A Theory of Ecological Justice

By Brian Baxter | Go to book overview

6

The concept of ecological justice

Objections and replies

Objections in principle to the idea of ecological justice
For many political philosophers the suggestion that the concept of justice can be extended in any way to the non-human living world will meet with almost instant rejection. This is because there appear to be many objections of principle which such a concept has to meet before it even gets off the ground. Let us begin by considering these.The main ones are as follows:
1 Issues of distributive justice among a group of beings only arise when those beings voluntarily cooperate to produce and/or preserve a set of goods, such as environmental benefits. Non-human organisms cannot be meaningfully said to cooperate voluntarily to produce environmental benefits and so the question cannot meaningfully be raised of what share of those benefits different organisms should receive.
2 Justice in distribution involves the assignment of property rights to recipients of such justice. However, it makes sense to attribute property rights only to moral persons, not to organisms devoid of personhood and even, in many cases, sentience.
3 Non-human organisms on this planet are incapable of reciprocity. They cannot restrict their behaviour vis-à-vis moral agents in return for the latter's restriction of their behaviour towards them. Since they cannot do justice it is inappropriate to regard them as recipients of it.

Each of these objections relies on the underlying assumption that justice can apply only to moral agents, whom I will refer to as 'persons'. It is a key claim of ecological justice, therefore, that this is not a defensible assumption. However, demonstrating that justice can apply to living beings which are not persons is not a matter of putting forward a simple counter-argument, rather it is going to be a matter of weaving together a more or less coherent moral vision within which the idea of distributive justice to the non-person segment of life makes clear and compelling sense.

Of course, some immediate moves are obvious, such as deployment of the argument from marginal human cases which we have already encountered in

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