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Environmental Ethics
William J. FreyCollege of Business AdministrationUPRM
Preliminary, Meta-ethical Considerations
What environmental ethics is not
It is not an accounting of all laws, statutes, regulations relating to the environment.It is not the construction of markets to determine quantitatively the strength of the preferences individuals and groups have for the environmentIt is not a scientific or even philosophical description of nature as a whole or nature through its parts
What is ethics?
This is extraordinarily complicatedUmbrella Definition (covers a lot)The systematic and critical study of moral beliefs, rules, and practicesBeliefs, rules, and practices considered good, right, or virtuous (or conversely bad, wrong, and vicious)Develops and employs principles such as respect for autonomy, justice, and beneficence (Systematic)This systematic study can issue in the assessment that moral beliefs, rules, and practices come up short to these higher standards (Critical)
What is Environmental Ethics?
A systematic and critical study of practices, beliefs, and rules applied to the environment that are considered moral, i.e., good/bad, right/wrong, and virtuous/vicious.Much of environmental ethics can be summarized by the diagram in the following slide…
Environmental Ethics Rectangle
Terms Explained
Anthropocentric: Centered around humans. (Comes from Greek wordanthropowhich means human)Humans are the central or sole inhabitants of the moral communityNon-anthropocentric: Not centered around humansCenter could be non human living things or larger wholes such as species, ecosystems, and the biotic community as the organized systems of all living things.
Central Debate
Can an anthropocentric environmental ethics pay proper attention or assign proper worth/value to non-human living things up to and including the biotic community?Is anthropocentrism compatible with a long term, sustainable human-natural environment relation?Deep Ecologists say noPragmatists (Norton and Westin) say yes
Methodological Terms
IndividualisticThe focus of moral inquiry consists of individuals, whether human or non-human. This includes humans, animals, plants, and other animate and inanimate beings all taken, not as species, but as individuals.HolisticWholes are collections of individuals. Here the focus could be on species, ecosystems, the biotic community, or nature expanded to include the inanimate as well as animate.One way to look at itWhat is the proper subject to which we predicate moral value such as good, right, and virtue?
Singer: Animal Liberation
Singer picks up on a comment by BenthamBecause animals are sentient, they should count in the utilitarian calculusWhat counts are the pleasures, not the nature of the vessel in which pleasures and pains are occurring.All sentient beings have moral worthSentiency includes consciousness and ability to feel pleasure and painStrict utilitarianism involves choosing that action that maximizes good, i.e., according to hedonistic forms maximizes pleasure (for the long term) and minimizes pain
Extended Utilitarianism Continued
McDonald’s works with PETA (people ethical treatment animals) and animal suppliers to lessen the pain animals experience in various phases of their raisingTempleGrandinHas autism. But also has special insight into how animals feel. Has developed a“methodologyfor objectively measuring animal welfare in slaughterhouses and audit protocols based on these measures.”From Weber and Lawrence, Business and Society, McGraw-Hill: 33
Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
Moral consideration expanded to cover non-human moral patientsMoral patients have “preference autonomy,” that is, preferences (which can be satisfied or frustrated) and the ability to act on themHumans have duties to respect preference autonomy of moral patients (=animals)Since animals have only preference autonomy, they do not have duties correlative to their rights.
Paul Taylor: Biocentrism
Hursthousesummarizes:“Environmental Virtue Ethics” in Working Virtue edited by R. Walker and P. Ivanhoe. Oxford: 163.Every living thing has atelos= a good of its own. (Fishgottaswim, birdsgottafly)Helping the living thing achieve thistelosor preventing it from achieving thistelos(=good) benefits or harms itAll teleological centers of a life have “inherent worth as members of the Earth’s Community of Life.”Positive duties to promote thetelosNegative duties not to interfere withtelos
Complexities of Table
It’s a heuristic device, not carved in stone.Sacrificing one good for another is always a last resort.Look hard—really hard—for ways to fully or partially integrate the goods in conflict. (conservation makes it possible to avoid building the destructive irrigation project)Accept trade offs only as a last resort and then try to offset the good sacrificed in another way or at another time.AES’s cogeneration, coal based technology adds CO2 to the atmosphere. But they planted trees in Costa Rica reforestation project to erase carbon footprint.The sacrifice of one good for another may be only necessary in the short term.Try to develop transition measures that render this unnecessary in long term
Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” inA Sand County Almanac.“There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus’ slave-girls, is still property. The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.”“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Different Interpretations of Leopold’s Land Ethic
Non-anthropocentricThis is the most prevalent interpretation. BairdCallicottLeopold started out with conservation mentality and changed as a result of the experience in American West (failed to think like a mountain)ByranNortonWithin Pragmatic tradition, Norton argues that nature can be restored and protected from within the anthropocentric perspective.
