Ethics & the Environment, Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 1998
Intergroup Justice: Taking Responsibility for Intraspecific and Interspecific Oppressions
Ronnie Z. Hawkins
We are all members of a variety of different groupings: family groups, groupings by
gender, "race," culture and class, by nation-state and hemisphere, and by species.
Building on the work of Larry May and others, I work toward a notion of taking
responsibility for one's membership in all such groups, one which entails reflecting
on the actions of one's own group and taking steps to rectify situations whereby
one's own group is found to be in the role of oppressor vis à vis other groups, at
all such levels of grouping.
The notion that "nature" comes equipped with its own set of categories, enabling us to
divide up everything that exists without overlap or leftovers, has considerable
explanatory and prescriptive power. I examine two apparently unrelated arenas in which
this notion is at work; namely, in the alleged discovery and subsequent physical
"improvement" of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and in the surgical alteration
of intersex infants. In both cases, reconstruction is undertaken as a means of
eliminating an ambiguity regarded as "unnatural"--an "error" in nature that culture must
correct. Eliminating ambiguity, in turn, enables accessibility. Fixing a person or a
river firmly in a category allows us to have various kinds of access to them. For a
river, the access is in part physical; it means being able to walk up to its headwaters
without wearing hip waders. For a person, the access is both intellectual and social;
only once I know what sex a person is, do I know how to treat them, and only then do I
know whether they are an "appropriate" object of my erotic attention.
An Interest-Satisfaction Theory of Value
In this paper, I argue that all value is rooted in the interests of valuing beings. If
something satisfies an interest of a valuing entity by contributing to its well-being in
some way, then it has value. Anything that fails to satisfy any interests is entirely
lacking in value. I defend this conception of value by showing that the usual arguments
directed against this kind of view are lacking in force, and by considering various other
theories of value and showing that they suffer from serious problems. Finally, I clarify
some important distinctions between intrinsic, extrinsic, inherent, and instrumental value.
Should We Seek a Better Future?
The radical contingencies attending human reproduction indicate that attempts to improve
the living conditions of future generations result in generations populated by different
individuals than would otherwise have been born. This remarkable consequence challenges
the widespread belief that the present generation has responsibilities to its remote
successors. I contend, first, that while the radical genetic contingency and
epistemological indeterminacy of future persons absolves us of obligations to act
"in behalf of" them as individuals, this moral absolution does not entail a permission to
disregard entirely the remote consequences of our policies. Since relevant moral
principles bind us to persons in general, not to particular individuals, we remain
obligated to improve the life prospects of whatever individuals eventually come into being.
Second, I suggest that by applying an analogous argument within the lives of persons rather
than to the long history of civilization, we arrive at the morally repugnant result of
negating long-term obligations to contemporary persons. Conversely, obligations among
contemporaries likewise entails moral responsibility for the life conditions of
Environmental Value and Anthropocentrism
The critique of traditional Western ethics, and in particular its anthropocentric
foundations, is a central theme which has dominated environmental philosophy for the
last twenty years. Anthropocentrism is widely identifies as a fundamental source of
the alienating and destructive attitudes towards the nonhuman world which are a
principal target of a number of salient ecophilosophies. This paper addresses a
problem about articulating the concern with anthropocentrism raised by the influential
formulations of deep ecology by nature liberation proponent Val Plumwood.