Topics in Environmental Ethics
Section Introductions from Environmental Ethics: Approaches and Issues
An Unpublished Textbook Anthology
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
"Ethics is as old as philosophy -- and older." Thus moral philosophy has a great deal to offer to the critical study of mankind's responsibility to nature; namely, concepts, theories, principles, and, most of all, methods of analysis.
"Environmental ethics is very new." Hence strategies for applying moral philosophy to environmental issues and concepts are now being tested, and thus unless the student and scholar is careful, his conception of this new field and its problems might be distorted and constrained. The philosopher should be cautious if he proposes to place old wine in new bottles. Does the old wine belong in the new bottles -- that is, should the concepts, theories and principles of traditional moral philosophy be applied to the environmental issues that have recently emerged, both with our industrial civilization and out of our developing ecological science and consciousness? Herein lies a point of deep division of opinion among philosophers. Some, notably William Frankena and John Passmore, believe that the challenges of the new ecological awareness and conscience call for "better" use of familiar philosophical and scientific ideas, but not a rejection or reconstruction thereof. With refinement, they contend, "the old ways" are quite good enough. Others (e.g., Aldo Leopold, John Rodman, Holmes Rolston and Paul Shepard) suggest that a revolution in philosophical thinking may be in order -- in particular, a re-orientation of perspective. Perhaps "counter-revolution" is a better term, in that these philosophers and ecologists are urging a reversal of Immanuel Kant's establishment of human consciousness as the center of philosophical attention, and, in contrast to Kant, a new direction of attention and evaluation upon the external context of human life and experience.
Some historians (notably Lynn White, Jr.(2)) have focused upon those verses as typifying the Western religious approach to humanity's place in nature. By this account, nature was created for mankind's benefit, and it is his role to be the master of nature. The Lord created the earth as a garden and habitat for human beings, who are then given little restriction regarding his use of it. Moreover, there is little acknowledgment in this tradition of the limits of mankind's capacity to wisely manage the earth exclusively for his own use.
The rationale and justification of the secular approach to anthropocentrism are somewhat different, yet they lead to essentially the same conclusion as the religious. By this account, life has recently evolved to include a self-conscious, rational, deliberative, personal species -- homo sapiens. Some species have sentient lives; that is, they are capable of feeling and, most significantly morally speaking, of feeling pain. Most species, however, are neither sentient nor conscious. That it is alive or not "matters" not a bit, say, to an insect or to a tree, and perhaps very little to a hummingbird. These species haven't the mental (which is to say the neural) capacity to "care." Life matters most, if not exclusively, to the one species we know of that can contemplate the past, present and future of its own life, and act rationally and deliberatively to affect the condition of that life. Again, that singular species is, of course, the human species. Nature, according to this point of view, matters, has value, has significance, only if there is a species to whom it can have significance. It follows, then, that values in nature are almost exclusively human values. The only possible qualification to this rule would be the value of avoiding cruelty to non-human sentient species -- the so called "higher animals." Except for that proviso, that sole personal and rational species, homo sapiens, has acquired with its capacities the privilege, even the right, to do with nature what it pleases. So we come, at length, to the same conclusion as that of theological anthropocentrism: nature exists for mankind's advantage and use. What counts exclusively is humanity -- its aspirations, its desires, its interests -- with possibly the minor qualification that, as moral agents, human beings should not be wantonly cruel to animals that have the capacity to suffer.(3)
Anthropocentrism, or "human chauvinism" as it is often called by its critics, is starkly expressed by Prof. Clare A. Gunn in the journal Landscape Architecture:
The anthropocentric position is supported by the interest theory of rights proposed by the contemporary philosopher, Joel Feinberg, who writes, "without awareness, expectation, belief, desire, aim and purpose, a being can have no interests; without interests, he can not be benefitted."(5)
Of course, from all this it also follows that without interests a being cannot be harmed either. It is difficult to accept Feinberg's "interest theory of rights" and at the same time reject anthropocentrism. It is difficult, but not impossible, and we shall presently encounter attempts to do just that.
Anthropocentrism has been regarded by many critics as the moral equivalent of racism, and accordingly has been dubbed with the derisive name of speciesism." The anthropocentrist retorts that this is mere argument from analogy, and a poor one at that. After all, he notes, people of other races are, after all, people. In contrast, non-human species are not, to our knowledge, personal; that is to say, they are not self-conscious, rational, deliberative and morally responsible. Trees, insects, rocks and landscapes have no sentient lives. (Accordingly, solicitude for their feelings is not an issue in environmental ethics.) Human beings, due to their rational, deliberative consciousness, are beings apart. They are unique in their capacity to accept and be liable to moral evaluation (that is, to be morally responsible). Since only human beings can evaluate nature, they alone are entitled to treat nature strictly according to the perceived needs and purposes of their species. So the anthropocentrist will argue.
Does the anthropocentric position offer no safety or security for "sub-human" species and their habitats? Well, perhaps it does -- at least for the short term. After all, we often enjoy the company of such creatures. And so long as we feel that way about them -- so long, that is, as they entertain and delight us -- then we may take some trouble to keep them around. But, again, we will do so on account of what they do for us. But if that is the reason we protect wild species, then their safety is hostage to our taste and modes of entertainment. But tastes and attitudes change, as do our moral fashions.
Is there a view toward nature that does not require an "aw gawsh" response, or other such simple-minded projections, that will cause us to care enough to take some trouble and expense to protect a "useless" species? Perhaps so, but anthropocentrism does not seem to be that view, for it is doubtful that the uncompromising human chauvinist will offer us much warrant for protecting a species that can not readily be shown to be useful, entertaining, or of some other value to human beings. And so if other human values compete and conflict, say, with the integrity of some wild species habitat, the "aw gawsh" factor might readily be over-ridden and the tenure of that species on the earth may be placed in great peril.
How, then, might one answer the human chauvinist? There are several strategies for rebuttal, but many of them will have little appeal to the modern frame of mind. For example, one might attempt to defend the primitive belief in animism or perhaps pan-psychism. (This approach, after all, is not unheard of these days. Recall the book The Secret Life of Plants.) Both positions hold that nature is alive and sentient. Thus the animist may even believe that a cliff "objects" to being reduced to paving stones, or that a tree "objects" to being cut into cordwood. But few of us will be convinced of this unless we are shown that rocks and trees have nervous systems. Failing this, it follows that most of us will likely be disinclined to believe that rocks and trees are capable of "caring" about their fate. They have no interests in their own right.
A more promising answer to anthropocentrism might be to attempt to dissolve the hard conceptual line that is customarily drawn between human beings and "nature," and to challenge the implicit assumption that we can somehow physically, organically, and even psychologically, detach the fate of mankind from the fate of nature. One might even challenge the notion that such a view of the man-nature relationship is productive of scientific or moral insight. (This, we will recall, was the approach of Aldo Leopold). Perhaps there is a better way of viewing the natural order and man's place in it. But in what sense "better"? An example from the history of astronomy might clarify this point.
Before the days of Copernicus it was, of course, possible to plot the positions of the planets and to forecast the occurrence of eclipses and other celestial events, even with the assumption that the earth was the center of the solar system. But, as most students of the history of science are aware, the geocentric view required the positing of an array of complicated theoretical entities (such as "epicycles") which "adjusted" the conceptual model to permit moderately accurate predictions. For this system to "work," for it to "fit" the observed data, the theoretical scaffolding had to become quite complicated and unwieldy and was overburdened with otherwise useless ("ad hoc") assumptions and concepts. "Suppose instead," Copernicus asked, "we just assume that all the planets, earth included, are satellites of the sun. What then becomes of our capacity to make predictions and to the conceptual equipment required to do so?" What happens is that we make better predictions and do so with but a fraction of the theoretical baggage and the computational fussing. We do not, for instance, need to assume that one insignificant speck of heavy elements (the earth) stands still while all the rest of creation moves about it. Assume further that the very concept of motion itself, and the variables that define it (namely time and space), are themselves functions of the place and circumstance of observation, then still more heretofore intractable physical problems fall within our conceptual reach and into theoretical place. The stage is then set for yet another scientific revolution. Enter Albert Einstein.
Is there analogously a better point of view regarding man's function in nature (an empirical-scientific question) and man's responsibility toward nature (a moral question) that similarly simplifies the task of the scientist and the moral philosopher, and which brings insoluble problems and paradoxes within the range of resolution? Perhaps the ecological point of view offers such a transformation of perspective. Because we shall encounter it again, a brief review might be in order.
