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Environmental Ethics
William J. FreyCollege of Business AdministrationUPRM
Preliminary, Meta-ethical Considerations
What ethics is not
The lawLaws seek to codify standards that a political bodyconsiders rightand wrong.Ethics provides principles to criticize thisEthical also deals with the morally exemplaryEnvironmental EconomicsEconomicsunderstands values as things individuals desire and measures the intensity of these preferences by means of real or shadow marketsWillingness 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 resourceWillingness to Sell: the amount that an individual would accept from a bidder to take the resource out ;of its current natural state and put to an economically beneficial use
What is the (economic) value of ElYunque?
What would you, as a taxpayer, be willing to pay in a bidding war to keep ElYunquea natural preserve?Willing to pay depends on available incomeWhat would you, as the owner of this resource along with other Puerto Ricans, accept as the selling price for ElYunqueWilling to sell provides a better way of gauging value? Why?Does ElYunquehave a selling price?Is it a value (symbol) that is so central to Puerto Rican identity that it has no selling price. Selling it would be tantamount to selling out
What ethics is not
A social scienceNotbecause ethics is normative and science is empiricalAnd not because the subject matter of these fields do not overlap because they often do (moral exemplar studies)There are differences in methodFocus of ethics is more narrow (moralpractices)Compliance EthicsEstablishing standards of minimally acceptable behavior and conductCodifying these, i.e., converting them into principles of conduct that specify circumstances of compliance such as who, when, and what conductEnsuring compliance by a system of punishments and rewards (mostly punishments)Ethics, especially virtue ethics, treats the exemplary as well as the minimum
What is ethics?
The systematic and critical study of moral beliefs, rules, and practicesMoral = beliefs, rules, and practices considered good, right, or virtuous (or conversely bad, wrong, and vicious)Ethics applies principles such as respect for autonomy, justice, and beneficence(= systematic)Ethics issues in criticism when assessment of moral beliefs, rules, and practices come up short(= critical)
What is Environmental Ethics?
A systematic and critical study of practices, beliefs, and rules that taken in the context of the environment are considered good/bad, right/wrong, and virtuous/vicious.
Some Historically Outstanding Examples
Singer—Extending UtilitarianismRegan—Extending DeontologyPaul Taylor--BiocentrismAldo Leopold—Ecocentrism
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 thevesselin whichthey are containedBut the vessel could be the human person, an animal, or some other sentient beingDoesn’t the vessel count as well as the contents?All sentient beings have moral worthSentiency includes consciousness andthe abilityto feel pleasure and painUtilitarianisminvolves choosing that action that maximizesgood which can beOne good or happinessSeveral intrinsic goods such as friendship, happiness, truth, beauty, etcIndividual preferences (=what we desire)
Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
Moral consideration expanded to cover non-human moralpatients (vs. agents)Moral 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)But animals do not have duties to respect humansThey lackmoralautonomy or the ability to transcend the ego-centric perspective into a moral, non-ego-centric perspective
Thought Experiment #1
Does extendedutilitarianismrequire that we become vegetarians?Consider, for example, cattle raising and slaughter practices. Are these inhumane? Wouldutilitarianspermit eating meat if we could find a way of eliminating suffering of animals?Does extending rights to animals (Regan) require that we become vegetarians?Consider practices raising chickens for eggs and meat in areas that restrict their movement and activity.Does this violate their preference autonomy?If you find that either extended utilitarian or deontological approaches outlaw eating meat, then do you think this invalidates the ethical approach? Or its application?In other words, react to the what these theories may or may not require
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 thistelosbenefits 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
Applying Taylor
Construct basic non-human interests using the concept of a “teleological center-of-a-life”What would a non-basic non-human interest look like?Develop a notion of human basic interests (if possible)Why would this be difficult?Why would the line between basic and non-basic human interests be hard to drawThe following slide presents ways of balancing human and non-human interests when choosing among projects that have impacts on the environment
Factors to Consider When Using Table
It’s a heuristic device.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
Thought Experiment #2
The Super Aqueduct was proposed to alleviate chronic summer water shortages in the San Juan Metro AreaIt proposed to take water from the Rio Grande estuary near Arecibo and pump it via a large aqueduct to the Metro AreaEstuaries depend on a balance between fresh and salt water that fluctuates between a narrow marginCan you identify basic human and non-human interests at play in this scenario? What are they?How do these interact in the Super Aqueduct scenario?Can this be presented as a trade off between basic human and basic non-human interests? (Or, is it more complex?)
