Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

HOME PAGE                             
    Philosophy and Religion
    Ethics, Moral Issues, the Law
    The Environment

On Politics
    The Crisis
    Foreign Relations, War, Peace
    The Media
    The Elections
    Civil Liberties and Dissent
    Republicans & the Right
    Democrats & the Left
    Lies, Propaganda & Corruption
    Culture War & Religious Right
    Coup d'Etat, 2000

Published Papers

Unpublished Papers

Reviews, Lectures, etc.    

Internet Publications


Lecture Topics

Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

A Dim View of Libertarianism

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

The Ecology Project

For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

Notes from the Brink
    (Peace Studies)

The Gadfly's Bio Sketch

The Gadfly's Publications

The Online Gadfly: Editorial Policy

The Gadfly's E-Mail: gadfly@igc.org

Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession





By Ernest Partridge
University of California, Riverside

Environmental Ethics, 6, Su. 1984(1)


Abstract: This paper attempts a moral justification for the protecting wild species, ecosystems, and landscapes, a justification not directly grounded in appeals to human benefit. It begins with a description of anthropocentric and ecosystemic approaches to the valuing of nature and offers some empirical arguments in support of the ecosystemic view. I then suggest that human beings have a genetic need for natural environments, and that the direct experience of wild nature is an intrinsic good. Theoretical coherence and scope is another advantage of the ecological perspective over the anthropocentric view. Turning to moral psychology, I argue that human beings have a fundamental need to care for things outside themselves and that this need is suitably met, and human life enriched, by a transcending concern for the well-being of natural species, habitats, and ecosystems These considerations are joined with the ecological point of view to yield the conclusion that a self-transcending concern for the welfare of wild species and their habitats enriches the quality of moral life. Persons with genuine reverence and respect for wild creatures and their habitats will enjoy greater fulfillment in their own lives and be better neighbors to each other.

Nature generates poetry, philosophy, and religion, not less than science, and at its deepest educational capacity we are awed and humbled by staring into the stormy surf or the midnight sky. . . . The significance of nature is one of the richest assignments of mind, and this requires detection, imagination, participation and decision. It forces us at length to ask about the significance of the observing mind itself, the most complex of nature's projects. Those thoughts struck in contemplation of nature are just thoughts about who and where we are, about the life and death which nature gives us, and our appropriate conduct in this environment. . . Nature is a philosophical resource, as well as a scientific, recreational, aesthetic, or economic one.

Holmes Rolston, III(2)


Global 2000, a report of President Carter's Council on Environmental Quality, estimates that in the next twenty years as many as 20 percent of the earth's biological species will become extinct, many of which, especially in the tropics, are yet undiscovered.(3) On the central coast of California a population of sea otters, once believed extinct, are threatened by proposed oil exploration and development. Nearby, extraordinary efforts, some of questionable efficacy, are being made to save the California condor. Condors seem to have little to recommend them; they are ugly and of no economic value. Sea otters, while attractive, are economic liabilities because of their voracious appetite for abalone, crabs, clams, and other shellfish. In twenty years, the California condor, the sea otter, the snail darter, the furbish lousewort, and millions of other species may vanish forever.

Well, so what?

Like blue whales, condors may be prized because they are "the biggest." But pterodactyls were larger than condors, and we don't miss them. Why should our grandchildren miss the condors? There will, after all, be another "largest" to take its place. We find sea otters to be engaging and attractive to watch. Very well, one might propose, if we find them all that interesting to have around, then perhaps we should take the trouble to protect them -- but for our sakes, not theirs. We are thus led to the crucial questions: is there any moral justification for protecting wild things except for their benefit to us? Do wild species and ecosystems in some sense deserve protection "in their own right?" To these questions, those who defend the anthropocentric approach answer "no." Defenders of "the land ethic" or "ecological morality" answer "yes." My response to these questions is lengthy and comprehensive. An environmental ethic, like an ecosystem, gains strength through the coherence and interdependence of its parts. System and context, and even antithesis and paradox, are as essential to environmental ethics as they are to all ethics.(4)

Two central themes of this essay are loyalty and self- transcending concern. Developing these themes involves an explanation of the psychology of motivation. Since the days of Kant, it has generally been acknowledged that moral responsibility implies capacity, since "ought implies can." Accordingly, if we are to suggest that it is desirable to extend our loyalties from self to species and on to the planetary life community, it follows that we must also examine our capacity to do so. I argue that such an extension of loyalty, the extension proposed by Aldo Leopold in his "land ethic," is both possible and desirable. Further, the capacity to achieve environmental responsibility and planetary loyalty is buttressed by a paradox: species, habitats, and ecosystems, which are in one sense "useless" and "uneconomic" may be of considerable value to us when, even because, they are valued for themselves.

If we become persuaded of the desirability of preserving wildness for its own sake, and of our capacity to do so, will we act accordingly? Alas, while "ought implies can," it also entails "and yet might not." Moral responsibility resides in a middle realm between the impossible and the inevitable. My task is to defend the claim that we do, in fact, have a responsibility toward "useless nature." The question of the specific and practical content of this responsibility, and a prediction of our likelihood of meeting that responsibility, is beyond the scope of this paper.

We are now prepared to glance at the task ahead: first, I describe, in turn, the anthropocentric and ecosystemic approaches to the evaluation of nature and offer some empirical arguments in support of the ecosystemic view. I then suggest that human beings have a genetic need for nature, and that the experience of nature is an intrinsic good. Following that, I propose that human beings are psychologically so constituted that, in order to be healthy and fulfilled, they need to care for things beyond their immediate concerns, neighborhoods, and lifetimes. From these and other considerations, it follows that a personal life exclusively directed toward self-satisfaction is self-defeating. (I call this "the moral paradox.") These considerations of moral psychology are joined with the ecological point of view to yield the conclusion that a self-transcending concern for the welfare of wild things enriches the quality of both personal and moral life.



Anthropocentrism is the view that human needs and interests are of supreme even exclusive value and importance. In our culture, this view is virtually pre-conscious -- an unexamined presupposition of most popular reflections and utilization policies regarding wild nature. Anthropocentrism has both religious and secular roots. In some famous verses in Genesis, the Lord says "[Let man] have dominion . . . over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." He enjoins man to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it . . ." (Gen. I: 26-28). Many historians have focused on these verses as typifying the Western approach to man's place in nature.(5) Nature is here created for human benefit, and the human role is to be the master of nature.

Though the secular rationale for anthropocentrism is somewhat different, it leads to the same conclusion. Life has evolved to achieve self-conscious, rational, deliberative and personal capacities in the species homo sapiens. While some species have sentient lives, most are neither sentient nor conscious. The fact that they are alive "matters" not a bit, say, to insects, trees, perhaps not even hummingbirds. Members of these species do not have the neural capacity to "care." Life matters most to the one species which can contemplate the past, present, and future, and which can act rationally and deliberately to affect its condition. That singular species is our own. Nature matters, has value, has significance, only if there is a species to whom it can have significance. It follows that values in nature are almost exclusively human values. The only possible qualification here is the value of avoiding cruelty to non-human sentient species -- the so-called "higher animals." Except for that proviso, homo sapiens has acquired the privilege, even the right, to do with nature what it pleases. We come, then, to the same conclusion as does theological anthropocentrism: nature exists for mankind's advantage and use. Homo mensura ("man is the measure"). This view, which Richard and Val Routley call "human chauvinism,"(6) is starkly expressed by Clare A. Gunn in the journal Landscape Architecture: "The only reason anything is done on this earth is for people. Did the rivers, winds, animals, rocks or dust ever consider my wishes or needs? Surely we do all our acts in an earthly environment, but I have never heard a tree, valley, mountain or flower thank me for preserving it."(7) The anthropocentric position is supported by the interest theory of rights proposed by Joel Feinberg: "Without awareness, expectation, belief, desire, aim and purposes, a being can have no interest; without interests, he can not be benefited."(8) It is difficult to accept Feinberg's "interest theory of rights" (as I do) and at the same time to reject anthropocentrism. It is difficult, but not impossible, and I attempt to do just that in this paper.