The ecological point of view is, first of all, holistic; it focuses upon the "all-ness" of nature. The anthropocentric perspective tends to be particularistic; it focuses upon the eachness of things. To the "human chauvinist" (and perhaps especially the theologically oriented chauvinist), nature might be regarded as a museum of discrete specimens, or, to mix the metaphor, a vending machine with separate and discrete trinkets which can be had as whim and inclination require (and with an implicit understanding that there is a vendor on call, ever ready to restock the machine). Extracting an item from the machine affects no other part of the machine. The act of purchase is a discrete, disparate, isolated event. Returning to our original simile, the specimens in "museum earth" are viewed, contemplated, and perhaps admired separately and in sequence, like pearls on a string. But they remain securely in place, as the spectator leaves the museum and returns to his resident world of personal concerns and "human interests."
As we have noted earlier, the ecologist does not view things this way. Rather than tallying up each part to sum up an aggregate collection, the ecologist understands that a view of the whole illuminates his knowledge of the parts. Species have a function, a niche, in the life community. Particular organisms are not specimens in museum earth, they are conduits of energy, nutrients and information. We cannot, says the ecologist, know what an organism is, or what a species is, unless we know, additionally, what it does. Knowledge of the organism does not end with the outer membrane. The whole informs the part. Unity in system, and equilibrium and stability in and through complexity and diversity -- these are the themes and principles of the ecological point of view.
By examining the whole, we discover functions of the whole that are basic to ecological science: that diversity enhances stability, that established systems tend toward equilibrium, that life communities are complex cybernetic systems with negative feedback mechanisms, tending to restore stability following externally caused disruptions. Both ecological and molecular biology reveal, in macro and micro perspective, unimaginable degrees of complexity and suggest, beyond the shores of our knowledge, an unfathomable sea of fact, hypothesis, data, theory, law, function, diversity, structure that are and will forever be beyond our understanding and control. The biologist well knows that he is dealing with an order of nature that can encode, in the microscopic space of a cell nucleus, more information than is contained in an encyclopedia. He is privileged to study the structure of life communities and organisms that have evolved over billions of years and through an infinitude of discrete "experiments" of selective evolution.(6)
Both the biologist and the philosopher appreciate that it is practically and logically impossible to comprehend all that there is to know, even generally and abstractly, about life communities. It is practically impossible because there is simply too much to be known. Furthermore, biotic omniscience is logically impossible for the simple but interesting reason that we, the knowers, are parts of the (imperfectly) known. Thus our very knowledge of the life community, and our consequent activity in that community, alters that community. We can no more encompass all knowledge of ecology than we can catch our own shadow or stand at the end of the rainbow. And if we cannot fully understand, then it follows that we cannot completely manage and control. Thus Aldo Leopold is characteristically perceptive when he writes:
Knowing this, the life scientist is generally both epistemologically humble and technologically conservative. He is understandably reluctant to reach blindly into the life machine and blithely pull out and discard random parts. In Leopold's splendid phrase, the ecologist is disinclined to remodel the Alhambra with a steamshovel.
I write here of the science of ecology; specifically, of the mode of knowledge characteristic of that science, of the structure that the science displays as the ecologist gathers, interprets, and integrates his data, as he defines and clarifies his concepts, and as he formulates his laws, principles and theories. But how do we move from a scientific to a moral point of view? We move with great caution and difficulty, for here we encounter perhaps the most formidable problem of contemporary critical ethics (metaethics); namely, the question of the logical bearing of facts upon values. We have surveyed some of these problems in our Introduction to Environmental Ethics (included here) and will return to them throughout this course.
In the General Introduction to their text, The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book,(8) VanDeVeer and Pierce identify "Two Fundamental Questions" of environmental ethics. The first question is: "What sort of things have moral standing?" The second question inquires about the principles by which one might adjudicate among conflicting moral claims of such "entities possessing moral standing." Clearly, the first "question" logically precedes the second. The essential question of the entire section is simply this: "Is 'animal liberation' an appropriate foundation for environmental ethics?"
The late American philosopher, William Frankena, listed eight "types" of environmental ethics, portrayed as concentric "circles" describing expanding "domains" of morally significant objects: first the individual ego ("ethical egoism"), out to persons or humans, then further still to sentient beings, thence to "all life," and even further to "nature itself," and finally to "created" nature and the creating Super-Nature (God).(9)
Accordingly, this section on "animal liberation" might be regarded as the second of five, suggested both by VanDeVeer and Pierce's "first fundamental question," and by Frankena's "types" of environmental ethics. In the previous section, we began with the smallest "circle" of moral standing, mankind ("anthropocentrism"). (Egoism, an unpromising avenue to environmental ethics, has been omitted from this survey). In the Section before us, the realm of proposed moral standing expands to include all sentient animals. Subsequent sections will explore proposals to include all of life, and then all of nature, in the scope of morally significant entities.
The defenders of the moral standing of sentient animals, we shall find, do not present a united front. Peter Singer represents the utilitarian approach to "animal liberation" -- the view that our moral duty is to maximize the good and (more urgently) to minimize the aggregate pain, of all sentient animals. Tom Regan defends "the rights view," which argues that, by aggregating ("totaling up") pleasures and pains, the utilitarian gives insufficient attention to the integrity ("inherent value") of each individual sentient animal.
My contribution to this section ("Three Wrong Leads...")(10) criticizes Regan's application of the concepts of rights and inherent value to animals. I argue that his attempt to "extend" the notion of "moral right" from humans to animals disregards crucial distinctions between persons and non-personal animals. Furthermore, I argue, Regan's concept of "inherent value" offers us little if any guidance in distinguishing "good" from "bad" natural objects. My final objection, applying equally to Singer and Regan, is that "animal liberation" is an inappropriate approach to environmental ethics, since it disregards the holistic and ecosystemic view of the natural environment, and of mankind's responsibility toward this environment.
"GAIA-CENTRISM" -- THE LAND ETHIC
The individualistic approach to environmental ethics -- directed first to human beings (anthropocentrism), then to sentient beings ("animal liberation") and then to living organisms ("bio-centrism") -- is now rejected in favor of a holistic, contextual view of environmental ethics. Aldo Leopold, and such supporters as Holmes Rolston and Baird Callicott, take the science of ecology seriously! They believe that, just as "you can not (in fact) do just one thing," in ethics "you can't evaluate just one thing." In ethics, as in nature, "everything is connected to everything else" -- "the whole informs the parts."
For this position, we have coined the name "Gaia-Centrism." (Previously, we tried "Eco-Centrism," but this sounds too much like the virtually opposite position, "EGO-Centrism.") The word "Gaia," the ancient Greek name of the "Earth Goddess," has been adopted by the British biologist, James Lovelock, to designate his hypothesis that the Earth itself -- its global ecosystem, along with the physical-chemical mechanisms of soil, atmosphere and oceans -- is an integrated, self-regulating system. Hence, "Gaia-Centrism" -- the view that the whole Earth itself, and not any of its component organisms or species or regions in isolation, is the focus of fundamental ethical concern.
The classical statement of this position is, of course, Aldo Leopold's "The Land Ethic," which we will now, at last, encounter and assess. This widely quoted and reprinted essay is perhaps the most influential statement of "ecological consciousness" to gain recent public attention. And yet, that essay was written a full generation before the first "Earth Day" in April, 1970. Still, as environmental philosophers have noted time and again, Aldo Leopold, who was not a professional philosopher, had superlative philosophical intuitions. Moreover, perhaps because he was outside the mainstream of academic philosophy of a generation ago, he was not constrained from wondering why nature was not an object of moral consideration, and whether it was not time at last to include it within the circle of our moral attention. Given the philosophical temper of the times it was an outrageous question. Fortunately, Leopold apparently did not know this, and thus was not deterred from writing a masterpiece.
The endurance of Leopold's ideas is due, in no small part, to the eloquence and power of his prose. In fact, "The Land Ethic," appears near the end of his book, A Sand County Almanac, in which his ideas are conveyed, not directly and explicitly, as a philosopher would, but through the vivid imagery and meticulous description of an inspired literary talent. For a flavor of this splendid prose, savor the following:
For a preview of Leopold's thought, consider this fragment from the Foreword to his book:
Although Aldo Leopold was not a philosopher, he has arguably inspired and provoked more significant work in environmental ethics than any philosopher that has followed him. This is a phenomenal accomplishment; especially so, in view of the fact that most philosophers are disposed to regard "amateur" attempts to "do philosophy" as banal, pretentious, and ultimately embarrassing. Not so with Leopold. And why does his work command such attention and respect of philosophers? First of all, contemporary philosophers, by and large, see their work as complementary to science, rather than competitive. Accordingly, when an accomplished scientist presents concepts, facts and theories that promise to hone the cutting edge of philosophical inquiry, the philosophers take notice. In addition, Leopold displayed, in his writing, an historical and a literary erudition far beyond the scope of his scientific specialty. Finally, Leopold possessed an original mix of thought and vision and literary expression that can only be described as "genius" -- a genius that simply could not be ignored by a moral philosopher more than casually aware of Leopold's work.
