Environmental ethics (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
The ethical responsibilities that humans have for the natural world, including natural resources, have been examined from many, often conflicting, perspectives, including anthropocentrism, individualism, ecocentrism, and ecofeminism. Each perspective has strengths and weaknesses.
Anthropocentrism is a human-centered philosophy that holds that moral values should be limited to humans and should not be extended to other creatures or to nature as a whole. A justification for this perspective is that moral relationships are sets of reciprocal rules followed by humans in their mutual relationships. Nonhumans are excluded from moral relationships because they lack comprehension of these rules. Some anthropocentrists argue that, from an evolutionary perspective, successful species should not work for the net good of other species; species that have done so in the past have become extinct.
Some anthropocentrists oppose restrictions on the use of natural resources because such restrictions may have negative impacts—for example, the loss of jobs or the loss of products beneficial to humans. Others stress that the natural world is a critical life-support system for humans and advocate effective environmental controls so that it will maintain its full value for present and future generations. This anthropocentric regard for the environment is based on the practical value of the natural world for meeting human needs rather than on a belief that...
(The entire section is 958 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Armstrong, Susan J., and Richard G. Botzler, eds. Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence. 3d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
DesJardins, Joseph R. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. 4th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006.
Keller, David R., ed. Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2010.
Pojman, Louis P., and Paul Pojman, eds. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 5th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008.
Sterba, James P., ed. Earth Ethics: Introductory Readings on Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics. 2d ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2000.
(The entire section is 89 words.)
Background (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Ethics is concerned with what people value; specifically it is concerned with proper behavior toward things with intrinsic value. Things valued in and of themselves are said to have intrinsic value; human beings, for example, generally are considered to have intrinsic value. (Things valued for what they can help humans accomplish—money, for example—are said to have instrumental value.) Environmental ethics is the field of inquiry that evaluates the ethical responsibilities humans have for the natural world, including natural resources. There are many different, and often conflicting, perspectives on appropriate human responsibilities toward nature and natural resources; each has strengths and weaknesses, and each can be advocated by thoughtful and articulate scholars.
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Anthropocentrism (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Anthropocentrism is a human-centered philosophy whose adherents believe that moral values should be limited to humans and should not be extended to other creatures or to nature as a whole. A justification for this perspective is that moral relationships are sets of reciprocal rules followed by humans in their mutual relationships. Nonhumans cannot participate in these relationships because they lack comprehension of the rules; moreover, to the extent their behaviors can be understood, they often appear to live by different rules. Anthropocentrists also argue that, from an evolutionary perspective, successful species do not work for the net good of another. Species behave purposefully for their own survival; those that failed to do so have become extinct.
Some anthropocentrists oppose restrictions on natural resource use because restrictions seem to have negative impacts on human well-being—impacts such as the loss of jobs or products beneficial to humans. However, other anthropocentrists stress that the natural world is a critical life-support system for humans and a significant source of aesthetic richness; such anthropocentrists advocate careful environmental controls so that the natural world and its resources will maintain their full value for present and future generations. This anthropocentric regard for the environment is based on the belief that the natural world has important instrumental value for meeting human...
(The entire section is 228 words.)
Individualism (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
An individualist perspective is that humans should extend moral concern beyond humans to encompass individual animals of certain species. Examples of individualists include adherents of the animal liberation and animal rights movements. Individualists accept that all humans have intrinsic value; they argue further that the distinctions between humans and nonhumans are often vague and that many of the qualities valued in humans, such as rationality, complex communication, intelligence, or self-awareness, are shared to some degree by other species. Thus it becomes arbitrary to include all humans but exclude all nonhumans from moral concern. Rather, individualists say that humans have a duty to identify and respect the morally relevant qualities of all species. Animal liberationists define the capacity for pleasure and pain (sentience) as the morally relevant feature to be most considered. Animal rightists value more complex features including desires, self-consciousness, a sense of the future, intentionality, and memories, which they associate with most mammals.
Like anthropocentrists, individualists generally are not directly concerned with the environment; rather, they are concerned with the well-being of individuals of those species they believe deserve moral concern. Individualists would not be concerned about natural resource use unless that resource use involved a direct threat to individuals of a species deserving moral...
(The entire section is 212 words.)