Does the anthropocentric position offer no safety or security for sub-human species and their habitats? Perhaps it does -- at least for the short term. As suggested earlier, we often enjoy the company of such creatures. So long as we feel that way about them -- so long as they entertain and delight us -- we may take some trouble to keep them around. We will, however, do so on account of what they do for us. But if that is the reason, then their safety is hostage to our tastes, and our tastes change, as do our attitudes and moral fashions. This is not a comforting thought for the eco-moralist, since extinction, like the death penalty, can not be rescinded.

What attitude toward nature renders the world safe for California condors, snail darters, and sea otters? Such an attitude seems to have some hold on us since we do, in fact, have laws protecting even ugly endangered species. Is there an attitude toward nature more substantial than the "aw gawsh" response which might prompt us to care enough to take some trouble and expense to protect a "useless" species. The uncompromising human chauvinist cannot offer us much warrant for protecting those species which cannot readily be shown to be useful, entertaining, or of some other direct human value. Before the more forceful pressures of profit and "practicality," the "aw gawsh" factor can be readily overridden, and the survival of such species placed in great peril.(9)


While there are several strategies available for rebutting the human chauvinists, many of them have little appeal to the modern frame of mind. One might, for instance, try to defend the primitive belief in animism or possibly pan-psychism, approaches not unheard of these days. (Consider the popularity of such books as The Secret Life of Plants.) Believing that nature is alive and sentient, the animist may presume that a cliff "objects" to being reduced to paving stones or that a tree "objects" to being cut into cordwood. I do not recommend this defense: since few of us believe that rocks and trees have nervous systems or comparable sensory receptors, we are unlikely to be convinced that they are capable of "caring" about their fate.

A more promising response to anthropocentrism is an attempt to dissolve the hard conceptual line that we customarily draw between human beings and "nature," thus challenging the assumption that we can physically, organically, or psychologically, detach the fate of humankind from the fate of nature.(10) We might even challenge the notion that such detachment is productive of scientific or moral insight. Perhaps there is a better way of viewing the natural order and the human place in it. But in what sense "better?" An example from the history of astronomy may clarify my point.

Before the days of Copernicus it was possible to plot the positions of the planets and to focus eclipses and other celestial events, even with the mistaken assumption that the earth was the center of the solar system. The geocentric view, however, required the positing of complicated theoretical entities ("epicycles") which "adjusted" the model to permit moderately accurate predictions. For this system to "fit" the observed data, the theoretical scaffolding had to become quite complicated, unwieldy, and overburdened with ad hoc assumptions. "Suppose instead," Copernicus asked, "we just assume that all the planets, earth included, are satellites of the sun. What then?" We find that we make better predictions with but a fraction of the theoretical baggage and the computational fussing.

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? Such a transformation of perspective is the ecological point of view.

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, focusing upon the eachness of things. To the human chauvinist, nature is a museum of discrete specimens to be viewed and perhaps admired separately and in sequence, like pearls on a string, but remaining securely in place, as the spectator leaves the museum door and returns to his familiar world of personal concerns and human interests. In his "use" of!nature, the chauvinist treats the earth as if it were a vending machine with discrete trinkets which might be had as whim requires. Extracting an item from the machine is believed to affect no other part of the machine. Each act of purchase is regarded as an isolated event.

The ecologist does not view things this way, but rather understands that a view of the whole illuminates his knowledge of the parts. Particular organisms are not specimens on museum Earth; they are conduits of energy flows and nutrient cycles. We cannot know what an organism is unless we know what it does. Knowledge of the organism does not end with the enclosing skin. On the contrary, the whole informs the part. Furthermore, by examining the whole life community we discover functions of the whole that reveal the basic themes and principles of ecological science -- namely, that diversity enhances stability, that life communities are complex cybernetic systems with negative feedback mechanisms tending to restore stability and equilibrium following externally caused disruptions. Both ecological and molecular biology reveal, in macro- and micro-perspective, advanced degrees of complexity and suggest, beyond the shores of our knowledge, an unfathomable sea of fact, hypothesis, data, theory, law, function, diversity, and structure that are and will forever be beyond our understanding or control. We are 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. We are dealing with life communities and organisms that have evolved over billions of years and through countless discrete "experiments" of selective evolution.(11)

It is practically and logically impossible to know all there is to know, even generally and abstractly, about life communities. Practically speaking, there is simply too much to be known. Biotic omniscience is logically impossible because we, the knowers, are integral parts of the known. Our knowledge of the life community and of our part in it alters that life community and our part therein. As components of the epistemological landscape, we can no more encompass ecological knowledge than we can catch our own shadow. Furthermore, since we cannot fully understand the ecosystem, we cannot completely manage and control it. As Aldo Leopold observes:

. . . the conqueror role is eventually self-defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror knows, ex cathedra, just what makes the community clock tick and just what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat themselves.(12)

Knowing this, the life scientist is both epistemologically humble and technologically conservative. He is reluctant to reach blindly into the life machine and discard random parts.(13)

My argument in support of an ecological perspective regarding the moral question of man's responsibility to nature includes the following considerations: first, I argue for the value, to human beings, of biotic diversity. Next, I examine the contention that human beings have a genetic need for natural environment, a theory for which I have coined the term "bio-humanism." Then I indicate that the direct experience of wild nature is an intrinsic good. Following that, I suggest that the ecological perspective has considerable advantages over the anthropocentric view in terms of theoretical coherence and scope of application. Then, turning to moral psychology, I argue that human beings have a fundamental need to care for things outside of themselves and that this need is suitably met, and human life enriched, by a transcending concern for the well-being of natural species, habitats and ecosystems.

The Case for Biotic Diversity. Ecologists tell us that the more complex and diverse an ecosystem, the more stable it is. This rule is strangely contrary to our experience with artificial systems such as machines, in that the more complex a machine, the more that can go wrong with it. Why the difference? Biotic stability is accomplished through redundancy and through complex feedback control systems. The more diverse the ecosystem, the larger the pool of resources available to fulfill disrupted functions (niches) of the system or to check a sudden growth of the population of a component species once a predator is removed or a new food source is introduced into the system. I leave it to the experts to validate the diversity/stability rule and to deal with the apparent exceptions. Suffice it to say that if we accept the general rule, it follows that if we value ecosystemic stability, we should value ecosystemic diversity as a means to that end.

There are further reasons to value the diversity and the consequent stability of a natural ecosystem. Being more stable, an established natural ecosystem is self-regulating. Having endured over millions of years with only slow increments of evolutionary change, such systems are not likely suddenly to go awry. Artificially simplified ecosystems, on the other hand, are more likely to require management, especially if these systems have significant energy and nutrient "throughput" directed to the realization of artificially imposed results (as in the case of intensive industrial agriculture).

Unquestionably, if we are to maintain a civilized mode of existence, large portions of the earth's surface must be domesticated and managed, which means, of course, that these regions must be biotically simplified. However, if we are to avoid the biotic unraveling of these artificial ecosystems, we have to invest time and money in constant study, attention, monitoring, forecasting -- in short, management -- for when we significantly interfere in nature, we have the responsibility of asking "and then what?"(14) A linear increase in particular interventions leads to an exponential increase in long-term consequences. Thus, we are constantly being surprised, too often unpleasantly, as we encounter the unintended and unexpected by-products of our management. Furthermore, if we neglect to assume the management of the artificial interventions that we have undertaken, or if we thoughtlessly leave to future generations an unfair burden of managerial responsibility, then eventually, through managerial neglect or simply incapacity to cope with accumulating difficulties, nature will become "unstuck" and the price may be very grave indeed.(15)

Not only that, the more we interfere in nature, the more human effort and attention is required to manage it, and that means time, effort, attention, and concern that might otherwise be devoted to aesthetic creation and enjoyment, to philosophical contemplation, to the expansion and enrichment of friendships, to the advancement of scientific and human knowledge -- just to mention part of the inventory of enjoyments and fulfillments that enrich human life. In contrast, natural systems, left alone, are quite capable of self-regulation.