With all this, Aldo Leopold bequeathed a rich legacy to his philosophical successors. And yet, for all it's literary and scientific richness, this legacy constituted a vein of philosophically unrefined ore: priceless, but in need of devoted and painstaking assessment, development, and, to be sure, criticism.
BIOPHILIA: "THE NATURAL HUMAN"
It follows from the biophilic hypothesis that a destruction of the natural environment diminishes man's legacy and estate by depriving him of places of refuge, fulfillment, "re-creation" (in the literal sense of that abused word). Such destruction, writes Paul Shepard, is "an amputation of man."(12)
To be healthy and fulfilled, says the biophilic, we cannot be totally detached from that which nurtured us. The sack of skin that encloses the human organism does not contain all of "human nature." In "Ecology and Man -- A Viewpoint," an eloquent statement of our biotic legacy and sustenance (included here), Shepard writes:
Thus, in a significant sense, the human organism is the natural world which created it. If nature, which nourished us as a species, sustains us still, there may be more truth than poetry in the worn metaphor, "Mother Nature."
Could we survive in an entirely artificial environment? On a planet wholly domesticated, with every last vestige of wilderness crowded out? Perhaps we could. In his essay, "What's Wrong With Plastic Trees?", Martin Krieger comes close to saying that we might manage quite well without wilderness. Hugh Iltis, of course, disagrees. In "Can One Love a Plastic Tree?," he contends that a totally artificial environment would severely diminish the quality of human life. The distinguished Harvard zoologist, Edward O. Wilson concurs. In an eloquent excerpt from his book, Biophilia, (his name for the hypothesis), Wilson enriches the theory with specific suggestions as the nature of the environments from which we evolved, and thus in which, even today, we feel most "at home" -- "responding," he writes, "to a deep genetic memory of mankind's optimal environment."(14)
The biophilic hypothesis, while plausible and even persuasive, has not been conclusively demonstrated. In fact, it is quite controversial. One fanciful reply to the question, "Can One Love a Plastic Tree?" might be "certainly -- provided one is a plastic person." (The word "plastic" is intended here in its etymological sense: namely, pliable, malleable, able to assume an infinitude of forms, like plasticene, the sculptor's clay.). Only a generation ago, it was commonly believed that homo sapiens was "plastic" in this sense. Support for this notion has come from a variety of cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and behavioral psychologists, many of whom have argued that there is scarcely a behavior trait or belief that is not simultaneously found to be praised and condemned in different cultures or at different times in the history of the same culture. And yet, all human beings are essentially alike in their genetic inheritance.
The hypothesis of biophilia will be difficult either to confirm or refute because of the persistent and recalcitrant difficulty of separating and isolating the respective roles of heredity and environment -- "nature and nurture" -- in determining behavior and taste. And yet it is urgent that we attempt to determine just how much we need to be in the presence of wild nature. In the meantime, the very plausibility of the bio-philic hypothesis mandates caution and conservatism with regard to our policies of exploitation and development. If, at length, we conclude that mankind can manage quite well without wilderness, there will be time enough to dismantle it, if that is what we choose to do. However, if we eventually discover that mankind has a deep need to be in the presence of the kind of natural species, landscapes and ecosystems that produced him, we may arrive at the realization too late to reclaim and enjoy our lost natural legacy.
HOLISM AND CONTEXTUALISM IN ETHICS
Ecological science also recommends, by example, the holistic point of view -- a perspective effectively and productively employed by the ecologist in his work. However, the moral philosopher need not learn of this approach solely from the ecologist, since many moral philosophers have long recognized that morality makes no sense when viewed reductively; that is to say, that a rational code of morality is not to be comprehended simply by summing up the separate tastes, preferences, desires and wills of each member of the community. On the contrary, most moral philosophers have learned that if morality is to be understood and justified at all it must be viewed in the context of the system of the community, of the role of the institution of morality in that community, and of the agent's understanding of his function in that community. In short, morality, moral principle, moral instruction, are intelligible only when human conduct is viewed holistically, systemically, contextually, from the point of view of an integrated community of persons.(15)
This point has been persuasively argued in the past by such social contract theorists as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. It has been reiterated in the present by game theorists and systems analysts, and by such contemporary philosophers as Kurt Baier, John Rawls, Kai Nielsen and Steven Toulmin. Because of this philosophical interest in the systems approach to morality, those philosophers who wish to derive norms of conduct toward nature (that is to say, an environmental ethic) might be inclined to adopt the ecologists' preferred mode of holistic and systematic thinking. The moral philosopher, after all, is used to such modes of thought in his examination, articulating and justification of social norms. Articulating such an ecological ethic should thus present little difficulty. However, the moral philosopher faces his greatest challenge as he attempts to justify such an ethic. Then he must face, and take account of, some significant differences between social communities and life communities.
The ecologist, as we have repeatedly noted, seeks to understand the parts from the point of view of the whole -- of the system in which the part (species or organism) functions. Similarly, the moral philosophers that we have just mentioned view morality, not from the point of view of the individual, but rather from the point of view of the system -- of the community. To "look out for number one" by calculating a maximization of "payoffs" for oneself, or alternatively, to apply values exclusively in terms of one's own conduct, is to take what might be called "the egocentric perspective." On the other hand, to look toward the maximization of goods for the entire community, or to apply moral rules for each with regard for the optimum function of these rules in regulating the whole, is to adopt the perspective of "the moral spectator," or, more directly, "the moral point of view." The points of view of the egocentric agent and of the moral spectator are notoriously in conflict. This conflict and the attempt to resolve it give immediate rise to the necessity for moral deliberation and thus to moral philosophy.
It can be readily demonstrated, I believe, that life in a community of persons assuming and acting in accordance with the point of view of the moral spectator is to be preferred to life in a community of persons each acting from the point of view of individual, self-interested agents, however rational. Two paradigms readily illustrate this contention.
First, there is the celebrated case of "the tragedy of the commons," vividly and effectively presented by Garrett Hardin. To simplify and generalize Hardin's point: there are numerous circumstances in human communal life in which uncoordinated, self-seeking activity by each member of a community destroys the resource base and thereby the community itself. To use Hardin's initial example, herdsmen utilizing an overstocked common pasture will, by adding to their personal flock (a decision of the self-interested agent), degrade the common resource and thus the wealth of all others (a harmful act from the point of view of the moral spectator). Of course, the same self-serving decision on the part of the others (i.e., the decision to increase their own flocks) harms the interests of the first herdsman. And yet, given the lack of communal rules of management or procedures of rule enforcement (i.e., no effective moral or legal restraints on range use) the rational decision must be to add to one's personal flock. (After all, the pasture will be ruined in any case due to the independent acts of "the others"). But once an enforceable regulative order is accepted by each, and imposed upon all, the welfare of each herdsman will be enhanced through this system of "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon." The collective good may be realized more economically (and in some cases it will be accomplished only) if the mutual restraint is effected through moral forbearance; that is, through an operative sense of loyalty to the community and to its moral values by "enough" (though not necessarily all) members of the community.(16)
And so we find, in the case of the tragedy of the commons, further warrant for the paradox of morality; that is, the conclusion that one's self interest might not be best served by directly seeking his self interest.
A second illustration of the advantage of the moral point of view comes from the experience of military combat. Imagine that you are an infantryman about to be assigned to the front. Your overriding interest is to survive your one-year tour of duty in the combat zone. You are given the choice of being assigned either to a platoon of twelve egoists or to a platoon of twelve altruists. Assuming that you would accept the moral position of the members of your platoon (you would be, respectively, an egoist or an altruist), which assignment would you choose -- given again, that your primary motive is personal survival?
Of course, the operative motive of each member of the platoon of egoists is personal survival. And because this motive is universally operative, there is no opportunity for cooperation and trust to develop in the group. No one will relinquish even a bit of his personal chances for survival for your advantage. In contradistinction, in the platoon of altruists, each soldier regards the value of his own life as at most equal to, but no greater than, the value of the life of each of the others. Thus if the greater safety of all is to be accomplished by the altruistic sacrifice of a few, and if you are the one of those few, then you will accept your fate and make the sacrifice knowing that the others would have willingly done the same. You understand, and all the others know, that this code of honor, trust and sacrifice is in effect and thus that each member can be counted on. The question, then, is simply this: In which platoon would your initial objective of personal survival most likely be realized? The overwhelming evidence of military history tells us that other factors being equal, you will more wisely choose the platoon of altruists. The life of the altruistic soldier is protected by eleven others acting in common purpose; the egoist can look only to himself for protection. And so, again, we arrive at the paradox of morality. For when one joins the group of altruists and relinquishes total responsibility for his own personal safety and welfare while accepting shared responsibility for the safety and welfare of all others (that is, as he shifts his moral point of view from that of the self-serving agent to that of the spectator), and as he correctly perceives that others have adopted the same perspective, his personal well-being will be enhanced by this operative shift in moral perspective. (A similar and striking argument for the moral paradox can be made from the intriguing game-theory example of "the prisoner's dilemma").