Ecocentrism (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Ecocentrism is based on the perspective that the natural world has intrinsic value. The term ecocentrism has been applied to both the land ethic and deep ecology. Land ethic advocates believe that moral concern should be extended beyond humans and individual animals, with a major focus on natural units such as ecosystems, watersheds, habitats, and bioregions. In contrast to anthropocentrism and individualism, in which an emphasis often is placed on the rights of individuals deserving moral concern, land ethic advocates emphasize respect for the natural world. Moral concern for the natural world and the environment may be justified by drawing on insights from evolutionary theory and ecology. From evolutionary theory, it is evident that all living things have a common origin and history. From ecology it is argued that all living things are connected and interdependent in the biosphere. These notions of common origin and history and of interdependence in the natural world are viewed as analogous to the human concept of “family.” Ecocentrists view humans as members of a very large family comprising all of nature. Family relationships entail not only privilege but also responsibilities for the well-being of the other family members and their environment. Thus, humans are responsible for the natural world.
Impact on land health is an important criterion by which natural resource use is assessed according to a land ethic. Aldo...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Ecofeminism (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
A perspective that has emerged relatively recently is ecofeminism. Many ecofeminists believe that a desire for domination is an underlying problem in Western society. Environmental problems are tied to a desire to dominate nature, and this desire is closely linked with the problem of the domination of women and other groups in Western society. Ecofeminists believe that these problems would decline with a transformation in societal attitudes from dualistic, hierarchical, and patriarchal thinking to an enrichment of underlying relationships and a greater focus on egalitarian, nonviolent, and empathetic attitudes. Ecofeminism also calls for a greater integration of nature and culture, reason and feeling, mind and body, and theory and practice. Ecofeminism emphasizes less intrusive and more gentle use of natural resources.
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Environmental Ethics in Established Cultures and Religions (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Many westerners have reexamined established cultural and religious perspectives for inspiration and insights in developing an environmental ethic. American Indian cultures often are seen as a source of moral insights on human relationship to the environment. Although it is difficult to generalize for such a large and complex set of cultures, several perspectives appear common to many American Indian groups. These include a strong sense of identity with a specific geographic feature such as a river or mountain. Another common theme is that all the world is inspirited: Everything has being, life, and a self-consciousness. In many cultures, the Earth itself is perceived as a living being deserving respect. Further, most American Indian groups have developed a strong sense of kinship with the natural world. Such views generally have led to relatively harmonious relations with the natural world and have reduced the impact of American Indians on natural resources.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share common traditions; each has elements that scholars have drawn upon for insights into environmental responsibility. Some scholars emphasize portions of Genesis in which the world is seen as God’s creation, and they interpret that as meaning that humans should be free to use and enjoy the environment; subjugation, use, and development are acceptable, but one must also appreciate and protect...
(The entire section is 383 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Armstrong, Susan J., and Richard G. Botzler, eds. Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence. 3d ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
Jamieson, Dale. Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Jenkins, Willis. Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Kheel, Marti. Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
Minteer, Ben A., ed. Nature in Common? Environmental Ethics and the Contested Foundations of Environmental Policy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009.
Pierce, Christine, and Donald VanDeVeer, eds. People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees: Basic Issues in Environmental Ethics. 2d ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1995.
Pojman, Louis P., ed. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.
Traer, Robert. Doing Environmental Ethics. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2009.
VanDeVeer, Donald, and Christine Pierce. The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book: Philosophy, Ecology, Economics. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1994.
Zimmerman, Michael E., et al., eds. Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.:...
(The entire section is 165 words.)
Environmental Ethics (Encyclopedia of Science)
Environmental ethics is a branch of philosophy that considers the moral relations between human beings and their natural environment. As a field of study, it assumes that humans have certain responsibilities to the natural world, and it seeks to help people and their leaders become aware of them and to act responsibly when they do things that impact the natural world.
The need for ethics
Most people recognize that some agreed-upon guidelines or general rules should exist between individuals when they interact with one another because if they did not, nothing in our lives would be predictable or safe. In other words, people need to know that besides actual laws, there are some basic, common ethics or principles of what is right and what is wrong that everyone agrees upon and usually follows or lives by. Ethics is sometimes called moral philosophy because it is concerned with what is morally good and bad or what is right and wrong. As a specialized part of ethics, environmental ethics is concerned with the morality (right and wrong) of human actions as they affect the environment or the natural world we live in.
Global environmental problems
As a branch of philosophy, environmental ethics is a fairly recent development, having become a body of organized knowledge only in the last decades of the twentieth century. It...
(The entire section is 1321 words.)