A further reason for preserving wild nature lies in the value of options. Simplifying nature by "throwing out spare parts" depletes the biotic storehouse. Some miraculous biochemical substances may be produced by species we have not even discovered, and might never discover before we drive them, and countless other species, to extinction. And so, if our attempts to domesticate nature fail (due, for example, to the ravaging of a monoculture by an uncontrolled pest), we may desperately need to return to the storehouse of nature to find alternatives. When we do, we may find it to be empty. It is easy for industrial man to destroy wild habitats and species, but once gone, they can not be restored. Extinction is forever. The fewer the species, the less the diversity of the ecosystem, the fewer the options that are open to us.

In short, when we diminish the fund of biotic information encoded in the genes of exotic and rare species, we impoverish our own world. We diminish ourselves scientifically, technically and aesthetically, by diminishing the varieties of knowledge, capacity, enjoyments and fulfillments available to ourselves, our neighbors, and our posterity.

Perhaps there is yet another dimension of loss -- a moral dimension. In the remainder of this essay, I argue that nature nourishes our emotions, our temperament, our minds, and our souls as well. Accordingly, if this argument is cogent, the natural sources of moral concern and loyalty should be kept safe as a moral resource. In addition, I ask: what general public attitudes and habits are most likely to result in policies that will be more protective and less exploitative of wild ecosystems? Surely this would be an attitude of respect and reverence toward nature and a frame of mind which, to borrow Leopold's comparisons, regards nature as a community rather than a commodity, and man as citizen rather than a master of this life community. This precisely describes ecological morality or the "land ethic."



Why preserve wild nature? One intriguing answer to this question has been proposed by a number of biologists, geneticists, ecologists and ethologists who suggest that our need for nature has a genetic and evolutionary base. We need, they say, the environment in which we developed as a species. A prominent defender of this hypothesis is the botanist, Hugh Iltis, who writes:

Let us try to define a human environment, one in which mankind could find maximal fulfillment. May we not say that the best environment is one in which the human animal can have maximum contact with the type of natural environment in which it evolved and for which it is genetically programmed without sacrificing the major advantages of civilization....

Iltis concludes that, "like the need for love, the need for nature, the need for its diversity and beauty, has a genetic basis. We cannot reject nature from our lives because we cannot change our genes."(16) Accordingly, 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."(17) To be healthy and fulfilled, we cannot be isolated from the elements and the context which nurtured us. The sack of skin that encloses the human organism does not contain all of "human nature." "Ecological thinking," writes Shepard:

... requires a kind of vision across boundaries. The epidermis of the skin is ecologically like a pond surface or a forest soil, not a shell so much as a delicate interpenetration. It reveals the self ennobled and extended, as part of the landscape, because the beauty and complexity of nature are continuous with ourselves.(18)

In a significant sense, the human organism is the natural world which created it. Nature, which nourished us as 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? Perhaps we could. However, the bio-humanist would argue, it would be a much diminished life.

The bio-humanist hypothesis, while superficially plausible and persuasive, has not been conclusively demonstrated. In fact, beneath the surface lies controversy. Iltis defends the notion in an essay titled "Can One Love a Plastic Tree?" One fanciful answer to the title question might be "certainly -- provided one is a plastic person." In this retort, the word "plastic" is intended in its etymological sense; namely, pliable, malleable, able to assume an infinitude of forms, like plasticene, the sculptor's clay. Cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and behavioral psychologists have long believed that homo sapiens is "plastic" in this sense., and point out 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, human beings are essentially alike in their genetic inheritance. The anthropologist, Clyde Kluckhohn, estimates that "probably more than 95 per cent of the biological equipment of any human being is shared with other human beings."(19) This "plasticity" may account for the fact that individuals of any racial stock can readily adapt to any cultural mileu. Many celebrated studies of identical twins, separated in infancy and raised in contrasting households, substantiate the "plasticity theory."

Standing in stark contrast to this "plasticity theory" are the sociobiologists, who argue that patterns of human thought, habitat, and motivation, and even of moral belief and behavior, are of genetic origin. Such a view might appear to be supportive of the bio-humanist theory. However, in a recent book, Edward O. Wilson and Charles Lumsden argue that even cultural traits and variations among cultures might be genetically based.(20) They base this contention, in part, upon "the thousand year rule," whereby "fifty generations, 1000 years is . . . sufficient for important genetic shifts, even with modern selection."(21) This notion reintroduces a "plasticity," but of a radically different sort, and one which is quite unsupportive of the bio-humanist hypothesis, for if human evolution can move at such a pace, our species may have long since evolved past a "genetic need for natural environments."

Bio-humanism will be difficult either to confirm or refute because of the recalcitrant difficulty in separating the respective roles of heredity and environment in determining behavior and taste. But if we cannot conclude whether or not we have a fundamental constitutional need for wild nature, at least the plausibility and possibility of the bio-humanist hypothesis mandates cautious and conservative dealings with nature. If, at length, we conclude that mankind can manage quite well without wilderness, there will be time enough to dismantle it. However, if we should eventually discover that humans do indeed have a deep need to be in the presence of the kind of natural species, landscapes and ecosystems that produced them, we may arrive at that realization too late to reclaim our natural legacy.

If we do, in fact, have a genetically coded need for nature, then our encounters with nature should evoke feelings of unity, harmony, and affirmation. That it sometimes does, and profoundly so, is abundantly clear in the historical records of religion, art and literature. Was it not in the wilderness that Moses, Gautama Buddha, Jesus and other great prophets and teachers found their enlightenment and mission? In art and literature, 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 or Cezanne, the essays of Emerson, Thoreau, or Muir. Candor requires acknowledgment of a contrary trend. The early colonists in North America regarded the wilderness as dreadful, alien, satanic.(22) Even today, those who live in such remote regions as Tanzania and 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.

Granting that there are contrary responses to wilderness, let us focus on the affirmative response. The evocation of feelings of wonder, harmony, unity, and reverence might be available to most of us as we encounter nature. However, rather than illustrate this evocation with a quotation from a literary masterpiece, I will share the reflections of a student and friend of mine:

The place simply exists and I go when happy or sad. It is a steep climb up to a small pool where a creek flows year round. this is where I am , have been and again will be. It is a place where opposites come together and inner conflict becomes unified. For an afternoon, an evening and a dawn I live an effortless existence both empty and marvelous. The before and the after become one and it appears absurd to consider anything but moments. . .

Twilight creeps slowly up and down the mountain. It is creeping slowly inside me and the heart and mind ebb into stillness with the silent rays. Duality is an absurd impossibility . . . I am no longer outside the circle but have blended with all and am humbled. An exhilaration burns within as the flow of the circle becomes my flow. Thoughts no longer are linked but become separate and tranquil. There is land, life and myself and all three create each other. I stumble in my search for words. Darkness releases me and I stumble no more. The water whispers sleep and it is easy.

A crack appears upon the horizon and dawn escapes. I wash and drink from the creek that has been my companion during the night. The clarity of its water imparts a mental and spiritual clarity. I am bold and refreshed and the mountain calls. The life of the mountain seems to have grown overnight. Could it be an inner growth? Again the mountain calls and I seek a spot where the whole valley may be absorbed at a glance . . . With simple effort I relocate and relax with the sunrise, Needs are no more than this. Wants pass into absurdity. The sun proceeds with its artwork across the sky.