The tragedy of the commons and the platoon case are but two of many paradigms that illustrate and confirm the rule that the individual's prospect for maximizing his own safety and welfare is enhanced by membership in a moral community; i.e., in a community in which the preponderant operative sentiment is to act for the maximization of the good of all.
Accordingly, to the psychological, psychiatric and sociological arguments for self-transcendent concern (encountered in the previous section) we add now these arguments from systems theory. All converge upon the conclusion that human life is more fulfilled in a moral community -- in a community in which each member has loyalty to principles that serve the common good and which effectively override exclusive concern for his self interest. This is what Aristotle meant when he proclaimed that man is a political animal, and what Hobbes meant when he observed that outside of society, life for humanity is "nasty, mean, brutish and short." The advantages of social life in a moral community are obvious and compelling, yet they must be learned anew. Many intelligent and well-educated persons seem to have failed to appreciate the import and implications of this lesson; hence the appeal today of such writers as Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick.
And so the value of individual human life is enhanced to the degree that one (a) has self-transcending concern, and to the degree that (b) he subsumes his interest to that of the community (the paradox of morality). To this second rule, I would add two urgent provisos: First, one assumes that most members of the community share and act in accordance with the moral point of view. (Thus if, contrary to his rational wishes, the soldier is assigned to the platoon of egoists, he is simply unfortunate. He then has two choices: either to attempt to persuade and convert the others to an altruistic point of view, or, failing that, to reluctantly assume an egoistic point of view, correctly realizing that with no "social contract" of reciprocal protection, he has no duty to further endanger his own safety with acts of undeserved and unreciprocated sacrifice). The second proviso is that it would be a grave error of oversimplification to generalize this recommendation of communal perspective and concern to all aspects of personal life. Such an unqualified call for other-directedness would, in effect, lead toward the abolishment of individualism, and that would be an intolerable loss. By pointing out some advantages of assuming a communal point of view and acting therefrom in matters of common interest, one is by no means required to deny the considerable advantages to each citizen of rights of privacy and of the right to hold non-conforming personal tastes and beliefs. Diversity in life communities provides stability. While this may or may not be true in the case of human communities, diverse societies surely tend to be more interesting places in which to live. In fact. these arguments from moral psychology can readily be employed to defend the maxims of personal liberty and the rights of the minorities. It is arguable that this is precisely what happened when the Bill of Rights was debated and ratified. Surely the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are intended to allow the fullest realization of self-transcendent concern.
The tragedy of the commons and the platoon example offer informal, systems theory justification of "the moral point of view." These thought experiments (and there are many more) indicate that the perspective of "the moral spectator" of the good of the entire community is the appropriate point of view from which to perceive and manage our personal moral conduct and to regulate our communal lives, either through the laws or through the restraints of moral conscience. The "moral point of view" informs and guides our ethical dealings with members of our social community, to the degree that our neighbors likewise acknowledge and act according to this point of view, and with due recognition of personal rights of privacy and to autonomy and individuality.
But we speak here of a moral point of view toward a human social community. Can we argue, from analogy, that the advantages of acting from "the moral point of view" in human communities lends warrant to adapting an "ecological point of view" to direct our dealings with natural life communities? Human communities and life communities are different not only in degree but also in kind. To cite just one essential difference, human communities are comprised of persons; i.e., of individuals with the capacity for rational, deliberative choice, and the ability to comprehend and to be guided by moral principles. In communities of persons, reciprocal relationships of rights and duties can be defined, and moral responsibility can be meaningfully ascribed. But moral duties and responsibilities can not meaningfully be literally ascribed to non-personal natural beings. Thus attempts to extend moral rules by analogy from human communities to ecosystems can be highly questionable philosophically. Still, there may be advantages to assuming an ecosystemic point of view, to regarding ourselves not as masters of, but as citizens in, the life community. By assuming this point of view we may better clarify and perhaps even direct our moral responsibilities and conduct toward nature.
MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
We will return to that question later in this Introduction.
Moral psychology also includes the investigation and analysis of moral cognitive adequacy; that is, of the ability of the mind to comprehend, assess, and solve moral problems.(18) It is a question that can be applied either to the study of personal instruction ("moral education") or of historical moral development. Consider first an analogy drawn from the history of science; that is, of the growth of the "cognitive adequacy" of scientific thought.
Earlier (in the Commentary on "Anthopocentrim") I described how, at certain pivotal moments in the history of science, radical reconstructions of theory and redefinitions of concepts have accomplished "cognitive breakthroughs" -- solutions to previously insoluble puzzles and contradictions, extensions of the range of prediction and explanation, and a simplification of the logical and conceptual structure of the science. Such revolutions in scientific thought were accomplished by Copernicus in astronomy, Galileo, Newton and Einstein in physics, Darwin in biology, and Freud in psychology. In a similar manner, the holistic, systems-oriented perspective of the ecologist displays significant cognitive advantages over a particularistic, reductive approach to the life sciences.
Does moral understanding undergo similar transformations of structure and extensions of scope in the course of its development? The history of ethical thought would seem to indicate that it does. But even more startling are recent investigations by the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg that indicate that a series of transformations occur in each person in the course of the growth and development of his moral perception and cognition. Kohlberg describes moral growth as a progression, through a series of six distinct "stages," toward greater "cognitive adequacy." As in the case of the theoretical scientist, the child, in the course of his moral development, finds himself faced with a series of unresolved puzzles and contradictions ("cognitive dissonance"). He then gropes for a new theoretical structure that will realign and thus resolve these puzzles and contradictions by assimilating them into a more coherent system of thought with a larger scope of application.
A reflection, first, upon the history of scientific revolutions, second, upon the apparent scientific advantages of the holistic, systemic perspective of the ecologist, and finally, Kohlberg's studies of the psychology of moral development yields the suggestion that the ecosystemic perspective might offer a better mode of viewing our moral responsibilities toward nature -- "better," that is, than the traditional and prevalent anthropocentric view. If this is so -- if, in fact, an ecologically oriented morality constitutes an advancement in moral thinking over the man-centered view -- then previously insoluble puzzles and contradictions might "fall into place" in the new structure, thus "harmonizing" previous "cognitive dissonance." Let's see if this may be the case.
Anthropocentrism proclaims our capacity, even our "right," to manage the natural estate exclusively for human advantage and use. The ecological moralist denies both the capacity and the right to do this. Joseph Wood Krutch observes:
Support for the ecological moralist's view is found in the accumulating, dreadful account of the cost of our careless exploitation of nature: uncontrolled population growth, resource depletion, species extinction, and a widespread poisoning of the biosphere through casual dumping of the refuse of our industrial civilization. Awareness of all this should create a "dissonance" in the world-view of the human chauvinist. For, if man is so wise, powerful and capable of managing his private planet, all this should not be happening to him.
Anthropocentrism also creates a "moral dissonance" which might well be resolved through the ecosystemic view. While massive exploitation of nature might seem to serve the interests of people we care about, such as our contemporary neighbors and our children, even such "altruistic" solicitude for the welfare of immediate and contemporary others may be felt to be inconsistent with a "natural" and intuitive regard and admiration for natural landscapes and species that one seems to have despite one's anthropocentrism. (Promptings, perhaps, of "biophilic impulses"?) Thus one might somehow feel a measure of discomfort about the casual destruction in a few years time of species and habitats that have evolved and endured over millions of years. But in what moral terms does the human chauvinist articulate, much more defend, a case for restraining such biotic destruction and exploitation? Moral concepts such as rights, duties, justice, responsibility, emerge from the evaluation of persons and their communities. But they seem strained and inappropriate when applied to nature. There even appears to be some difficulty in extending the concept of "rights" to apply to future generations which, after all, do not exist now when we are making decisions that will significantly affect the quality of their lives in the future. In short, in the realm of ethics, the anthropocentric view just does not seem to do the cognitive work that we want it to do. It leaves us with just too many puzzles and paradoxes. Somehow it seems inadequate to say that we should protect endangered species simply for the sake of the enjoyment we gain by having them around, even less to argue for their protection in terms of the economic value they realize in promoting tourism. Somehow these points in "defense" of these species seem rather crass and morally irrelevant. Something essential seems to be missing from this "defense."
