major Sub-fields in Environmental Philosophy:
Environmental Justice
Emerged in the 1990s as an application of theories of social justice
(Rawls, Nussbaum, Sen) and race and class theory to unjust
environmental inequities
Main premise: There is no “human” relationship with nature, because
different groups of humans have differential impacts on nature;
environmental benefits and harms are distributed unjustly
Principle architects: Rob Figueroa, Bill Lawson, Kyle Powys Whyte
Major Sub-fields in Environmental Philosophy:
Climate Ethics
Emerged in the 1990s in response to the globalization of the
environmental crisis in the 1980s: biodiversity loss, thinning
of the ozone membrane, global climate change.
Main focus: international environmental justice (those most vulnerable
are those least responsible) and intergenerational justice—in
response to the planetary spatial and millennial temporal
scales of climate change
Principle architects: Michel Serres, Dale Jamieson, Stephen Gardiner
My Areas of Particular Interest
Theoretical Environmental Philosophy and Ethics
My Areas of Particular Interest
The Aldo Leopold Land Ethic
My Areas of Particular Interest
Comparative Environmental Philosophy
My Areas of Particular Interest
Philosophy of Ecology and Conservation Biology
My Areas of Particular Interest
Climate Ethics

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