. . . I descend into the valley and approach what was left behind for a few brief moments. The peace lies in knowing I will soon return. Thank Nature that the call of the mountain is strong and sounds often in the lonely hidden regions of my heart and mind.(23)

When we destroy wild species and wilderness areas, we diminish the opportunity for experiences such as this. Such a loss, I submit, is grievous and irredeemable.



The essential message that the biologist and the ecologist have for the moral philosopher is that man evolved from, and remains a member of, the natural community. Man is a natural being and thus remains subject to nature's laws, whether or not we are aware of this dependence or desire it. We have long believed that this was not so, that mankind was of a special order and separate from nature. Although the scientifically literate now acknowledge our natural origins, we still allow ourselves to believe that with our remarkable growth in scientific knowledge and technical power we might declare our independence from the life community. The hard facts seem to indicate that we cannot, and that we will continue to believe otherwise at our great peril.

While ecological science recommends the holistic point of view, the moral philosopher need not learn of this approach from the ecologist, since most moral philosophers have long recognized that morality makes no sense when viewed reductively. A rational code of morality, they acknowledge, is not to be comprehended simply by summing up the separate tastes, preferences, desires and wills of each member of the community.(24) On the contrary, most moral philosophers have maintained that morality 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. Morality is intelligible only when human conduct is viewed holistically, systemically, contextually, from the point of view of an integrated community of persons.(25) Accordingly, the moral philosopher interested in deriving norms of conduct toward nature should find it relatively easy to adopt the ecologist's holistic and systemic thinking, since he is already used to such modes of thought. However, while articulating an ecological ethic may present little difficulty to the moral philosopher, he faces his greatest challenge as he attempts to justify such an ethic. Then he must take account of significant differences between social communities and life communities. We will return to this point near the close of the paper.

Earlier (in section III) I described how, at certain pivotal moments in the history of science, radical reconstructions of theory and redefinitions of concepts have accomplished "cognitive breakthroughs" -- "paradigm shifts" which have resolved previously insoluble puzzles and contradictions, extended the range of prediction and explanation, and simplified the logical and conceptual structure of science.(26) In a similar manner, the holistic, systems-oriented perspective of the ecologist offers significant cognitive advantages over a particularistic, reductive approach to the life sciences.

Does moral understanding undergo similar transformations of structure and extension of scope in the course of its development? While the history of ethical thought seems to indicate that it does, even more startling are recent investigations by the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg indicating that a series of cognitive transformations occur in the course of each person's moral development.(27) 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 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.

Kohlberg's studies of the psychology of moral development suggest 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, 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 might be the case.

Anthropocentrism proclaims our capacity, even our "right," to manage the natural estate exclusively for human advantage. The ecological moralist denies both the capacity and the right to do this. Following Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch warns:

The whole concept of exploitation is so false and so limited that in the end it will defeat itself and the earth will have been plundered no matter how scientifically and farseeingly the plundering has been done. . . It is not a sentimental but a grimly literal fact that unless we share this terrestrial globe with creatures other than ourselves, we shall not be able to live on it for long.(28)

Support for this 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. If man is so wise, powerful and capable of managing his private planet, all this should not be happening.

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 neighbors and children, even such "altruistic" solicitude for our contemporaries may be felt to be inconsistent with widespread, persistent and intuitive admiration for natural landscapes and species. (Promptings, perhaps, of "bio-humanistic" impulses?) Thus one may feel a measure of discomfort about the casual destruction in a few decades of species and habitats which 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," which emerge from the evaluation of persons and their communities, 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.(29) Somehow it seems inadequate to say that we should protect wild species simply for the enjoyment we gain by having them around, even less to argue for their protection in terms of the economic value they realize, say, by promoting tourism or the fur trade. Somehow these points in "defense" of wild creatures seem rather crass and morally irrelevant. Something essential seems to be missing from this "defense." In short, in the realm of ethics, the anthropocentric view just does not seem to do the cognitive work that we might want it to do. It leaves too many puzzles and contradictions.

To summarize: the scientific "ecosystemic view" informs even the anthropocentric approach to environmental ethics, for, when we talk of DDT in mothers' milk and strontium 90 from ocean dump sites appearing in our tuna salad, 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 might 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 serve our purposes. It is arbitrary to utilize the ecologist's view of "the community of nature" just to secure mankind's short-term, immediate advantage. Instead, the ecological moralist draws out the moral implications of the ecological perspective, and thus he argues that man is not only a part of a "web of life," but further indicates that there is a deep and basic inconsistency in identifying oneself as a community member in fact, and as a master of, and ultimate justification for, that community in the moral sense.

Moving from summary to anticipation, I suggest that the basic inconsistency between factual membership and moral mastery cannot be psychologically sustained. Thus, the sort of anthropocentric arrogance that leads us casually to eradicate species of millions of years of development will "feed back" to affect our attitudes and behavior toward members of our own species and toward our own habitat. 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.(30) These are bold claims that I will attempt to justify in the remaining portion of this paper.



So far I have argued for the advantage of viewing our species and our responsibilities from an ecological perspective and against the anthropocentric point of view. I have also offered empirical indications as to why we should value natural areas and preserve biotic complexity and diversity. The remainder of my remarks focus upon moral psychology.(31)

After a remarkably extended period of oversight and neglect, moral philosophers are once again adopting a psychological perspective and examining the perennial issues of good and bad, right and wrong, obligations and rights, etc., in such psychological terms as needs, fulfillments, moral sentiments,(32) motives, habits, capacities to comprehend and obey moral maxims, problem-solving abilities, moral educability, etc. Many philosophers (and I include myself) believe that apart from these psychological considerations, attempts to solve ethical questions are pointless and unavailing. And yet, by bringing these considerations into moral contemplation and controversy, we complicate these moral issues enormously. Be that as it may, this focus of attention on human sentiments, needs, motives, habits, capacities and fulfillment remains indispensable to moral philosophy.

My discussion of the application of moral psychology to an ecological ethic focuses on basically two themes: first of all, the need for self-transcending 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.

(1) Self-Transcending Concern: 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 to 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." I suggest that the answer is "Yes" -- that a life bereft of "useless things" is not an enviable life, and that support for this contention may be found by looking deeply into the logic and psychology of motivation and "need." We thus find, I think, that fundamental to the human condition is a need to care for things outside of oneself -- what I have elsewhere called "the need for self-transcending concern."(33)

In another work I have presented the following characterization of "self transcendence":

By claiming that there is a basic human need for "self transcendence," I am proposing that as a result of the psycho-developmental sources of the self and the fundamental dynamics of social experience, well-functioning human beings identify with, and seek to further, the well-being, preservation, and endurance of communities, locations, causes, artifacts, institutions, ideals, etc., which are outside themselves and which they hope will flourish beyond their own lifetimes. . . Thus we cannot regard our decisions and the values which we hold to be restricted to and isolated within ourselves.

This claim has a reverse side to it; namely that individuals who lack a sense of self-transcendence are acutely impoverished in that they lack significant, fundamental, and widespread capacities and features of human moral and social experience. Such individuals are said to be alienated, both from themselves and from their communities. If such individuals lack concern for self-transcending projects and ideals because of a total absorption with themselves, they are said to be narcissistic personalities.

"Self transcendence" describes a class of feelings which give rise to a variety of activities. It is no small ingredient in the production of great works of art and literature, in the choice of careers in public service, education and scientific research, and so forth. In all this variety, however, there is a central, generic motive; namely, for the self to be part of, to favorably affect, and to value for itself the well-being and endurance of something that is not oneself.(34)

I have proposed three positive arguments in the defense of the claim that healthy human beings need self-transcending concerns. In the first, the argument of "import transference," I point out that if an institution, place, organization, person or principle is important to an certain individual, that individual will regard that thing as intrinsically valuable -- i.e., as worthwhile in and of itself. He will care for its fate (an appropriate word for this caring may be "love") even beyond the term of his own lifetime.