The scientific "ecosystemic view" informs even the anthropocentric approach to environmental ethics. For when we talk of DDT in mother's milk and Strontium 90 from the Faralon Island dump site appearing in our tuna fish, we are employing the concept of the "community of nature" (specifically, the concept of the "trophic pyramid") in a manner that even a human chauvinist can appreciate. But an ecological moralist goes beyond this. He holds that the ecological point of view, as a methodology and perspective, need not and should not simply display and serve our purposes. Furthermore, he holds that it is arbitrary to utilize the ecologist's view of "the community of nature" just to secure mankind's short-term, immediate advantages. Instead, the ecological moralist attempts to draw out moral implications from the ecological perspective, and thus he argues that humanity is not only a part of a "web of life," but further indicates that there is a deep and basic inconsistency in identifying oneself a community member in fact, and yet as a master and ultimate justification for that community in the moral sense.
Is there a basic inconsistency between an acknowledgment of factual membership in a community and a claim of moral mastery thereof that can not be psychologically sustained? Does the casual application of policies that lead to the eradication of species of millions of years of development "feed back" to affect our attitudes and behavior toward members of our own species and toward our own habitat? The ecological moralist might insist that, like a species within an ecosystem, social morality and ecological morality are interdependent. Thus, the self-seeking frame of mind that leads to and manifests a willingness to shred and destroy ecosystems of countless ages of standing, and which even urges an active participation in such destruction, is not a frame of mind that is well designed to promote moral qualities that one might prefer to find in one's neighbors -- such qualities as mutual respect, restraint, humility, and loyalty to one's community.
Let us return to the question of moral motivation -- specifically, the question of whether we are, by and large, capable of caring enough to preserve wild nature and to make just provision for future generations. In the essay, "Why Care About the Future?" I offer some hope that we may have such a capacity (albeit recent events suggest that these "capacities" have been overridden by more self-serving motives). My argument is based primarily upon a defense of two moral-psychological principles: First of all, the need for self-transcendent concern, and second, what has been called "the moral paradox" -- an observation, reiterated throughout the history of religious and philosophical ethics, that one's self interest is best served by not seeking one's self interest. Through these psychological considerations we may find that, viewed in the full systemic context, an operative, ecologically-oriented moral policy toward nature -- a policy that regards the "interests of nature" in addition to, and perhaps even prior to, immediate human concerns -- is a policy that is ultimately most fulfilling of human aspiration and most deserving of human loyalty.
Let us approach the consideration of moral psychology by confronting the ecological moralist with a stark challenge which, the anthropocentrist might claim, reveals the essential paradox of the ecological moralist's position. The anthropocentrist asks: "Do we need to need species that we do not need?" Assume a constant sense of that word "need" and the answer is clearly "No." It is a simple logical truth that we do not need what we do not need. End of question. But assign different senses to the word "need," (as I believe we appropriately can), and we might get this paraphrase: "Is human life enriched by caring for things that are of no apparent use to human beings?" Perhaps the answer is "yes" -- that a life bereft of "useless things" is not an enviable life. How shall one argue this? Possibly by looking deeply into the logic and psychology of motivation and "need," and discovering therein that fundamental to the human condition is a need to care for things outside of oneself. In my contribution to this section, I call this "the need for self transcending concern," which I thus characterize:
A defense for this bold claim will be found in that paper.
If, as I urge, self-transcendence is vital to the human condition, then surely its absence should be seen to exact a high price in the life quality of those who are devoid of self-transcendent interests and concerns. And here, I think, we find clear clinical evidence to support the claim that self-transcendent concern is essential to psychological health and well-being. As noted above, in psychiatric and sociological literature a lack of active personal interest and involvement in, and valuing of, external concerns and causes is called "alienation" -- a common and apparently increasing phenomenon in contemporary life. When value is turned inward and focused directly and exclusively upon oneself and upon one's image of oneself, this is called "narcissism," a psychological condition that is not only widespread in our culture, it is even recommended and celebrated by such "pop philosophers" as Ayn Rand, Robert Ringer, Richard Dyer and Werner Ehrhardt. Narcissism has political expression in libertarianism and is reflected in that label often used to characterize the the mood of our times: "the me generation." The clinical literature indicates that neither alienation or narcissism describe enviable modes of life.
Then what is the answer? How is one to find satisfaction in one's life? Paradoxically, one is to find it by renouncing the direct and deliberate search for personal satisfaction. Satisfaction and fulfillment are attained by valuing things other than oneself, not for the gratification that these others bring us, but for themselves. Happiness is found by reaching out, in admiration, reverence and love, rather than through self-serving calculation. This is the paradox of morality. The paradox is expressed in religious literature from around the world. It is also set forth by moral philosophers from Aristotle, through Hobbes and Butler, on to Kurt Baier, Kai Nielsen, John Rawls, and many others in our own time.
If the paradox of morality correctly describes moral psychology, then it follows that deliberate attempts to directly maximize enjoyments, say through legislation, education and policy making, may be not just unavailing; even worse, they may be self-defeating. Such a policy paradox might appear in attempts to manage natural landscapes and seascapes, or "useless" natural objects and species. Thus, for example, if faced with the question of managing natural species and ecosystems we ask, "Well, just what good are they to us anyway?" -- "good" in the economic sense, or even "good" in the aesthetic sense of the delight that they offer to us, we may be systematically excluding from consideration their greatest value. For it may be the case that, paradoxically, natural areas and species are valuable "to us" precisely to the degree that they are valued and admired not for our sake and gratification but for themselves: for what they are -- independent of us, complex, diverse, self-regulating, and with a long history of evolution and duration. To the degree that we "lose" our self-awareness in the contemplation of the wild, and thus cast aside the impudent question, "But what good is all this to us?" -- to that degree we might gain the fullest advantages of visiting wild places or even simply knowing that they exist, free, undisturbed and wild.
Many have charged that to love nature more, one must love mankind less (and, to be sure, there are abundant examples of misanthropic nature-lovers). But is the capacity for love some kind of depletable psychic resource? Or is it, like musical talent or athletic skill, a capacity that is enhanced and strengthened through application? Perhaps a callous indifference to the value of the diverse and complex order of life forms in natural ecosystems, and to their long histories of evolution and maintenance, does not leave one with a greater capacity for love, altruistic solicitude and moral responsibility toward humanity. Even worse, perhaps such insensitivity to natural values is contagious and can be spread to contaminate one's moral stance toward fellow human beings. Thus we might well wonder if, rather than leaving a larger store of love available for humanity, an indifference to natural history, order and sustenance adversely affects our human relationships. Such self-regarding callousness, reflected in disregard and destruction of nature for economic gain, might set a pattern of behavior that can contaminate the value and integrity of communal life. If so, then when Thoreau wrote "in wildness is the preservation of the Earth," he spoke a half truth. Perhaps, in addition, "in wildness is the preservation of humanity and human virtue."
RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
The phrase "Responsibility for Nature," employed by John Passmore in his excellent 1974 book,(21) may touch close to the nerve of environmental ethics. The phrase indicates reflective, normative rules of action and forbearance toward entities and regions which exist and persist "on their own," independent of human "management," and instead maintained by natural processes. But the word "responsibility" also implies that these entities and regions are vulnerable to human action and policy. Thus we may be said to have a "responsibility" toward the Amazon Rain Forest or to the Siberian Tiger, but in no meaningful sense, a "responsibility" toward the sun, the Andromeda Galaxy, or the Laws of Thermodynamics.
"Responsibility," as we have earlier (and repeatedly) indicated, implies (a) knowledge, (b) capacity, (c) choice, and (d) value significance. Thus, as our sciences have increased our knowledge, and our technology has increased our capacities to affect the condition of the natural environment and its creatures, and thus the quality of our lives and of the lives of our contemporaries and posterity, so too has our burden of moral responsibility increased.
Is "environmental responsibility" primarily an individual or a collective burden? Despite important differences, the three papers in this section agree that for and individual to accurately assess his responsibility to others, and to his environment, he must be aware of the social and environmental context of his acts. In the pursuit of common goods (such as "domestic tranquility," or a sustainable yield of natural resources), the moral agent must anticipate whether the other members will act "in common cause" -- whether, that is, the behavior of each is guided by the requirements of all in the community. As Garret Hardin succinctly puts it: "The morality of an act is a function of the state of the system" -- the state of the social system and, in the case of environmental ethics, the state of the ecosystem. Action by the moral agent which is guided by a perspective upon the needs and functions of the community (yet constrained by recognition of the rights of each individual), is called action "from the moral point of view." The fortunate community that adopts and acts upon rules drawn from that perspective, may be described as a "morally well-ordered community."
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WILDERNESS
Why not go out and discover for yourself?
Let me suggest an experiment that might lead you to experience the intrinsic worthy of nature. Once you have read this suggestion, put this book aside and return to it after you have completed the experiment
To begin, don't read
anything. Don't discuss anything. At least not for
this project -- yet. (We'll get to the book work later).
Otherwise, you will contaminate the experiment. What experiment?
