Environment Ethics

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  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 27-03-14 14:45

What is it?

  • Considers the relationship between people and the natural world
  • How humans should relate to the environment, how we should use the earth’s resources and how we should treat other species
  • Advancement and scientific investigation had been seen as positive human activity but now is threatening humanity’s long term survival
  • Covers a wide range of concerns such as-
    • The different delicate and interconnected systems that nurture and sustain life, providing clean air, water and soil, are breaking down through pollution
    • Deforestation and emissions of ‘greenhouse gases’ affect the atmosphere and threaten to disrupt or damage life on eart
    • The worlds finite natural resources are being depleted at an unsustainable rate because of our way of life and the increasing population
    • Industrialisation and technological and scientific development has led to the destruction of grasslands and forests, the over exploitation of oceans (extiction)
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Deep Ecology

  • Secular approach
  • Lead by Aldo Leopold he sought to enlarge the boundaries of the moral community to include soil, waters, plants and animals
  • Rejects anthropocentric ethics
  • Not enough to see the earth in terms of its contribution to human life
  • Arne Naess= ‘preserve the integrity of the biosphere for its own sake’-ecosophy
  • All organisms and entities in the ecosphere are equal in intrinsic worth
  • All life has value in itself independently of its usefulness to humans
  • Richard Sylvan= (alternate) deep green theory- respect but not reverence for the environment (deep respect/love)
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Shallow Ecology

  • Secular approach
  • Only value in animals and plants is their extrinsic , instrumental (usefulness) value for humans
  • Conservation= looks at worth of the environment in terms of its utility or usefulness to humans
  • Means to an end eg a person chooses to avoid pollution and reduce, reuse and recycle because these actions seem beneficial to humans
  • Michael La Bossiere= species should be allowed to die out as this is part of the natural process of evolution. Humans are a natural species and so any species that becomes extinct because of human activity is becoming naturally extinct- humans have no obligation to prevent extinction
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Gaia Hypothesis

  • James Lovelock
  • Gaia= Greek goddess of the earth
  • Challenges view that humans are the most important species- sees humans as part of a living whole as all life forms are part of gaia
  • Regulation conducted by Gaia
  • World is not result of change but self engineering
  • If we abuse Gaia then we risk our own survival as Gaia owes us nothing and we owe her everything
  • The earth is a unified holistic living entity with ethical worth and in the long run the human race has no particular significance but we are part of it and all organisms on earth are interdependent
  • The revenge of Gaia= pessimistic about climate change and our reluctance to confront it so the planet may not be able to recover and we will suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet
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Peter Singer

  • He is against speciesism because "speciesism draws an arbitrary line"
  • Eg animal testing for cosmetics-animals suffer pain for small human benefit
  • If you're walking in the woods with your close friend, Singer supposes, and your friend gets caught in an animal trap, you would obviously go to help him/her
    • There is also a nearby antelope caught in the trap, who should you help?
    • Singer would free the antelope first
    • He argues that humans can reason, so you'd be able to reassure your friend you're going to help them first, whereas the antelope cannot reason and so would arguably suffer more pain as a sentient being
    • He sums up his beliefs "I don't think ethics is only for humans."
  • Plants are non-sentient – therefore problem in determining their interests he is therefore not convinced by arguments of deep ecology
  • Rather than being anthropocentric-describe Singer as sentient being centred
  • Christian concept of dominion has harmed the world significantly
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Christian approach

  • The value that the environment has comes from its relationship with God- that which God created
  • Theocentric (God-centred) as God is the underlying reason for moral behaviour
  • Anthropocentric as agape love of neighbour is the fundamental principle for human relations and therefore the environment is treated accordingly
  • Roger Crook-
    • Human activity has worth as part of God’s creative process
    • God works in and through nature and nature is important to him
    • Human beings manipulate nature more than any other life form they have a special responsibility to care for it
  • Scott I Paradise (certain common religious beliefs needed to be revised):
    • ‘Only man and the things he treasures have any value’- ‘all things have value’
    • ‘The universe exists for man’s exclusive and unconditional use’- ‘man has been given responsibility for the earth’
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Christian Approach: Dominionship

  • Emphasis on human domination (anthropocentric)
  • Genesis 1:
    • ‘let them (humans) have dominion over the fish of the sea'
    • Mankes man dominant and ecourages him to multiply over it and subdue it
  • Aristotle:
    • ‘All the animals are naturally subject to man'
  • Peter Singer- (Critical as this approach)
    • Places humans at the moral centre whilst the environment is regarded as morally insignifican
    • Dominion is the root cause of our environmental problems
  • St Francis Assisi- (Critical of this approach)
    • God communicates to us though the natural world (animals, plants etc)
    • Natural world is inherently good and it is a sign of God’s goodness
    • All are part of the same creation with the same intrinsic value
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Christian Approach:Stewardship