My second argument for self transcendence focuses upon the universal human awareness of physical mortality -- the knowledge each of us has that some day we too shall die. This awareness is the necessary price we pay for our capacities for self- consciousness and abstract knowledge. The anguish of the awareness of our inevitable physical decline and annihilation is measurably eased as we come to cherish and value things that endure. And to cherish things that endure into the future is likewise to admire their history and evolution.

The third argument for self-transcending concern is derived from a long tradition of speculation in philosophical anthropology and a large body of empirical observation in the behavioral and social sciences. This argument contends that human cognitive life (most fundamentally the awareness of self and the capacity for abstract reflective thought) owes its development and sustenance to social life. We are able to internalize the concept of self as continuing entity only because we identify that self in a field of other selves. Self awareness and thought are acquired by "drawing out," in the infant and child, an awareness of, and a concern for, things and persons around him. Indeed, this awareness of external persons and things would never develop without an interest in them. Thus the elements of knowledge and evaluation emerge concomitantly in the evolving mind and personality.(35)

If these reflections on the development of self-transcendent concern are essentially correct, then it follows that such concern is more than a moral desideratum; it is essential to the normal functioning of human personality. Self transcending concern may not be present in all human beings, for if this were the case, it would make no sense to claim that this trait is "morally desirable." (Morality neither requires the impossible nor pleads for the inevitable). In fact, adult human beings can be without self-transcending concern; they can, that is, be total egoists. These reflections suggest instead that total selfishness is neither functionally normal nor desirable . Such a mode of life exacts a high price in psychological stability and satisfaction.

(2) The Paradox of Morality. We turn next to two negative arguments in support of the need for self-transcendent concern. If, as I have urged, 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-transcending interests and concerns. And here, I think, we find clear clinical evidence to support the claim that self- transcending concern is essential to psychological health and well-being. In psychiatric and sociological literature a lack of active personal interest and involvement in external concerns and causes is called "alienation." Alienation is a common and apparently increasing phenomenon in contemporary life.(36)

When value is turned inward and focused directly and exclusively upon oneself and upon one's image of oneself, this is called narcissism. Narcissism is not only widespread in our present culture, it is even recommended and celebrated by such )pop philosophers" as Ayn Rand, Robert Ringer, Richard Dyer and Werner Ehrhardt. It has political expression in libertarianism and is reflected in that label often used to characterize the decade of the Seventies: "the me generation." In his splendid book, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch indicates that narcissism is not a desirable condition, to say the least. The narcissist, he writes:

. . . experiences intense feelings of emptiness and inauthenticity. Although the narcissist can function in the everyday world and often charms other people. . . his devaluation of others, together with his lack of curiosity about them, impoverishes his personal life and reinforces the "subjective experience of emptiness". . . . [The narcissist's] fear of emotional dependence, together with his manipulative, exploitative approach to personal relations, makes these relations bland, superficial, and deeply unsatisfying.(37)

Erich Fromm adds that Narcissism is:

The essence of all severe psychic pathology. For the narcissistically involved person, there is only one reality, that of his own thought processes, feelings and needs. The world outside is not experienced or perceived objectively, i.e., as existing in its own terms . . . Narcissism is the opposite pole to objectivity, reason and love. The fact that utter failure to relate oneself to the world is insanity, points to the other fact: that some form of relatedness is the condition for any kind of sane living.(38)

The narcissist is "looking out for number one." The alienated person is incapable of making attachments beyond himself -- of having self-transcending concern for other persons, places, institutions, or principles. Neither mode of life is to be envied.

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, as when Jesus says: "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25). The paradox is also set forth by moral philosophers from Aristotle, through Hobbes and Butler, and on to Kurt Baier, Michael Scriven, John Rawls, Joel Feinberg, and many others in our own time.(39)

It then follows that deliberate attempts to maximize enjoyments directly, say through legislation, education, and policy- making, can not only be unavailing; even worse, they may be self-defeating. A clear example of such a policy paradox appears in attempts to manage natural landscapes and seascapes, or "useless" natural objects and species. For example, when policy-makers or legislators ask, "Just what good are these wild creatures to us anyway?" -- "good" in the economic sense, or even "good" in the aesthetic sense of the delight that they offer to us -- in the very posing of the question, they may be systematically excluding from consideration the greatest values of these species. For it may be the case that, paradoxically, wild 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.

It makes neither ecological nor moral sense to have regard and concern for the wild animals and not for the habitat and ecosystem in which they evolved and which sustains them. As with wild species, we value the natural habitats and ecosystems 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 gain the fullest advantages of visiting wild places, or even merely knowing that they exist, free, undisturbed and wild.

Many have charged that to love nature more one must love mankind less. To be sure, there are abundant examples of misanthropic nature lovers. But is a 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 spread to contaminate our moral stance toward fellow human beings. I suggest that 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 immediate economic gain, sets a pattern of behavior that can contaminate the value and integrity of communal life.(40) In short, I suggest that a study of moral psychology will disclose that ecological morality is complementary to, rather than in competition with, social morality.



Though I have been discussing the paradox of morality from the perspective of the individual, perhaps a stronger justification of altruism comes not from the point of view of the moral agent, but 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 moral philosophers call the perspective of "the moral agent." On the other hand, to work 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 agent and the spectator are notoriously in conflict. This conflict and the attempt to resolve it give immediate rise to the necessity for moral deliberation and to moral philosophy. Given this distinction, it can readily be demonstrated 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 agents, however rational. Two paradigms readily illustrate this contention.

First, there is the celebrated case of "the tragedy of the commons," so vividly presented by Garrett Hardin.(41) 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. To use Hardin's initial example, herdsmen utilizing an overstocked common pasture will, by adding to their personal flock (a decision of the moral 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 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 is to add to one's personal flock. (After all, the pasture will be ruined in any case as a result of 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 will may be realized more economically (and in some cases it will be accomplished only) if the mutual restraint is accomplished through moral forbearance;(42) 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.(43) 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 that self interest.(44)

A second illustration of the advantages 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? The overwhelming evidence of military history tells us that, other factors being equal, you will more wisely choose to join the platoon of altruists. The life of the altruistic soldier is protected by twelve 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 while accepting shared responsibility for the safety of all others (that is, as he shifts his moral point of view from that of the agent to that of the spectator), 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 military combat 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.(45)

To the psychological, psychiatric and sociological evidence for self-transcendent concern, we now add this support from systems theory. All converge upon the conclusion that human life is best 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 man 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.

The value of individual human life is therefore enhanced to the degree that one (a) has self-transcending concern, and to the degree that (b) he subsumes his interest under that of the community (the paradox of morality). To this second rule, I would add two urgent provisos: The first is that one assumes that most members of the community share and act in accordance with the moral point of view.(46) The second proviso is that it would be a grave 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, I am by no means required to deny the considerable advantages to each citizen of rights of privacy and of the right to hold nonconforming 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 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-transcending concern.

If my brief account of the moral psychology of self transcendence, alienation, narcissism, the moral paradox and the moral point of view has been essentially correct, then it follows that life in a community of self-transcending individuals is a preferable mode of life. Such persons make better neighbors. They view their moral rights and duties from the (external) perspective of "the moral spectator," and not from the self- contained point of view of "the moral agent." Even our solitary moments are enhanced by such neighborliness. In such a community, we need not lock our doors. We can walk at night for solitary moments of contemplation and do so untroubled by concern for our physical safety. We will pay less for taxes for police protection or for courts of law. In short, a community of self- transcending neighbors is much to be preferred to a community of alienated individuals and narcissists.