Well, here it is:
I. The Minimum
(a) find some piece of unspoiled nature, with no sight or sound of human impact in evidence. (Forests, deserts, mountains, beaches -- whatever). The further from a paved road, the better.(22)
(b) Do not bring distractions: i.e., no loaves, no jugs, no books of verse, and (alas!) no "thous." Just yourself -- at most, a pencil and paper, though even that is quite dispensable. Of course, you should take appropriate clothing and water, and let someone know where you are going. Also, if there is any question of personal safety, go in pairs (at least) then split at your destination. (This applies especially to female students).
(c) Spend at least a whole afternoon, until dusk (leaving adequate time for safe light to get out). Or else, arrive at down and stay until noon. What to do? Nothing! Just soak in wilderness. Experience it! Contemplate it!
II. Maxi- Experience: (a) and (b), as above. But (c) take a backpack and spend the night. Take along some gorp and a packet of freeze-dry food, but little more. Soak in the wilderness, (etc.) . . . .
That's the easy part.
Next, write out (in no more than three pages) an account of your feelings. What the experience was like. Not what you did, not what it meant (no philosophy, please -- not yet), but how it felt. Ask yourself, and then report, the effect of solitude and wilderness upon your consciousness. You may write this either after the "retreat," in retrospect, or during it. (I would recommend after, but will not insist).
If, after you report your immediate, uninterpreted feelings and impressions, you wish to assess and interpret them, that's fine. Go right ahead. But before you give us the assessment, reflect upon the pure data of experience.
But whatever you do, don't "cram" for this exercise by reading beforehand. You want the responses and impressions to be your own.
(Continue -- After Completion of the Experiment)
Back again? Splendid!
Now you can share, with others, your solitary encounter with nature -- what I have coined the "naturo-aesthetic experience." Some or your written accounts of your feelings and reflections will be read in class. You will also have an opportunity to read, interpret and reflect upon some acutely sensitive and eloquent observations of the naturo-aesthetic experience by outstanding writers of both the past and the present. And finally, because I feel that no student should be asked to undertake a project that the teacher isn't willing to try himself, I will close this section with my own responses to the "experiment" that I proposed to you.
Why should the "naturo-aesthetic experience" be of interest to the student of environmental ethics? The answer to this question should be readily apparent -- especially to those familiar with the experience.
If, as we suggested in the previous section on "biophilia," we have a genetically coded need for nature, then an encounter with nature should evoke feelings of unity, of harmony, and of affirmation with nature. That it does so is abundantly clear in the received historical record of religion, art, and literature.(23)
After all, was it not in the wilderness that Moses, Gautama Buddha, Jesus and other great figures in the world religions found their enlightenment and their mission? Manifestations of the message of nature evoked in art and literature are plentiful. One need only think of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, or Debussy's La Mer, the poetry of Wordsworth or Gary Snyder, the landscapes of Turner and Cezanne, the essays of Emerson, Thoreau or Muir, and of Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch and Edward Abbey in our own time.
Candor requires acknowledgment of a contrary trend. As the biologist Rene Dubos reports in these readings, the early colonists in North America regarded the wilderness as dreadful, alien, satanic. In so doing, they "imported" an attitude was widespread among their predecessors in Europe.(24)
Even today, those who live in remote and less civilized regions such as Tanzania or southern Utah are bewildered by the trouble and expense that Europeans and southern Californians will tolerate just to be in the presence of their "useless" wilderness. Such outlanders are inclined to preserve wilderness only if obliged to do so by an oppressive foreign power, such as the U. S. Department of the Interior, or if convinced that there is economic benefit to be gained by attracting the wilderness-craving tourists.(25)
Having granted that there are contrary responses to wilderness, let us focus again on the affirmative response to nature. It is, as I have noted, a sentiment recorded and expressed by geniuses throughout the ages. But this affirmation of nature, this evocation of feelings of wonder, harmony, unity, reverence, is available to most of us. Indeed, most of my students' experience this affirmation to some degree at least in the "experiment" that I proposed to you earlier. Consider, as a sample, these reflections of a student and friend of mine, an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who wrote:
When we destroy wild species and wilderness areas, we diminish the possibility of such experiences as this. The loss of such opportunities, I submit, is grievous and irredeemable.
"Beauty," they say, "is in the eye of the beholder." Is value, similarly, "in the mind of the evaluator?" This is one of the central questions of axiology -- the philosophical study of values. The question has been in the background of much of the reading in the earlier part of the book, and in the discussion that has been prompted thereby. Specifically, in environmental ethics, this axiological puzzle becomes: Are values discovered in nature, or are they projected upon nature? Or are they, perhaps, constructed from nature? Beyond that, just what sorts of values may be found in (imposed upon, constructed from) nature?
For the larger part of this book, we have been primarily concerned with one of the two general areas of environmental ethics; namely, the area of deontic judgment. This aspect of the discipline is concerned with the explication and validation of duties, obligations, rights, and responsibilities and the moral evaluation of acts, motives and policies, as these ethical categories apply to our dealings with the natural world. Yet in the background (and occasionally in the foreground) of our examination of questions of responsible conduct, motive and policy toward nature, have been the persistent questions of the second general area of environmental ethics -- the area dealing with the problem of values "in" nature, and of the fundamental status of these values. After all, it is for the sake of those values in nature, or in the context of such values, that we define our responsibility toward this planet. That nature "has value" has been generally assumed in the foregoing. Indeed, any environmental ethic must be based upon that assumption. Here, at last, we deal directly with the question of the kinds and status of values "in" and "of" nature; those values that underlie environmental ethics.
In several chapters of his book, Philosophy Gone Wild, (Prometheus, 1986), Holmes Rolston argues that values in nature are objective, and then delineates several kinds of values in nature that can enrich human experience and culture. My paper, "Values in Nature: Is Anyone There?"(27) grapples with a perplexing problem for the eco-moralist: On the one hand, the eco-moralist is determined to avoid anthropocentrism -- the view that nature and its values exist for the benefit of human beings; and yet, on the other hand, one is hard-pressed to deny that the existence of values presupposes evaluators. Perhaps the dilemma might be resolved if the eco-moralist takes seriously his own advice to adopt an "ecological" (i.e., systemic) point of view -- not only of nature, but also of the evaluation of nature. Such, at least, is the suggestion of this paper.
The Rolston/Partridge debate has been expanded in the new edition of Louis Poijman's Environmental Ethics (Wadsworth, 1998).
ECONOMICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The alert reader will notice, however, that the above account (aside from being an exaggeration), is descriptive, and not normative. Even if it were the case (as it is not) that all environmental policies were formulated and decided by economists, that fact would in no way justify the practice. Such policies might nonetheless be shown, on sound normative grounds to be "bad" policies. However, (and fortunately), the cynic has overstated his case. Philosophers are, in fact, being asked to contribute to environmental policy decisions, albeit, perhaps, in disproportionately small numbers.
But why should there be any disputes, even normative disputes, between environmental economists and environmental ethicists? Did we not say, in our Introduction to this anthology, that "like economic systems, moral codes evolve out of competition and cooperation: the competition for scarce goods, services, satisfactions and the security of personal interests, and cooperation to gain and enhance mutual welfare and security"? ("Environmental Ethics: An Introduction"). Fair enough. But I spoke there of similarities, not identity. And the differences may be significant, beginning with the economists' and the philosophers' diverging interpretations of such key terms as "goods," "satisfaction," "welfare," and "security." Furthermore, philosophers often take critical note of what the economists exclude -- notably, questions of desert ("deserving") and of the distribution of the aforementioned "goods" and "services," etc.
The issue is of sufficient importance to be continued in the following section on "Cost Benefit Analysis."
COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS: POLICY-MAKING BY THE NUMBERS(28)
The Homestake II Project -- A Case History: The Holy Cross Wilderness, at the headwaters of the Eagle River in central Colorado, is a place of spectacular beauty, featuring abundant wildlife, rugged mountains, waterfalls, alpine meadows and wetlands, and a pristine natural environment. Rights to the water in the area are held by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. After completion in 1992, the Homestake II Project would draw over twenty-thousand acre feet of water from the area each year. The cities claim that the environmental impact of this project would be minimal. The Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund replies that the project would seriously damage the fragile alpine aquatic ecosystems. Thus the issue is joined.
Some Value Issues. Behind the factual disagreements are differing emphases in values. Both sides value unspoiled wilderness. Both sides acknowledge that the basic needs of growing populations should be met. The difference is in emphasis. The cities feel that urgent human needs necessitate immediate action, even though such action must entail some impact upon the wilderness. The preservationists feel that the unique values of the Wilderness mandate caution, restraint and careful review and, ultimately, alternative means of extracting the water. Some may even regard the presence of wilderness as an "urgent human need." The cities feel that decisive action must be taken now to accommodate a rapidly growing population. The preservationists fear that the failure to curb population growth will, through postponement, transform a present difficulty into a future disaster. The project proponents feel they speak for the citizens of their municipalities, and of the region. The opponents perceive their constituents to include, not only some citizens of the cities and region, but also future generations, other species, and perhaps, in a sense, the Holy Cross Wilderness itself.