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.”
Is Leopold’s land ethic anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric?
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 beliving individuals (biocentrism)or larger wholeslike species, ecosystems, and the biotic communityasthe organized systems of all livingthings (ecocentrism).
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
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)AnthropocentricByranNorton, “The Constancy of Leopold’s Land Ethic”“Leopold opted in the end for a conservation ethic based on our obligations to future generations of humans—a forward-looking anthropocentrism.”Environmental Pragmatism, Light and Katz editors, 85
The Convergence Thesis
ByranNortonTake an environmental problemHow would a well-formulated anthropocentric position respond to it?How would a well-formulated non-anthropocentric position respond to it?Norton predicts that most of the time—if not all of the time—these two positions will converge on a solution to the problem
Thought Experiment #3
What is the impact of the Via Verde on the non-human ecosystems that boarder its planned route?Is this impact acceptable? That is, from the standpoint of a non-anthropocentric view, is the Via Verde acceptable. (View through the lens of non-anthropocentrism)What is the impact of the Via Verde on the human communities affected by its construction and operationAre these impacts acceptable from the human community standpoint?Is Norton’s prediction correct? Do anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric analyses of this project converge? Why or why not?
Environmental Ethics Rectangle
A Virtue Approach to Environmental Ethics
Wensveen, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological Perspective,” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P.Cafaro.Rowman& Littlefield: 176-177
Virtue Ethics
Contrary to some criticsand supporters, virtue ethics does focus on individual actionsBut it assesses the moral worth of an individual action by checking on its “fit” within different larger contexts:Narrative of a morally exemplary careerPractice or communityBeauty, stability, integrity of the biotic community (a non-anthropocentric or trans-anthropocentric context)
Context 1: Moral Exemplar
Would this action fit into the career of a morally exemplary …EngineerBusiness practitionerCommunity leaderThis action instantiates certain values. Would I want these values to become central parts of my core self identity?How does this action and the values it instantiates fit into my own self-narrative?
Context 2: Practice
Does this actionresonatewith the values professed (and actually constitutive of) my practice or profession?Doctor: Does this resonate with a practice devoted to health?Lawyer: Does this action resonate with a practice devoted to an adversarial approach to justice and truth?Engineer: Does this action resonate with a practice devoted to public wellbeing (health and welfare), client fidelity, peer collegiality, and professional integrityBusiness practitioner: Does this practice resonate with the prosperity and sustainability (taken in its widest sense) of the community?
Context 3: Biotic Community
To paraphrase Leopold, does this action resonate with the beauty, stability, and integrity of the biotic community (which includes inanimate as well as animate matter).This involves four virtues (reconfigured from a human context to a trans-human context)Virtues of positionVirtues of careVirtues of attunementVirtues of enduranceLoukeVanWensveen: “Cardinal Environmental Virtues”
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 landscapeExamples:Humility, self-acceptance, gratitude, appreciation of good in others, prudence, and practical judgmentQuestion:Does the action or project resonate with virtues such ashumility? Or does it express corresponding vices such as greed, arrogance, and imprudence?
Two Environmental Virtues fromWensveen
Virtues 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?“Honing in on weak points in the ecosystem and calibrating action to address thesevulnerabilities(Do we put out fires stemming from natural causes?)Examples:Attentiveness, benevolence, loving nature, friendshipQuestion:Does the action or project resonate with virtues such asattentivenessandbenevolence? Or does it fall into vices such as insensitivity and malevolence (or indifference)?