In the foregoing discussion, I have attempted to 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. This "moral point of view" should inform and guide our ethical dealings with members of our social community, at least to the degree that our neighbors likewise acknowledge and act according to this point of view,(47) 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 warrants the adoption of an "ecological point of view" to guide 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, to the best of our knowledge, no non-human natural beings can be said to have duties and responsibilities. Thus, attempts to extend moral rules by analogy from human communities to ecosystems can be highly questionable philosophically. Still there are 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. In my attempt to list these advantages of the ecological perspective, I will draw upon my earlier discussions. Thus, this final list of justifications and recommendations serves as a summary of the entire paper.

First of all, an ecological perspective in morality reflects sound scientific principles. Ecological morality is an extension into ethics of a scientifically sound and validated point of view. Man is, in fact, a functioning member of the life community. Life forms in natural communities do, in fact, interact, and they are best understood as functioning components in integrated systems, rather than as discrete aggregates that happen to share physical space. Man, in fact, evolved in this life community, and virtually all of his taxonomic history took place in direct encounter with wild nature. Biotic "insularity" and artificiality is a late development in the career of homo sapiens. Quite possibly, then, human beings retain a neurological and even a psychological need for the natural environments in which they evolved.

From moral psychology we find that for our personal fulfillment we need to have things which "matter" to us that are not ourselves; indeed, we need things that are valued for their very independence and externality from us. Thus our personal and moral life is enriched to the degree that it is "extended out" in self-transcending enjoyment, cherishing and contemplating things, places and ideals that are remote in space and time -- even, in a sense, timeless. As we assume the ecosystemic point of view, our personal egos fade in the contemplation of the vastness of natural time, space and complexity, and our lives are enriched with a sense of exuberance, variety, wonder and reverence.(48) Wanton, thoughtless destruction of the natural order strikes the ecological moralist as supremely arrogant. When, conversely, we place ourselves in the center of our evaluative universe and thereby regard nature as a mere storehouse of commodities, these expansive sentiments vanish and we are temperamentally, intellectually and spiritually reduced to the tiny circle of our personal lives and circumstances.

There is thus a paradox in ecological morality as there is in social morality, for I am suggesting, in effect, that for mankind's sake it is wiser to love nature for nature's sake. Mankind, that is to say, is better served if mankind honors, protects, reveres, loves its biotic inheritance and its natural community. The social psychologist, let us recall, reminds us that our personalities, or "selves," have their origin and sustenance in our social community. We are our parents, our neighbors, our culture. In society, "the skin is a permeable membrane," and thus "social good" and "personal good" interconnect. Similarly, the ecologist will insist that human good and biotic good are confluent, for nature too is the source and sustenance of our physical, neurological, even psychological selves. Thus, as we expand our ethical perspective to encompass the life community, we find that human ecosystemic interests shift toward coincidence. "The ethical perspective," writes Holmes Rolston, is "significantly altered. That alteration centers in the dissolution of any firm boundary between man and the world. Ecology does not know an encapsulated ego over against his environment . . . The self, metabolically, if metaphorically, interpenetrates the ecosystem. The world is my body."(49)

"Nonetheless," the critic will rejoin, "a paradox is a paradox. If we seek human fulfillment, we should go after it directly. It is flatly incoherent," says the critic, "to claim that 'for mankind's sake, we should love nature for nature's sake.'" In reply, we must wonder if our critic has ever been in love. For this paradox of ecological morality is no more incoherent than the rule of fulfillment in a love relationship; namely, that one who genuinely loves one's beloved for the sake of the beloved gains most from being in love, and that unconditional gifts of love (among worthy, reciprocating lovers) bring the greatest mutual rewards. Conversely, one who asks of his love relationships, "What's in this for me?" is likely to discover, due to the very attitude which prompts the question, that there is little in it for him. While this is a paradox, far from being incoherent and contradictory, it has been verified countless times in the lives of those who both gain and lose in matters of love. One of the great tragedies of our narcissistic, alienated age is the incapacity of so many to practice what Erich Fromm calls "the art of loving."

The human chauvinist who sees nature in terms of its uses -- in terms of direct human benefits -- cheats himself. He closes himself to a vital dimension of fulfillment: the dimension of love. To realize and experience that fulfillment one must regard and understand nature with such respect and reverence that it becomes a value to him, even if useless -- perhaps even because it is useless to him.

In moral and personal life, we observed, self transcendence and alienation are polar opposites. Thus, those who anthropocentrically value nature only in terms of its value for human beings, live in an alien world. In contrast, the ecological moralist regards his "world partner" with dignity and respect. Rolston reflects:

How starkly this gainsays the alienation that characterizes modern literature, seeing nature as basically rudderless, antipathetical, in need of monitoring and repair. More typically, modern man, for all his technological prowess, has found himself distanced from nature, increasingly competent and decreasingly confident, at once distinguished and aggrandized, yet afloat on and adrift in an indifferent, if not a hostile universe. His world is at best a huge filling station; at worst a prison, or "nothingness." Not so for ecological man; confronting his world with deference to a community of value in which he shares, he is at home again.(50)

So, once again, we gain by losing ourselves in wonder and admiration of our natural estate. Once again, the paradox of ecological morality is confirmed.

The moral perspective and mode of life exacts a cost to the moralist. The conscientious are liable to temptations, to feelings of guilt and shame, as well as to the rewards of moral pride and self-respect. The compassionate suffer anguish in the face of misery. The ecological moralist endures frustration and rage as he contemplates and encounters the present destruction and degradation of nature. Moreover, he is indignant at the presumption and arrogance of his contemporaries. He shares the sentiments of the anonymous editorial writer in the New Yorker, who observes:

How . . . presumptuous [it is] for a single generation, such as our own, to imagine that its wants and its political causes might conceivably justify our jeopardizing not just our inheritance political and otherwise, but our inheritors as well -- our sons and grandsons and the myriad unborn generations whose hopes and achievements we cannot know. This takes truly colossal arrogance. Is it possible that our generation thinks its own transient conflicts more weighty than the infinity of the human future? . . .

. . . Today we rush in everywhere with schemes of destruction and presumed improvement. With respect to the natural order, we are blind wreckers who have nothing to offer in place in what we tear down. . . . [We] have taken upon [our]selves to remake, and perhaps destroy, the legacy not just of generations but of all time.(51

Can we do such things and not be damaged by such arrogance, even in our own lifetime, or that of our children? Kenneth Boulding thinks not:

. . . the welfare of the individual depends on the extent to which he can identify himself with others, and ... the most satisfactory individual identity is that which identifies not only with a community in space but also with a community extending over time from the past into the future. . . . [T]here is a great deal of historical evidence to suggest that a society which loses its identity with posterity and which loses its positive image of the future loses also the capacity to deal with present problems and soon falls apart.(52)

For our own moral good, and even for our own personal and communal advantages, we constantly need to be reminded that we of this generation are not nature's favorites, not the end product of evolution, not history's culmination. Nature, evolution and history have not all converged, through trackless time, simply to benefit us. For the sake of our good mental and moral health, we need to remind ourselves that we are but a step in the long road behind and beyond us. While thinking otherwise might thrill us with some brief, ill-gotten moments of false pride, such a species-centered, "now-centered" perspective is as futile as it is false, and thus barren as a source of secure, long-standing, broad-based satisfaction. Arrogance is a habit of character that cannot be well-contained. Arrogance toward nature and toward history spills over into arrogance toward our contemporary human neighbors. Arrogance does not lend itself to prudent provision for the future or to safe and congenial communities. One must therefore wonder if this generation can at one time be exploiters and destroyers of the natural community and at the same time good neighbors in the social community, whether amoral or even worse immoral policies toward nature and toward the future can securely co-exist with a sound, secure and operative social morality. Callousness and solicitude are deeply incompatible moral stances, even if the callousness characterizes an attitude toward non- human nature, and the solicitude is an admired attitude toward human beings.

