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Environmental Ethics

Value As A Feature Of Actions And Attitudes

Early in the twentieth century, G. E. Moore (1873–1958) argued that goodness was a nonnatural property that good things possessed, and although his arguments for this view have had a profound influence on the course of ethical theory, the view itself is not widely accepted (chaps. 1–3). There seems no satisfactory way to resolve disagreements over what things have this property or how to act and make tradeoffs when necessary. Should we preserve the redwood trees, or clear them to make room for the weeds that will thrive in their place? It will not do to identify ethical value with the products of evolution or natural processes, for humans are natural creatures and our creations are in some sense as much a part of nature as fossils and spider webs. What makes the forest more valuable in its own right than the strip malls along the highway? The idea that value is a nonnatural intrinsic property of things is mysterious, and many philosophers simply reject Moore's intuitions about what has it and what does not. Nor could the existence of such value in itself tell us much about what to do or how to act and choose. These same issues arise for deep ecology and for any attempt to move beyond anthropocentrism in locating intrinsic ethical value.

If we think about value as something we express in our actions and attitudes, rather than as an intrinsic property of objects, then the difference between anthropocentrism and its opposite seems smaller and less significant. For even those who insist that value originates in reasons and attitudes are quick to acknowledge that we value different parts of the world in different ways and for a multitude of reasons. This includes valuing things other than humans, human experiences, and reason as ends. We can realize Leopold's vision of a land ethic without rejecting anthropocentrism, by concentrating instead on the reasons we have for attitudes toward nature that see it as worth preserving in its own right. Thinking of nature as a resource for our use in promoting human enjoyment is of course one attitude we may have, and thinking about the effects of environmental change on human health is another. But we also find it reasonable to adopt attitudes of appreciation, reverence, awe, love, and fear toward different parts of the world around us, and the appropriateness of these attitudes moreover seems to be connected intimately to other aspects of morality, such as the virtues of humility and gratitude (Hill).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to EphemeralEnvironmental Ethics - Antecedents, The Debate Over Anthropocentrism, Value As A Feature Of Actions And Attitudes, Ethics And Environmental Policies