  • We are to care for and conserve creation because it belongs to God: humans are merely caretakers of this property
  • Humans are co-creators with God and need to use and the natural world with care
  • Creation is made by God and is good and so must be preserved because it has intrinsic value and is sacred
  • Genesis 2-
    • ‘The lord God took the man and put him in the garden of eden to till it and keep it
    • Man is put in Eden to protect and preserve it
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Christian Approach: Mans Sin

  • The fall (genesis 3) is seen by some as the reason for our environmental problems because from this point we become poor stewards of creation:
    • ‘The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws
  • We need to use our increasing knowledge to rectify the damage caused and re-establish the bond between God and man, between God and the environment
  • The environment must be protected and past mistakes must be used as learning tools and rectified where possible
  •  Avoidance of needless exploitation for selfish gain will help bring peace and harmony and justice
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Christian Approach: Rapture and End Time theology

  • Rapture=when born again Christians living and dead will be taken up into heaven, non-believers left behind will have 7 years of suffering, culminating in the rise of the antichrist and final battle of Armageddon. Once the battle is won Christ will send the non-believers to hell and re-green the earth where he will reign in peace with his followers
  • Mainly an influential group of right-wing fundamentalists in the USA 
  • Humans have dominionship and the genesis story teaches ‘man’ is superior to nature and can use its resources unchecked
  • Concern for the earth and the natural world is irrelevant because there is no future
  • Destruction of the environment is to be welcomed and even helped along as it is a sign of the coming of the apocalypse and second coming of Christ
  • Pastor John Hagee (Texas)= environmental and social crises of today are portens (warnings/signs) of the rapture
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Utilitarian Approach

  • Weigh up the long term harm against the short term gain from exploiting nature
  • Quantitive utilitarianism:
    • Maximisation of higher pleasures for present and future generation
    • Modern utilitarians= cost=benefit (environmental economics) eg Windemere and power boating outweighing tranquillity due to money brought in by it
    • However what may seem to be an advantage now may, in the long term, prove to be harmful
  • Qualitive utilitarianism:
    • Mill puts the enjoyment and study of nature at the top of his list of pleasures
    • Environmental preservation is imperative (command-essential)
  • Preference utilitarianism:
    • Moral course of action to max preference satisfaction for current generation
    • Assuming that neglecting the environment has no major effect on the current generation then the case for preserving it is weak 
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Kantian Approach

  • Anthropomorphic: rational nature alone has absolute and conditional value
  • May seem exploitation is acceptable by rational creatures (humans) however Kant denies domestic animals are only to be used as tools
  • Animals should not be worn out or overworked nor cast aside once too old. Killing animals for food is ok but for sport is morally wrong
  • We have moral duties regarding the natural world and must not destroy it
  • Kant explains treating the world or animals badly makes us into cruel and callous people who will then treat people badly
  • Cannot have good will unless he shows concern for the welfare of non-rational beings and values the natural world for its own sake
  • First formulation of categorical imperative: universalisation:
    • Forbid  exploitation and pollution as it would be illogical to want everyone to
    • Paul Taylor (neo-Kantian)= respect for nature is a universal law for all rational beings but plants and animals do not have moral rights instead legal rights
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Virtue Ethics Approach

  • Virtue ethics, being agent-centred, often takes the shallow ecology view
  • Aristotle sees the value of animals as instrumental alone, stating "nature has made all animals for the sake of men."
  • Aristotle believed in a hierarchy in nature, with humans at the top he would support a shallow ecology approach to environmental ethics - looking after the environment because it benefits humans
  • We may develop good habits in the way we treat the environment e.g. recycling, walking/cycling when possible, car-sharing, conserving energy
  • The answer for the environment may be to take the middle path - not using too much energy, not over-indulging, not consuming an excess of food
  • Environmental Virtue Ethics is a non-anthropocentric theory of values which looks at our relationship with the natural world
  • It argues that a virtuous life in nature necessary condition of eudaimonia and looks at examples of virtue e.g. Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold
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Natural Law Approach

  • The central principle is to do good and resist evil, so it would encourage conservation and reject the abuse of the environment
  • However, humans as conscious beings have a higher purpose than the environment, and observing human nature could lead us to agree with humans taking control over the environment
  • Aquinas argues "it matters not how man behaves to animals" and "the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for men."
  • Some Natural Law thinkers would focus on the purpose or telos of the natural world, giving the environment intrinsic worth


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