Global Ethics and Environment

By Nicholas Low | Go to book overview

12

Ecological ethics from rights to recognition

Multiple spheres of justice for humans, animals and nature

Val Plumwood

Introduction

We have been invited to address the question whether concepts of justice can and should be mapped on to non-humans. I think the answer to this question must be affirmative, but it is a complex affirmation that is required. My argument is a two-pronged one: I will argue, against those who insist we must confine ethical concepts to the human, that we can map a range of ethical stances that are components of justice on to non-human nature, and that there are important insights to be gained from doing so and to be lost from refusing to do so. But we face choices between different ways to make such mappings. I will also argue against closed mappings of justice that try to confine ethics to sentient or conscious beings, recognizing only those non-humans who are believed most closely to resemble humans. These positions may avoid the most extreme and blatant forms of species injustice, but they retain most of the problems of moral dualism and do little to help us change our perceptions or behaviour in ways relevant to the environmental crisis. For this diverse and complex terrain, we need to recognize multiple overlapping spheres of justice, rather than attempting to map on to the non-human sphere a single humanbased concept of justice such as rights or utility (for accounts of multiple overlapping spheres of justice see Midgley, 1983, and for the human case Walzer, 1983).


Non-human justice and moral dualism

We should not begin this inquiry with the assumption that we start from a condition of tabula rasa, that we have no conceptual mappings already or that they are neutral. On the contrary, we start out from a tradition that has consistently mapped non-humans on to human Others, and accorded both less than justice. Dominant traditions over at least twenty-five centuries have identified the human normatively with the rational, and both the non-human and the human Other with relative absence of reason and corresponding proximity to nature

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