Environmental Ethics-Application of Ethical Theories

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Ethical Theories...Applying to the Environment.


A number of Kantian beliefs can be applied to support environmentalism.

  • Nature works rationally-Kant believed that nature is enlightened; it works rationally and can only fully be understood through reason.
  • Nature liberates human beings-The natural world as being logical and purposeful. Natures purpose is the revealing of autonomy, freedom. Kant sees an inter-relationship between human beings and creation. Both work in harmony to produce a world where freedom rules.
  • Cruelty to animals is irrational and should be avoided-Kant saw that respect for animals is important.  For example a person who beats a dog is likely to beat his children, as they are devoid of the rational understanding that makes a moral being. Kant argued that animals exist to be used by humanity(their skin is used and their meat exists to be eaten) yet with this priviledge comes responsibility to treat animals kindly.
  • Nature should not be exploited-Human beings have a duty to themselves to survive and thus the destructive exploitation of the environment is immoral since it would damage the chances of the human race surviving.
  • Nature must not be treated as a means to an end but as an end in itself-This means that any harmful or cruel act against other creatures or the enviroment is to be condemned as both immoral and also irrational.
  • Nature is intrinsically beautiful-Kant links the aesthetic beauty of the environment to moral goodness. To destroy beauty is illogical since it is something that rational people, when meeting to decide moral laws, would consider a vital part of human existence. This idea can be used to argue that biodiversity and places of outstanding natural beauty should not be damaged for profit motives.

There are though some problems with Kantian views on the environment. It is an anthropocentric approach. All things seem to exist for the benefit of humanity. Therefore, for example the ecosystem is beautiful because it is seen be so by human beings and animals are made to be of benefit for humanity. These ideas can be seen to create the notion of human arrogance. As Naess saw it human arrogance leads to the explotation of the environment.


  • Utilitarian attitudes to the environment differs widely. This is due to the differing view of the key philosophers of utilitarianism; Bentham and Mill. For Bentham pleasure was to be preferred to pain because that is how it was in nature. Whereas Mill saw that nature was not so nice. He saw that humanity brings order out of chaos and human hands enhance biodiversity.
  • Bentham is sentient centred in his view of the maximization of pleasure, and animals matter. Mill in contrast, is totally anthropocentric in his attitdues.

Modern Utilitarianism

  • Bentham's and Mill's


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