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? (reconfigures temperance)Examples:Frugality and simplicityQuestion:Does the action or project resonate with virtues likefrugalityandsimplicity? Or does it result in the construction of systems of manifest and concealed complexity? (Winner)
Two More Environmental Virtues
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-offsExamples:Tenacity (mean between apathy and obsession), loyalty, perseveranceQuestion:Does the action or project resonate with virtues such as tenacity, loyalty (to what?), and perseverance? Or does it target the corresponding vices?
Thought Experiment #4
WindmarProjectThe private company,Windmar, has proposed building a windmill farm on a piece of land adjacent to theBosqueSecodeGuanicaExamine this project in terms of its resonance with the virtues sets of position, care, attunement, and endurance. Try focusing on the questions. Look to see if the project falls into any of the corresponding vices.
How Pragmatism has sought to break through the impasse on environmental ethics
Anti-Theory: 5 key attitudes
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 it difficult—if not impossible—to generalize and transfer them from one context to another
Social Nature of Self:Negative Thesis—Destroying nature leads to an identity crisis (identity comes partially from place).Positive Thesis—Place/context (cultural and natural) can be an opportunity to build identity and solidarity.Pluralism: No no single, uniquely correct approach to environmental ethics.Rights—human communities,Utilities—extending moral consideration to animals.Holism—extending moral consideration to ecosystemsBiocentrism—teleological centers of a lifeSometimes one must “think like a mountain”; but other times it suffices to think like a human
Recognizing Environmental Problems as Wicked Problems
Problem-solving in Ill-Structured Situations
Wicked Problems
Norton, following Webber andRittel, characterizes environmental problems as "wicked."Require aninterdisciplinary approach.But disciplines, themselves, need to establish intermediate “trading zones” built out of a common, shared, vocabularyDifficult to formulate because they emerge from "ill-structured" situations.Specifying requires creativity and imagination.No uniquely correct way of specifying a problem.
Wicked Problem Continued
WPs are not numerical problems.Non-computabilityHave components that admit of quantification and others that resist it.Economics can helpShadow markets measure environmental valueWillingness to paythe instrumental value of a resource set by the price an individual or group would pay to acquire the resource; limited because tied to disposable incomeWillingness to sell: WTP undervalues resources; a more accurate measure of value—the amount an individual would accept from a bidder to put a resource to a different use
Other Components of WPs
Non-repeatable.Solutions must resonate with contextSolutions cannot be wholly transferred between contextsLearning from the past just 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 in fallibility and contingency.CollectiveThese decisions require a group getting together, holding a constructive dialogue, developing common ground, and developing trials to test resonance with commonality
Developing Community Consensus
Discourse Ethics: Reciprocity, Publicity, Accountability
Starting Dialogue: Virtue of ReasonablenessPritchard, Reasonable Children, 11
Seek relevant informationListen and respond thoughtfully to othersBe open to new ideasGive reasons for one’s viewsAcknowledge mistakes and misunderstandingsCompromise (without compromising personal integrity
Not Reasonable
DefectFeel a need always to agree with other committee membersLack deeply held beliefs and convictions that may differ fundamentally with those of othersBe willing to change virtually any belief or conviction , however deeply heldExcessInsist that they are necessarily right and other wrongInsist on having their own way
Identifying Values: Norton’s Suggestions
Establish the basis for a unifying dialogue that issues in community environmental actionCommunity Procedural 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(2) Willingness -to-Sell
Sustainability Values
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 Sensitive to Context:Signal EventsEnvironmental and social justiceHealth and SafetyAutonomyIdentification with Land, History, Tradition. These values, in their thick sense, depend on the quality of the discourse generated within the community.
Sustainability Values
Values Sensitive to Context:Values Expressed by Signal Events (Cogentrix, Copper Mining, CAPECO explosion, ZoeColocotroniOil Spill)Environmental and social justiceHealth and SafetyAutonomyIdentification with Land, History, Tradition. 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 ethicsExploring a different thought experiment designed to test and probe each approachSuggestions in the appendix for exploring community values to serve as anchors for environmental virtues in Puerto Rico
William J. FreyCollege of Business [email protected]@upr.edu





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Environmental Ethics -