Ethics & the Environment, Volume 14, Number 1, Spring 2009
A Man and a Dog in a Lifeboat: Self-Sacrifice, Animals, and the Limits of Ethical Theory
In discussions of animal ethics, hypothetical scenarios are often used to try to force the clarifi cation of intuitions about the relative value of human and animal life. Tom Regan requests, for example, that we imagine a man and a dog adrift in a lifeboat while Peter Singer explains why the life of one’s child ought to be preferred to that of the family dog in the event of a house fire. I argue that such scenarios are not the usefully abstract analytic tools they purport to be, but indirectly reinforce assumptions that are not only anthropocentric, but also tied to racist, sexist and ethnocentric stereotypes. An analysis of some of the cultural and ethical associations of the notion of self-sacrifi ce proves especially useful in revealing some of the limitations of certain popular Western approaches to animal ethics.
A Motivational Turn for Environmental Ethics
To contribute more effectively to conservation reform, environmental ethics needs a motivational turn, referenced to the best scientific information about motivation. I address the pivotal questions What actually motivates people to conserve nature? and What ought to motivate people to conserve nature? by proposing a framework for understanding motivations and developing motivationally relevant criteria for environmental ethics. The need for an adequate philosophy of psychology for moral philosophy, identified by Elizabeth Anscombe 50 years ago, remains. Only from a psychologically informed motivational framework for morality can ethicists understand and address the widespread rhetoric-behaviors gap plaguing conservation.
A Natural Law Based Environmental Ethic
Scott A. Davison
In his recent book Natural Law and Practical Rationality, Mark Murphy develops a sophisticated version of a natural law account of practical rationality. I shall show that with only a few minor changes, Murphy’s account can be developed into an environmental ethic that generates human obligations to non-human animals, plants, and perhaps even ecosystems and machines. (I shall not discuss here the plausibility of this
extension of Murphy’s account, relative to competing accounts in environmental ethics; that discussion will have to wait for another occasion.) I begin with a brief sketch of Murphy’s account, and then proceed to show how it can be developed into an environmental ethic, with particular attention to several crucial places in the overall argument of his book and arguments developed in other published works.
Trusting in the ‘Efficacy of Beauty’: A Kalocentric Approach to Moral Philosophy
Brian G. Henning
Although debates over carbon taxes and trading schemes, over carbon offsets and compact fl uorescents are important, our efforts to address the environmental challenges that we face will fall short unless and until we also set about the difficult work of reconceiving who we are and how we are related to our processive cosmos. What is needed, I argue, are new ways of thinking and acting grounded in new ways of understanding ourselves and our relationship to the world, ways of understanding that recognize our fundamental interdependence and interconnection with everyone and everything in the cosmos, ways of understanding that recognize the intrinsic beauty and value of every form of existence. What is needed, I suggest, is a moral philosophy grounded in Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism. It is the primary aim of this essay to defend the value of a moral philosophy inspired by Whitehead’s organic,
beauty-centered conception of reality.
Restoring Human-Centeredness to Environmental Conscience: The Ecocentrist’s Dilemma, The Role of Heterosexualized Anthropomorphizing, and the Significance of Language to Ecological Feminism
Wendy Lynne Lee
I argue here that the centeredness of human experience as human is misrepresented by ecocentrists as identical with (or the cause of) human chauvinism, and that although centeredness describes an ineradicable feature of human consciousness, nothing necessarily follows from it other than what follows from any unique configuration of capacities and limitations. Appealing to the ways in which we use anthropomorphizing language, I argue that at the root of this misrepresentation is a failure to take seriously not only the perceptual and epistemic centeredness of human experience, but the ways in which gendered and heterosexualized social norms have become naturalized among its features. Restoring human-centeredness to environmental conscience requires becoming clear about how centeredness is realized not only as chauvinism, but as heterosexism—not because any necessity governs this history, but because what makes enduring change possible is the development of an environmental conscience equally committed to the struggle for social justice.
Animals, Predators, the Right to Life, and the Duty to Save Lives
One challenge to the idea that animals have a moral right to life claims that any such right would require us to intervene in the wild to prevent animals from being killed by predators. I argue that belief in an animal right to life does not commit us to supporting a program of predator-prey intervention. One common retort to the predator challenge contends that we are not required to save animals from predators because predators are not moral agents. I suggest that this retort fails to overcome the predator challenge. I seek to articulate a more satisfactory argument explaining why we are not required to save wild prey from predators and how this position is perfectly consistent with the idea that animals have a basic right to life.
Responsibility for the End of Nature: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Global Warming
Global warming has aroused profound concerns about the future of humanity and the planet as a whole. Indeed, Bill McKibben has argued that anthropogenic climate change is tantamount to the very end of nature and articulates a sense of deep anxiety that many people share. I argue that this feeling of anxiety cannot be fully accounted for either by appeal to the consequences of global warming or the associated injustices. I locate its source with our recognition that human beings are now responsible for some of the basic conditions supporting all life on Earth. I argue that if we are to assume such an awesome responsibility (and we must), it’s good that we do so anxiously. While some have criticized the “I have a nightmare” global warming rhetoric of environmentalists, I identify a particular feature of our nightmare and claim that in it we can find a source for hope.
Dimensions of Naturalness
This paper presents a way of classifying different forms of naturalness and unnaturalness. Three main forms of (un)naturalness are found as the following: history- based (un)naturalness, property-based (un)naturalness and relation-based (un)naturalness. Numerous subforms (and some subforms of the subforms) of each are presented. The subforms differ with respect to the entities that are found (un)natural, with respect to their all-inclusiveness, and whether (un)naturalness is seen as all-or-nothing affair, or a continuous gradient. This kind of conceptual analysis is needed, first, because discussion concerning (un)naturalness is common in current bioethics and environmental ethics, and second, because the terms natural and unnatural are highly ambiguous. Thus, the lack of an exact definition of the type of (un)naturalness may lead into equivocation, other forms of bad argumentation, or at least vagueness.