The Essential Facts and Values: A Summary. The following general facts, relevant to Homestake II Project would presumably be granted by both sides:
The Project proponents would stress the following value assumptions:
The opponents of the project might appeal to the following values:
Dr. Warren M. Hern, Past President of the Holy Cross Wilderness Defense Fund, offers the following reflection on the value issues:
The Homestake II project presents a hard case for the preservationist. Any way you count it, it seems that there are far more people in Colorado Springs and Aurora desiring to wash their cards and water their lawns, than there are likely to be backpackers in the Holy Cross Wilderness area. Still worse, if there were as many Holy Cross backpackers as Colorado Springs car washers, the wilderness defender would find that the area would have lost the very qualities that he finds most attractive: solitude and undisturbed wildness. And if the environmentalist attempts to enfranchise more hypothetical votes on his side by projecting into the future, he must face the rejoinder that as long as there are backpackers, there will likely be front-range residents wanting, even more, needing that water. After all, as the population increases in the front range, the water will be needed, not merely for such luxuries as clean cars and green lawns, but for the necessities of life.
No, the numbers apparently don't work for the environmentalist -- not unless he awards himself and his tastes a great many bonus points. Suppose he does; then how many proletarian car-washers equal just one high-minded, pure-spirited environmentalist? But we needn't follow this sort of argument very far to discover that, in a democracy, it just won't wash. Is the environmentalist prepared to sacrifice democracy too in defense of his "ecological ethic"? Here we come face to face with the familiar "elitism" charge.
Making environmental decisions "by the numbers" -- that is, by quantifying in monetary terms, then comparing, gains and losses -- characterizes what is known as "cost benefit analysis" ("CBA"). At first glance it seems to be an irresistible method of making environmental policy decisions. After all, how else might we do it? And yet, for all its immediate appeal, some particular aspects of the economic "cost-benefit analysis approach," even the general approach itself, have recently drawn considerable criticism. If, as I suspect, the defenders of the Holy Cross Wilderness will lose the "game" of "standard cost-benefit analysis," then they might do well to reject that mode of decision-making and propose another. Accordingly, the Homestake II Project might well be regarded as the sort of "hard case", which may encourage the environmentalists to refute CBA and then seek and endorse an alternative means of environmental policy decision-making.
Economic cost-benefit analysis, a well-established procedure of environmental policy decision-making, developed out of public works projects in the New Deal, and later in "operations research" during World War II. Historically, this procedure has provided the rationale to justify a myriad of public works projects which have transformed the face of the American West. The use of CBA in public policy appeared to have peaked three decades ago in the "Tocks Island Case," involving a dam project on the Delaware River. (Though the Army Corps of Engineers CBA study yielded a highly positive assessment, the governors of the affected states ordered a deauthorization). However, reports of the demise of CBA have apparently been highly exaggerated. On February 19, 1981, President Reagan published an Executive Order requiring all agencies and departments of his administration to justify their regulations with positive cost-benefit analyses. The CBA approach is likewise prominent in the assessment of the Homestake II Project and its alternatives. CBA remains an important factor in environmental policy-making, and thus deserves our careful examination and scrutiny.
Policy decisions are necessarily (a) Normative, since they involve decisions among graded options that effect the conditions of life of persons, and (b) partially informed, since they are made by fallible and finite persons, and not by the Almighty (or His surrogates). Policy decisions are also generally (c) forced, since "not to decide is to decide." (Many of the methods and presuppositions of policy-making that are discussed and criticized herein follow from the valid complaints "but we've got to do something" and "well, what better way do you propose?" Value-comensuration and future-discounting are prominent among these "forced" practices).
The uses and abuses of "value-free inquiry." Many scholars, scientists, and policy analysts have rigorously attempted to exclude values from their assumptions and their methods. Admittedly, it is difficult to quarrel with the rule of scientific and scholarly research which insists that the researcher confine his reports to what he observes and to exclude from his observations those biases that might arise from what he would like to observe. The business of science, in brief, is to discover and report facts as they are, not as they should be or as we wish they were. Because the task of science is to collect data, to abstract laws, to project hypotheses and to construct theories, human will and choice does not and should not "mix" with the objective reporting, classification and organization of data. Facts are facts, whatever the moral biases of the observer. Communist missiles and capitalist missiles are subject to the same physical laws and their trajectories are plotted with the same mathematical formulae.(29)
And yet, all too often we find that the discipline of "value neutral inquiry" is carelessly and inappropriately extended beyond empirical science and objective scholarship to applied science, environmental planning, policy-making and legislation. When extended to these fields, "value-neutral inquiry" is unwarranted and can have pernicious results.
And so, many government policy-makers, eager for quick and easy solutions to complicated value-laden environmental issues, have enthusiastically adopted a scheme of economic "cost-benefit analysis" which claims to be "scientifically based" and thus "value-free." Apparently it is neither. On the contrary, moral philosophers who have studied the sort of "cost-benefit analysis" that is enshrined in countless environmental impact statements and items of federal regulation and legislation have generally concluded that such procedures are built upon a structure of presuppositions that are unexamined and, in many cases, highly questionable. The following seem to be the most troublesome of these assumptions:(30)
Fortunately (perhaps), when these assumptions and methods are rigorously applied, the resulting policies run sufficiently afoul of "common sense" and intuitive morality that they are blocked, on "unscientific grounds" by legislators and the courts.
When I have presented this list of complaints regarding the questionable methods and presuppositions of policy consultants and policy makers, some economists, and even more political scientists, complain that "this list is a straw man -- terribly over-simplified and unqualified. We don't think or talk like this." They are right, of course. But that's not quite to the point. For while I grant all this, I then ask, "but how much is your policy-theory put into the practice of policy-making? How much of this subtlety, complexity, qualification survives in the summaries that appear before the legislators and the bureaucrats, or the testimony offered in their committees?" (A common response to this challenge is a pained look and a shrug). It is, I think, also fair to ask, "while you, and others, find intuitive fault with this list of (I contend) operative methods and assumptions, how well does your discipline explicitly and systematically deal with the intuitive objections to the above 'straw men?'" All too often, when such intuitive qualms are raised, the expert will write a blank check: "but that's outside the scope of our discipline," following which the objection is set aside and forgotten.
I do maintain, therefore, that my list does indicate some of the operative assumptions made by those who actually make policy decisions, and that these "unfair simplifications" reflect the stronger, "core," assumptions of some of the more influential policy theorists.
The uncritical adoption of "value-free
analysis" to planning and policy-making, says the philosophical
critic, is unwarranted since planning and policy are essentially
about choices. While the scientist asks "What is the case?"
What are the facts?" the policy-maker necessarily asks "What
should be the case?" "Which of the available options should
we choose?" Because the task of the policy-maker is to choose among
feasible alternatives, he must ask "Which is the optimum -
the 'best' -- choice among the available options?" Listing and
explicating the "available options" is an appropriate task of the
"value-free" scientist. The problem arises with the four-letter word
"best" But what does the policy-maker mean by
"best"? "Best" on what grounds? What reasons does he offer us to
accept his evaluation or, for that matter, for accepting his method
of justifying his claim that such-and-such a policy is "the best" of
the alternatives?" These are not scientific questions; they are
unavoidably questions of moral philosophy (and of metaethics in
particular). Thus the moral philosopher would likely conclude that an
uncritical insistence by policy-analysts that their methodology,
"like scientific method, is value-neutral" will result, not in
"value-free" choices, but in choices that follow from unexamined and
unchallenged values. In short, if we think that scientific insight
alone will give us adequate guidance in our environmental
policy decisions, we will be making -- even worse,
continuing -- a dreadful error.