Is the Land Ethic a Virtue Ethic?
Focuses on agent instead of the actionAct integrated into the context of the moral career of the agent, a practice or community, and a broader traditionVirtue or excellence is the mean between extremes of excess and defectCourage is the mean between cowardice and recklessnessDispositions or habits that contribute to realizing goods internal and external to a practice or community.Reformulates several basic ideasHappiness is reformulated as harmony with broader contextVirtue moves spot light from the moral minimum to the exemplary (Virtue = Excellence)Deliberation or Reasoning becomes the ability to hone in on moral salience
First Land Ethic Virtue: Respect for Nature
Old Virtues
PrudencePractical wisdomCompassionProper humility
Old Vices
Self-indulgence & greedShort-sightednessCrueltyPride, vanity, dishonesty, and arrogance
Respect for Nature Reconfigured
Respect for nature is based on refiguring prudence, practical wisdom, compassion and proper humility around natureForHursthousevirtues go deep; inculcating a virtue requires changing…Attitudes toward nature (no longer yucky)Emotions (developing compassion, care, love, awe for nature)Perception (ability to hone in on ways in which actions and policies can harm nature)Educational Program proposed byHursthousewill take a generation
Prudence: "the midpoint between 'a mad rush into oblivion' and an 'intransigent do-nothingness'"Is the Via Verde a “mad rush into oblivion”Are Puerto Ricans so afraid of damaging environment, etc. that they have fallen into “intransigent do-nothingness”?How do moral exemplars avoid the extreme of reckless action without falling into the other extreme of “paralysis of analysis”?
Another Virtue in the Land Ethic?
Practical wisdom or judgment:"showing 'sensitivity' to ecological communities and their members and sorting out the rival claims and interests within and among communities. ”Can the construction of the Via Verde be reconfigured to avoid environmental and civic destruction?See Shaw, "Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P.Cafaro.Rowmanand Littlefield: 100.
Two Environmental Virtues fromWensveen
Virtues of Position: "Constructive habits of seeing ourselves in a particular place in a relational structure and interacting accordingly.”Designing highways to fit PR geography and landscapeVirtues of Care: "habits of constructive involvement within the relational structure where we have found our place. How widely do we cast our sensors in order to learn what is needed around us?“Being attuned to weak points in the ecosystem and calibrating action to address these vulnerabilities
Two More Environmental Virtues
Virtues of Attunement: "habits of handling temptations by adjusting our positive, outgoing drives and emotions to match our chosen place and degree of constructive,ecosocialengagement."Can energy conservation be a source of solidarity and also defuse the current energy crisis in PR?Virtues of Endurance: "habits of facing dangers and difficulties by handling our negative, protective drives and emotions in such a way that we can sustain our chosen sense of place and degree of constructiveecosocialengagement."Can Puerto Ricans act resolutely and ethically in the face of environmental and economic crises? (Integration, compromise, and ethical trade-offsWensveen, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological Perspective,” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P.Cafaro.Rowman& Littlefield: 176-177
Salient Points
Virtue ethics does not outline a particular action in the face of current environmental situation.Actions, policies, and conduct are integrated into broader contextsMoral career of exemplary environmentalistCommunity values like social justice and attachment to place (PR land ethic values)Traditions: integrating past agrarianism in PR with current post-industrialism
More Salient Points
The value of a virtue approach to environmental ethics is the educational program it outlinesHursthouse“You can’t just decide to have a virtue; virtuous character traits cannot be acquired theoretically by attending lectures or reading books or articles and just deciding to be that way. But they can be acquired through moral habituation or training, beginning in childhood and continuing through self-improvement”
Educational Approach Continued
“the introduction or discovery of an unfamiliar, ‘new’, virtue would, on the face of it, need to involve the invention or coining of a new term or concept, which named a complex unity of dispositions to act and feel for certain sorts of reasons, and to see and respond to things in certain sorts of ways, which we had discovered, or realized, was a way human beings, given human psychology, could be. And this complex unity would have to be the sort of thing we could conceive of as being inculcated in children as part of their moral education—not totally against the grain, but expanding on and correcting some natural inclination(s) they have.”