If my argument has been successful, then I think that we have found reason to conclude, first of all, that we need nature in fact. We need viable, independent, flourishing natural ecosystems. We need them as scientific resources to expand our understanding of what we are biotically and what made us what we are. We need wild ecosystems as economic and technical resources, to provide rare biochemical substances for our future use. We need nature as an aesthetic resource to enrich our sense of delight and wonder. We need natural landscapes and seascapes as psychological resources so that we can put ourselves at ease by returning home again to the environment that made us the natural organisms that we are. And we need nature as a moral resource -- as a source of wonder, amazement, admiration, humility, perspective, and solicitude.

Despoiling and developing a wild ecosystem diminishes the human outlook. It reduces our sense of natural "place," of perspective, of context. Lose this and we have a diminished capacity to deal with each other. Losing our sense of "self transcendence" beyond our time, place, and species, we "turn in" to our species, then to our human community, then to our own generation, then to ourselves. We become narcissistic and alienated, and the advantages of the moral perspective and the moral life are lost. Our moral universe shrinks. We lose this moral vision by diminishing our capacity to see natural contexts -- to see ourselves, our species, and our era in what Spinoza termed "the aspect of eternity" -- to see ourselves as players in a drama of infinite duration and space, and of an infinitude of roles and their inter-relationships. We forget that we are actors in a drama and participants in a adventure too complex for us ever to comprehend, and yet despite that, even because of that, of ultimate value to us.

So, as we deplete and shrink the range of the natural estate, we lose our ability to adopt an ecological point of view as we lose contact and acquaintance with the exemplars of ecological process and structure. This has dire political consequences, for as more of our citizens become wholly domesticated and live in totally artificial environments, as fewer of our fellow citizens encounter deserts, redwood forests, California condors and sea otters, our political capacity to protect this vital remnant of wild nature is also diminished.

On the other hand, with scientific understanding, supplemented with a human sensitivity to the value implications of our knowledge and circumstances, we encounter wild creatures in their habitat, marvelously engaged in their own business and indifferent to us, and we see beyond. We love and cherish the nature that commonly made them and us. We value its integrity and gain a commitment to ensure its continuation for the enjoyment of future generations, despite the manifold artificial threats and pressures that our generation is placing upon it. We are all the more capable of containing our selfishness and arrogance and thus refraining from thoughtless assaults upon the integrity of both our natural and social communities. With this enhanced sense of perspective and this strengthened resolution to cherish and protect the nature that we love and admire, we become at once better stewards of the wild species, habitats and ecosystems, and better neighbors to each other.

For these reasons of moral psychology and paradox, and apart from reasons of self-interest and prudence, a world unsafe for wilderness is a world less safe for human beings and for human moral ideals.

Copyright 1984 by Ernest Partridge


1. This essay is a revision of "Sea Otters as a Moral Resource," which was presented at a conference on "Management of Sea Otters and Shellfish Fisheries in California," at Arroyo Grande, California, 8 January 1981. . . This revision has benefited greatly from the editorial suggestions of Holmes Rolston, III and Elinore Partridge. This revision is also slightly larger than the version published in Environmental Ethics, Summer, 1984.

2. Holmes Rolston, III, "Values in Nature," Environmental Ethics 3 (1981): 113-128, citation on p. 127.

3. The Global 2000 Report to the President, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980).

4. Recent moral philosophy has indicated that it is futile to attempt to locate "elements" of value and to build an ethical theory from a simple aggregation of these elements and a citation of their external relations. I have argued this point at some length in my paper "Environmental Ethics: Obstacles and Opportunities," Ecological Consciousness, (ed) Hughes and Schultz (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981), pp. 325- 50.

5. Lynn R. White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis," Science, 155 (10 March, 1967), 1203-7.

6. R. and V. Routley, "Against the Inevitability of Human Chauvinism," in Ethics and Problems of the 21st Century, ed. Kenneth E. Goodpaster and Kenneth M. Sayre (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), pp. 36-59.

7. Quoted by Paul Shepard in "Introduction: Ecology and Man -- A Viewpoint," The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man, ed. Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), pp. 1 - 10.

8. Joel Feinberg, "The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations", in Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, ed. William T. Blackstone (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974), pp. 43-68.

9. The phrase "'aw gawsh' factor" is a shameless paraphrase of Michael Ohrbach's "cuddly quotient." (Marvelous term!) Ohrback, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, presented a paper titled "Otters, Marine Mammals and Man: the Human Dimension," at the Sea Otter and Shell Fisheries Conference, loc. cit.

10. This approach is, of course, taken by many ecophilosophers; most eloquently, I think, by Paul Shepard in "Ecology and Man," The Subversive Science, and Holmes Rolston, III in "Is There an Ecological Ethic?" Ethics, 85:2 (Jan., 1975), pp. 93-109.

11. Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology. (New York: Knopf, 1971), pp. 42-3.

12. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Ballantine, 1970), pp. 240-41.

13. 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 difficulty and caution, for here we encounter perhaps the most formidable problem in contemporary ethics, namely, the question of the logical bearing of facts upon values and the problem of moral justification. If I even begin an attempt to explain these difficult and technical issues, we shall never return to the topic of this essay. So I will reluctantly set these considerations aside and move to a series of suggestions as to how the ecologist might inform the moralist. I have attempted the difficult task of assessing the cogency of these suggestions in "Environmental Ethics: Obstacles and Opportunities," loc. cit., and "Environmental Ethics, An Introduction."

14. This point has been made repeatedly by Garrett Hardin in his published works, most recently in The Limits of Altruism: An Ecologist's View of Survival (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977) and in Promethean Ethics: Living with Death, Competition, and Triage (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980).

15. This ominous scenario may well describe the decision, now before our generation, to commit substantial resources to the development and utilization of nuclear power, thus leaving to future generations the responsibility to monitor forever the radioactive debris of the nuclear power industry. See R. and V. Routley "Nuclear Energy and Obligations to the Future," Inquiry 21, (1978) 133-79; reprinted in Responsibilities to Future Generations ed. Ernest Partridge (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1981). Also see K. S. Shrader-Frechette, Nuclear Power and Public Policy (Boston: D. Reidel, 1980).

16. Hugh Iltis, "To the Taxonomist and the Ecologist, Whose Fight is the Preservation of Nature," Bio-Science (December, 1967), p. 887, italics in the orginal. In private correspondence, Holmes Rolston correctly observes that to identify "a genetic base" for the need for nature is an oversimplification. A more complete account would include, not only "genetic needs," but also needs which arise out of the organism's adaptation to its ecosystemic niche and matrix. These needs are subsequently manifested through psychological evidence. While granting all this (and discussing it in turn), I prefer to focus here upon genetic sources of the affinity to nature, since (a) a "genetic base" is more permanent and biologically fundamental than psychological and cultural responses to the environment, and (b) the genes manifest the consequences of basic evolutionary and ecological adaptations -- manifestations whose origins may reach back long before the emergence of our species. Discussions of psychological aspects of the need for nature appear later in this paper, and in some of my other publications, notably, "Are We Ready for an Ecological Morality?" and "Why Care About the Future?" (loc. cit.).

17. Paul Shepard, "Ecology and Man," in Shepard and McKinley, Subversive Science, p. 4.

18. Ibid., p. 2.

19. Clyde Kluckhohn, Mirror for Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949), p. 100.

20. Charles J. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson, Genes, Mind and Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Universisty Press, May, 1981).

21. Roger Lewin, "Cultural Diversity Tied to Genetic Differences," Science, 212 (22 May, 1981), p. 908.

22. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, rev. ed. (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1973).

23. James Baldwin, from an unpublished student paper for a course in Environmental Ethics, Spring Quarter, 1980, University of California, Santa Barbara.