Consumer Preferences and Community Principles: We come, at last, to what may be the most crucial yet controversial tenet of cost-benefit analysis; namely, the disposition of the CBA policy-maker to identify the locus of values with the economist's concept of "satisfaction of preferences." This disposition displays an insensitivity to motives to act on principle and contrary to the motive to satisfy one's personal tastes and desires. It also dismisses "the moral point of view" (a disposition to act "for the good of all") in favor of the egocentric view of the "preference maximizing" consumer. (See "Environmental Justice and Shared Fate," and "With Liberty and Justice for Some," this website). Mark Sagoff's experience while teaching a class in environmental ethics illustrates this point. In one of his undergraduate courses he discussed the celebrated Supreme Court case, Sierra Club vs. Morton which concerned an attempt by the Disney Corporation to build a ski resort at Mineral King Valley near (and since, absorbed into) Sequoia National Park. Sagoff reports:
Thus we can imagine a hypothetical future skier, thoroughly enjoying himself at the Mikki Maus Alpenhaus, yet regretting that it was ever built. Is this irrational? Or is there, perhaps, alongside our "enjoyments" a place for an adherence and loyalty to the principle that magnificent natural areas have a presumptive claim to be left undisturbed? If so, then essential to this sentiment may be a regard for the Wilderness, apart from any consideration of the "payoff" in human satisfaction for "having" the wilderness, or even in the self respect for being "high-minded" about it all. From a moral point of view, such calculation of the "utility payoff" to oneself of principled sentiments, motives, policies and acts, cheapens the perceived values thereof, since much of the moral quality of caring for another person, place or principle resides in the focusing of attention upon the other, or in the devotion to principle itself. This widely-perceived (and arguably essential) quality of moral commitment leads, once again, to the moral paradox: that the greatest value to human beings is accrued by acts motivated to enhance the good of others -- other persons, places, causes, principles, etc. Sagoff's students exemplified this principle, whether or not they recognize it as such. It was apparently much more important to Sagoff's students (and thus, perhaps, more satisfying) to care about and preserve the wilderness of Mineral King Valley than it was, paradoxically, for them to enjoy it. Perhaps they sensed that a world of diminished intrinsic natural (i.e., non-utilitarian) value is a world less worth living in.
Very few of Sagoff's students would ever see the wild Mineral King Valley, and most would want to visit it as a ski resort. Yet they "hated" the Disney proposal. Why? Perhaps because they made a distinction between utility and principle. The economist making a cost-benefit analysis may be systematically disinclined to recognize this distinction -- much to the ultimate detriment of the cause of preserving wild places. To the economist, it may be sufficient for his analysis that more would prefer skiing at the resort to hiking in the wilderness. That many (most?) of the skiers themselves would have preferred it had the ski area not been built -- this makes no sense to the economist. His theory may thus be unable to account for "actions on principle" -- acts which follow a deliberate decision not to do something that would nonetheless maximize one's enjoyments.
So for the environmentalist, the numbers may
not work. But he should remain unmoved. The rules of the CBA game are
stacked against him from the beginning. To preserve or not to
preserve a wilderness area is a political decision which ought to be
decided by reason and appeal to principle, and not by the mechanical
application of a technical device which smuggles its conclusions into
its premises while masquerading as the value-free instrument of
"Science as "Value-Free Inquiry" -- A Postscript.(33)
I have described the content of science and (in a restricted sense) the methodology of science as "value neutral." It is, I think, a correct description. But lest I be misunderstood, I hasten to add that the moral character of the scientist is relevant to the quality of his work. Even more, I would suggest that the activity of science (that is to say, of science as a human institution) is highly involved with values. Consider an example:
When Gregor Mendel published his studies of the genetic properties of sweet peas, he apparently gave a scrupulously factual account. Moreover, his failures and unanswered questions were reported alongside his verified hypotheses. Had Mendel not been impeccably honest, humble and open with his work, his reports thereof would have been, scientifically speaking, far less valuable. In short, the moral quality of the researcher gave explicit value to his findings. Yet Mendel's scientific papers themselves have not a bit of moral evaluation within them: no prescriptions, no exhortations, no "shoulds" or "oughts" -- only the straightforward exposition of observations and hypotheses. The accounts were value-free; but the conditions required to produce these documents and to give them scientific importance were profoundly moral. In contrast, consider the case of Lysenko, who displayed neither honesty, candor, tolerance or modesty. Because of these very failings, his work was scientifically worthless. Once more: the primary findings of science, and the language that reports it, are value free, but the conditions that permit scientific work and the attitudes of the scientists toward their work, are deeply involved in morality.
In his little book, Science and Human Values,(34) Jacob Bronowski gives a masterful presentation of the moral preconditions of science. The fundamental moral premise, says Bronowski, is "the habit of truth": the collective decision by the body of science that "We ought to act in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so." This habit, this decision, gives a moral tone to the entire scientific enterprise. Bronowski continues:
And this is but the beginning. For if truth claims are to be freely tested by the community of scientists, then this community must encourage and protect independence and originality, and it must tolerate dissent.
THE DUTY TO POSTERITY
Though some may deny that we have duties to the future, for the most part that claim is sufficiently widespread to be practically beyond controversy. A more interesting question, perhaps, is that of the moral foundation and stringency of this duty to posterity. A strong claim of moral responsibility to future generations would necessarily follow upon the demonstration that our duties derive from the rights of future persons. In his paper, "The Environment, Rights and Future Generations,"(37)
Richard DeGeorge advises against recognizing rights-claims now of future generations, since to do so would place "impossible demands" upon us, the present generation. Instead, he argues that future persons should be said to have rights only to what they might claim when they come into existence. Even so, he recognizes that we have duties to preserve a viable environmental, and cultural values, for posterity. In "The Rights of Past and Future Generations,"(38)
Annette Baier eloquently argues for the rights of future persons and, by implication, for our duties to the future. She does not, however, believe that much moral force is gained by speaking of "rights" in addition to "duties." In "On the Rights of Future Generations,"(39)
I defend the strong position that future generations not only can (metaethically) "be said to have rights now," but moreover that they do (normatively) in fact have rights-claims upon us, the present generation. Those who deny that future persons have rights-claims now, variously commit the fallacy of hasty generalization; that is, by correctly demonstrating that certain species of rights (valid among contemporaries) can not be held by future persons against the present generation, these philosophers falsely conclude that no rights whatever can thus reach across remote generations.
AN ECO-MORALIST'S SUMMARY AND CREDO
The scope of the book is too broad and the viewpoints too divergent to allow an integrated summary of the large array of perspectives, concepts and approaches to the issues of environmental ethics that have been presented here. Instead, I invite you to review and reflect upon some prominent themes that have appeared throughout the book and to share some thoughts about their implications.
First, however, by way of summary, here
Some Elements of an Ecological Morality
From Moral Philosophy we learn:
From World History and Literature we learn:
From Moral Psychology and Systems Analysis we learn:
From Environmental Science we learn:
Thus from Moral Philosophy, Moral Psychology, Systems Theory and Environmental Science We Might Conclude:
A Concluding Editorial Reflection
Our species, homo sapiens, has, in but a moment of geological time, altered the natural landscape more than any other species has in a comparable time-span. Surely much, perhaps most, of this alteration has been morally permissible, and some has been morally praiseworthy. Let us not be careless and uncritical in our quest for an ecological conscience. None of us would, or should, wish to return to the caves, or even give up basic amenities of civilized life. Nor should we be ashamed of intelligent and responsible management and stewardship of nature, even though management and stewardship necessarily involve change. But "intelligence" and "responsibility" also imply restraint -- voluntary limitation of our capacities in the face of facts, foresight and moral principle. Yes, some of our alteration of the planet has been permissible and even praiseworthy. But some has not. By "taming nature" we have increased our knowledge and our power, which, in turn, has increased our capacity to alter nature. But the careless exercise of this capacity has cost us a great deal as well.
This book presents an invitation and a series of suggestions. We have encountered and examined herein some useful analytical tools, some essential concepts and tenets of environmental ethics, a menu of perspectives upon and approaches to the question of human responsibility to nature, and a sample of significant issues in environmental ethics. The task of articulating, defending and applying a personal environmental ethic remains, as it should, your own responsibility.
We are, I suggest, at a crossroads in history. The stakes are enormous; indeed, they are of ultimate importance, and yet the time available for appropriate and effective action may be very short. At stake is the legacy of billions of years. If we destroy that legacy, humanity will have robbed itself of the scope of vision, transcending loyalty and sense of time and place that has given human life much of its significance. If we sink into that dreadful condition, then it may no longer matter if homo sapiens itself is to be still another species driven to extinction by human carelessness and folly. If, however, the human condition is to remain valuable to human beings now alive and still to be born, it will be due, in large part, to our collective willingness to preserve the natural estate which gave birth to our species, which nurtured that species through its infancy, and enriches it even now -- our willingness, in a word, to love, cherish and protect our Mother Earth. Thoreau was thus correct when he proclaimed that "in wildness is the preservation of the world."
This book and this course have been designed not to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.(40)
What is needed is resolution, not comfort. The human prospect is not bright. But neither is it hopeless -- yet. And that offers us room enough for moral dedication and action.
No generation in history has before or will
again share the weight of biotic responsibility that this one does.
Recent political and social trends, both domestic and international,
suggest a struggle ahead. I recommend involvement in this struggle.
There is, perhaps, no better cause to justify one's effort and
devotion than the struggle to preserve the biotic legacy of our home
Copyright 1998 by Ernest