Ethics and the environment

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Ethics and the environment

References and Further Reading 1. Extending Moral Standing As noted above, perhaps the most fundamental question that must be asked when regarding a particular environmental ethic is simply, what obligations do we have concerning the natural environment? Thus, an anthropocentric ethic claims that only human beings are morally considerable in their own right, meaning that all the direct moral obligations we possess, including those we have with regard to the environment, are owed to our fellow human beings.

While the history of western philosophy is dominated by this kind anthropocentrism, it has come under considerable attack from many environmental ethicists. Such thinkers have claimed that ethics must be extended beyond humanity, and that moral standing should be accorded to the non-human natural world.

Some have claimed that this extension should run to sentient animals, others to individual living organisms, and still others to holistic entities such as rivers, species and ecosystems. Under these ethics, we have obligations in respect of the environment because we actually owe things to the creatures or entities within Ethics and the environment environment themselves.

Determining whether our environmental obligations are founded on anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric reasoning will lead to different accounts of what those obligations are.

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This section examines the prominent accounts of moral standing within environmental ethics, together with the implications of each. This should be of little surprise, since many of the concerns we have regarding the environment appear to be concerns precisely because of the way they affect human beings.

For example, pollution diminishes our health, resource depletion threatens our standards of living, climate change puts our homes at risk, the reduction of biodiversity results in the loss of potential medicines, and the eradication of wilderness means we lose a source of awe and beauty.

Quite simply then, an anthropocentric ethic claims that we possess obligations to respect the environment for the sake of human well-being and prosperity.

Despite their human-centeredness, anthropocentric environmental ethics have nevertheless played a part in the extension of moral standing.

Ethics and the environment

This extension has not been to the non-human natural world though, but instead to human beings who do not yet exist. The granting of moral standing to future generations has been considered necessary because of the fact that many environmental problems, such as climate change and resource depletion, will affect future humans much more than they affect present ones.

Moreover, it is evident that the actions and policies that we as contemporary humans undertake will have a great impact on the well-being of future individuals.

In light of these facts, some philosophers have founded their environmental ethics on obligations to these future generations Gewirth, Of course, it is one thing to say that human beings in the future have moral standing, it is quite another to justify the position.

Indeed, some philosophers have denied such standing to future people, claiming that they lie outside of our moral community because they cannot act reciprocally Golding, So, while we can act so as to benefit them, they can give us nothing in return.

This lack of reciprocity, so the argument goes, denies future people moral status. However, other philosophers have pointed to the fact that it is usually considered uncontroversial that we have obligations to the dead, such as executing their wills and so on, even though they cannot reciprocate Kavka, While still others have conceded that although any future generation cannot do anything for us, it can nevertheless act for the benefit of its own subsequent generations, thus pointing to the existence of a broader transgenerational reciprocity Gewirth, However, perhaps we do not have obligations to future people because there is no definitive group of individuals to whom such obligations are owed.

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This argument is not based on the simple fact that future people do not exist yet, but on the fact that we do not know who they will be. The heart of this problem lies in the fact that the policies adopted by states directly affect the movement, education, employment and so on of their citizens.

Thus, such policies affect who meets whom, and who has children with whom. So, one set of policies will lead to one group of future people, while another set will lead to a different group.

Our actions impact who will exist in the future, making our knowledge of who they will be incomprehensible. Since there is no definitive set of future people to receive the benefits or costs of our actions, to whom do we grant moral standing? Secondly, and of particular importance for environmental ethics, how could any future people legitimately complain that they have been wronged by our environmentally destructive policies?

For if we had not conducted such policies, they would not even exist. In response to the non-identity problem, it has been argued that while we do not know exactly who will exist in the future, we do know that some group of people will exist and that they will have interests.

In light of this, perhaps our obligations lie with these interests, rather than the future individuals themselves DesJardins,p. As for the second aspect of the problem, we might claim that although future generations will benefit from our environmentally destructive policies by their very existence, they will nevertheless have been harmed.

After all, cannot one be harmed by a particular action even if one benefits overall? To illustrate this point, James Woodward gives the example of a racist airline refusing to allow a black man on a flight that subsequently crashes Woodward, Even if we do decide to grant moral standing to future human beings, however, that still leaves the problem of deciding just what obligations we have to them.

One set of difficulties relates to our ignorance of who they are.Ethics & the Environment is an interdisciplinary forum for theoretical and practical articles, discussions, and book reviews in the broad area encompassed by environmental ethics. It was founded in by Victoria Davion, longtime Head of the Department of Philosophy who remained editor of the journal until her recent passing in November (Link to Publications on Religion, Ethics, Environment, Education, and Theology) Cornell University Natural Resources Lecture Collection Volume 1.

Environmental ethics is the part of environmental philosophy which considers extending the traditional boundaries of ethics from solely including humans to including the non-human world.

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It exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including environmental law, environmental sociology, ecotheology, ecological economics, ecology and . Ethics and the Environment | Epilepsy Research provides for rapid publication of high quality articles in both experimental and clinical epileptology, where the principal emphasis of the research.

Environmental ethics is a branch of ethics that studies the relation of human beings and the environment and how ethics play a role in this. Environmental ethics believe that humans are a part of society as well as other living creatures, which includes plants and .

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Environmental Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)