24. This realization has been "general" among philosophers, but not universal. Recently the logical positivists and some existentialists have attempted just such a reductive and atomistic approach to ethics with a resulting denial by these philosophers of objective and rational grounds for moral judgments. I have discussed these "non-cognitivist" approaches to ethics and their relevance to environmental ethics in my paper, "Environmental Ethics: Obstacles and Opportunities," in Hughes and Schultz, Environmental Consciousness, loc. cit.

25. This point is persuasively argued by such social contract theorists as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and reiterated in the present by game theorists and systems analysts (as in the case of the celebrated "prisoner's dilemma" and Garrett Hardin's splendid paper "The Tragedy of the Commons") and by philosophers such as Kurt Baier, Michael Scriven, and John Rawls.

26. The term "paradigm shift" is from the best-known recent work in this field of the history and philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l962). Interest in "cognitive breakthroughs" in the history of science is, of course, both long standing and widespread. Among the significant commentators upon this phenomenon, Pierre Duhem, Norman Campbell, Willard Quine, and Karl Popper come immediately to mind.

27. Lawrence Kohlberg has presented his theory in a number of works, most prominently in "The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest State of Moral Judgment," Journal of Philosophy, 70, (October 25, 1973): 630-46; and in "From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away With it in the Study of Moral Development," in Cognitive Development and Epistemology, ed, T. Mischel (New York: Academic Press, 1971), pp. 151-235. Similar developmental stages and mechanisms of conceptual growth in practical and factual-theoretical knowledge were described by the late Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget. Several ideas sketched in this section have been expressed in my paper, "Are We Ready for an Ecological Morality?" Environmental Ethics, 4 (Summer, l982): 175-190.

28. Joseph Wood Krutch, The Best Nature Writing of Joseph Wood Krutch (New York: William Morrow, 1970), pp. 296-7.

29. I have argued elsewhere that future generations can be said to have rights now, but this is a difficult notion to explicate and defend, and several philosophers have arrived at conflicting views. See papers collected in section III, "Can Future Generations Be Said to have Rights?" in Responsibilities to Future Generations, ed. Partridge. Also see Ernest Partridge, "On the Rights of Future Generations" in D. Scherer (ed), Upstream/Downstream: Issues in Environmental Ethics, Temple University Press.

30. Holmes Rolston reminds me that Aquinas, Kant, and others have argued that the evil effects upon humans of cruelty to animals is sufficient reason to forbid such behavior. Little if any consideration is offered, in such arguments, for the welfare of the poor brutes themselves. This is not the sort of "defense" of eco-morality that I desire or intend here. The cost in "negative moral feedback" of active and destructive human chauvinism is a reason, but not the reason for abandoning such an attitude. Furthermore I suggest that this negative feedback is the result, in part, of the calculated destruction of values originating in nature, and at least dimly perceived by the perpetrators. For more on the Aquinas/Kant arguments for solicitude to animals, see Tom Regan, All that Dwell Within, (Berkeley: University of California Press, l982), pp 10 and 82.

31. The next two sections contain ideas presented at greater length in my paper, "Why Care About the Future?" in Partridge, ed. Responsibilities to Future Generations, pp. 203-19.

32. Such "moral sentiments" include guilt, shame, indignation, envy, self-respect. Cf. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Part III, especially Chapter 8 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971). Significant philosophical work in moral psychology has also been done by Lawrence Kohlberg, Michael Scriven and R. B. Brandt.

33. In "Why Care about the Future," Responsibilities to Future Generations, loc. cit.

34. Ibid. I am not, of course, able to justify this claim in the available space. I can, however, summarize my basic contentions.

35. Early and influential expressions of these ideas were published by George H. Mead and John Dewey. Cf. Mead's Mind, Self and Society (Chicago: Phoenix, 1956) and Dewey's Experience and Nature (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1958), Ch. VI.

36. Eric and Mary Josephson thus describe alienation:

Confused as to his place in the scheme of a world growing each day closer yet more impersonal more densely populated yet in face-to-face relations more dehumanized; a world appealing ever more widely for his concern and sympathy with unknown masses of men, yet fundamentally alienating him even from his next neighbor, today Western man has become mechanized, routinized, made comfortable as an object; but in the profound sense, displaced and thrown off balance as the subjective creator and power."

Eric and Mary Josephson, "Introduction" to Man Alone: Alienation in Modern Society (New York: Dell, 1962), pp. 10-11.

37. Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Norton, 1978), pp. 39-40. The quotations within are from Otto Kernberg. Kernberg's primary work on this topic is Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (New York: Jason Aronson, 1975).

38. Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (New York: Fawcett, 1955), pp. 39-41.

39. A similar, if more restricted, paradox is "the hedonic paradox," thus formulated by Joel Feinberg:

An exclusive desire for happiness is the surest way to prevent happiness from coming into being. Happiness has a way of "sneaking up" on persons when they are preoccupied with other things; but when persons deliberately and singlemindedly set off in pursuit of happiness, it vanishes utterly from sight and cannot be captured. This is the famous "paradox of hedonism": the single-minded pursuit of happiness is necessarily self-defeating, for the way to get happiness is to forget it; then perhaps it will come to you. If you aim exclusively at pleasure itself, with no concern for the things that bring pleasure, then pleasure will never come. To derive satisfaction, one must ordinarily first desire something other than satisfaction, and then find the means to get what one desires.

Joel Feinberg, "Psychological Egoism," in Reason and Responsibility, ed. Joel Feinberg (Encino, CA: Dickenson, 1965), p. 533.

40. See again my qualification in note 30, above.

41. Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science, 162 (December 13, 1968): 1243-48. The "tragedy" reiterates, in appropriate modern applications, ideas suggested by Aristotle, Hobbes, and many other significant philosophers in history.

42. Hardin, I should add, has much less confidence than I do in the efficacy of "moral restraint."

43. Some allowance is made for the existence of "moral outlaws" or "free riders." The moral order need not be perfect in order to be effective and preferable to no order at all. Cf. Michael Scriven, "Morality," in Primary Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966); also John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 267-70.

44. I am mindful that some proponents of enlightened self interest (notably John Baden) believe that their theory can accomodate the commons problem; notably by "privatizing the commons." But some "commons" either can not be "privatized" (e.g., the atmosphere and the seas) or should not be (e.g., national parks). The historical record does not offer strong support to the contention that private ownership results in optimum long-term management of common natural assets. However, due to space constraints, these contentions must be argued elsewhere. Cf. John Baden, "The Case for Private Property Rights and Market Allocations," and my reply thereto, The Center Magazine, Jan/Feb, 1981, pp 26-30, 36-7. Also, John Baden, ed., Earth Day Reconsidered, Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1980.

45. The "selfish" advantage of altruistic behavior in combat is well-argued by Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy., pp. 238- 40.

46. If, contrary to his rational wishes, the soldier is assigned to a 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, 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. (See again, note 43, above, regarding "free riders" and "moral outlaws").

47. To the degree, that is, that our social community is what John Rawls calls "well-ordered." The reader familiar with Rawls's splendid work will recognize that my thinking has been significantly influenced by Rawls's A Theory of Justice.

48. For an eloquent statement of this point, see Holmes Rolston, III, "Values in Nature," Environmental Ethics, 3:2, (Summer, 1981): 113-28.

49. Holmes Rolston, III, "Is There an Ecological Ethic?" Ethics,., p. 104. See also Shepard, "Ecology and Man," Subversive Science.

50. Rolston, "Is There an Ecological Ethic," 107-8.

51. "The Talk of the Town," The New Yorker, (May 13, 1972).

52. Kenneth Boulding, "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth," in The Environmental Handbook, ed. Garrett de Bell (New York: Ballantine, 1970), pp. 99-100.

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .