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Ethics & the Environment, Volume 15, Number 2, Fall 2010


Anthropocentrism and the argument from Gaia theory
Thomas Donahue

Anthropocentrism holds that the only things valuable in themselves are: human beings, their desires and needs, and the satisfaction of those. In turn, Gaia theory holds that the Earth and all creatures on it constitute something akin to a vast living being. Many layfolk maintain that Gaia theory implies the falsity of anthropocentrism, and thus puts the kibosh on that doctrine. But philosophical writers deny this implication. This paper therefore argues for what we may call “the Kibosh Thesis”—that Gaia theory, when correctly understood, does indeed put the kibosh on anthropocentrism. It defends this thesis by appealing to “the Part-Whole Thesis”—that no parts of a living being which do not constitute the whole being can have as much intrinsic value as the being itself has. Since the evidence supporting Gaia theory is mounting, this thesis appears to provide a fairly strong argument against anthropocentrism. In arguing for this position, I show why anthropocentrism is a plausible doctrine, specify Gaia theory’s main claims, meet the main philosophical objections to the Kibosh Thesis, and develop the argument from the Part-Whole Thesis.
Environmental Goodness and the Challenge of American Culture
Sandra Jane Fairbanks

Until recently, Western virtue ethics has never recognized nature-focused virtues. This is not surprising, since western philosophies and religions have promoted the ideas that humans are superior to nature and that there are no moral principles regulating our relationship to nature. Environmentalists call for a radical change in our attitude towards nature if we are to meet the challenge posed by today's environmental problems. Thus, recognition of new virtues governing human attitudes and behavior towards nature is highly desirable, both by way of addressing an egregious lacuna in western thought, and as a necessary condition for anything like a viable planet. Unfortunately, a capitalist, consumer culture such as that of the United States presents a variety of serious obstacles to the successful inculcation of any new environmental virtues. Hence, inculcation of environmental virtues should not be the sole focus of environmental education. Such education should also appeal to human self-interest, at least until such time as the very idea of environmental virtue will not seem contrarian relative to prevailing views of the good life.
Reproductive Technology, or Reproductive Justice? An Ecofeminist, Environmental Justice Perspective on the Rhetoric of Choice
Greta Gaard

This essay develops an ecofeminist, environmental justice perspective on the shortcomings of “choice” rhetoric in the politics of women’s reproductive self-determination, specifically around fertility-enhancing technologies. These new reproductive technologies (NRTs) medicalize and thus depoliticize the contemporary phenomenon of decreased fertility in first-world industrialized societies, personalizing and privatizing both the problem and the solution when the root of this phenomenon may be more usefully addressed as a problem of PCBs, POPs, and other toxic by-products of industrialized culture that are degrading our personal and environmental health. The NRTs’ rhetoric of choice is implicitly antifeminist: it blames the victim by attributing rising infertility rates to middle-class women who delay childbearing while struggling to launch careers; it conceals information about adverse health effects and solicits egg donation and gestation services from women disadvantaged by economic status, nation, and age; and it offers no choice at all for the millions of female animals—chicks, cows, turkeys, pigs, and others—whose fertility is regularly manipulated and whose offspring are commodified as products for industrialized animal food production. An intersectional analysis shifts the discourse away from reproductive choice to a framework of ecological, feminist, and reproductive justice.
Lessons from the Exxon Valdez oil spill: A case study in retributive and corrective justice for harm to the environment.
James Liszka

The settlements surrounding the Exxon Valdez oil spill prove to be an interesting case of retributive and corrective justice in regard to damage to the ecology of the commons, particularly in light of the recent Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. After reviewing the harm done to the ecology of Prince William Sound by the spill, and an account of Exxon Corporation’s responsibility, I examine the details of the litigation, particularly the Supreme Court decision in this matter. In the early settlement, there is a clear disproportion between damage awards to plaintiffs representing the current economic users of Prince William Sound versus the trustees for the Sound’s commons. I argue that the disproportion reveals not only a thoroughly economic understanding of ecological commons, but bias in the treatment of its current economic users, as opposed to an understanding of such ecologies as true commons shared over generations. I argue that such biases fail reasonable moral tests and do not stand up to common principles of retributive justice. I end by suggesting a legal maneuver to correct such tendencies.
A Harean Perspective on Humane Sustainability
Gary Varner

Animal well-being must be a primary normative consideration in a conception of humane sustainability. The two-level utilitarianism of R.M. Hare embodies aspects of both animal welfare and animal rights views, and in this paper I illustrate its application to questions about what counts as humane sustainability. Hare’s theory is highly controversial, and a thorough defense of it is beyond the scope of this paper, but the insightful way it provides of assessing various visions of humane sustainability testifies to the explanatory and analytic power of the theory. In particular, on a Harean analysis, it makes sense to distinguish among “prelapsarian,” “contemporary,” and “utopian” visions of humane sustainability.

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