Some Practical Suggestions
From the Pragmatists
Begin with Virtue of Humility: 5 key attitudes
Pragmatist Framework:Anti-foundationalism: Rejects attempt to base environmental ethics on a definitive account of the inherent value of nature taken in its totality or in terms of its individual inhabitantsFallibility: Conclusions (goals, means, measures) are fallible and require constant testing in laboratory and real world conditions.(Experimental Method with ethics of experimenting)Contingency: For Pragmatists this entails that all problems arise from a context and all solutions must address this context specifically. This makes itdifficult—if not impossible—to generalizeand transferthemfrom one context to another
SocialNature of Self:NegativeThesis—Destroying nature leads to an identity cruses(identitycomes partially fromplace).PositiveThesis—Place/context (cultural and natural) can bean opportunity to build identityand solidarity.Pluralism: No no single, uniquely correct approach to environmental ethics.Rights—human communities,Utilities—extendingmoral consideration to animals.Holism—extending moral consideration to ecosystemsBiocentrism—teleological centers of a lifeSometimesone must “think like amountain”; butothertimes it suffices to thinklike ahuman
Wicked Problems
Norton, drawing from Webber andRittel, characterizes environmental problems as "wicked." They require an interdisciplinary approach.Difficult to formulate and cover "ill-structured" situations.Specifying requires creativity and imagination.No uniquely correct way of specifying a problem.Not numerical problems. (Non-computability)Have components that admit of quantification and others that resist it.Requires more than just creating shadow markets to quantify willingness to sell and willingness to buy
Wicked Problems
Non-repeatable.Solutions must resonate with contextSolutions cannot be wholly transferred between contextsLearning from the past gets us started.Open-endedThere are good and bad specifications but none of these are uniquely good.There are good and bad solutions but no one solution is uniquely good or right.Pragmatists ground this infalliblismand contingency.InterdisciplinaryEconomical, ecological, social, political, technical, and ethical dimensions that must be reviewed and integrated.Ideally different disciplines mutually engage and challenge one another.CollectiveThese decisions require a group getting together, holding a constructive dialogue, developing common ground, and developing trials to test resonance with commonality
A Basis for Action?
Establish the basis for a unifying dialogue that issues in community environmental actionCommunityProcedural Values: These are values (reciprocity, publicity, and accountability) that, when adopted by a community, help it to structure a fair and open community deliberative process.Economic Values:(1) Willingness-to-Pay: the instrumental value of a resource is set by the price an individual or group would be willing to pay to acquire the resource;(2) Willingness -to-Sell: because WTP undervalues resources (it ties value to the constraint of disposable income) a more accurate measure of value would be the amount that an individual or group would accept from a bidder to take the resource out of its current use and put it to a different one.
Risk Avoidance Values: Precautionary Principle--"in situations of high risk and high uncertainty, always choose the lowest-risk option." 238Risk Avoidance Values: Safe Minimum Standard of Conservation--"save the resource, provided the costs of doing so are bearable."348.Values Central to Community's Identity: Justice, integrity, trust, responsibility, and respect can apply here but they should be taken in their thick as well as thin senses. These values, in their thick sense, depend on the quality of the discourse generated within the community.
Meta-ethical excursion into defining, provisionally, environmental ethicsA look at four important approaches to environmental ethics:extensionism, biocentrism,ecocentrism, and virtue environmental ethicsExamined (quickly) a pragmatic approach to environmental decision-making that outlines how a community can design environmental “experiments” as vehicles for realizing their deeply held values
William J. FreyCollege of Business [email protected]@upr.edu





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Environmental Ethics - OpenStax CNX