Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics

By Paul W. Taylor | Go to book overview

FOUR
THE ETHICAL SYSTEM

1. The Basic Rules of Conduct

Two of the three parts of the theory of environmental ethics being defended here, the biocentric outlook and the attitude of respect for nature, have now been examined in detail. It remains for us to consider the third component, which is the system of standards and rules that moral agents would be guided by if they were to accept the biocentric outlook and take the attitude of respect for nature.

As we saw in Chapter Two, when moral agents have the attitude of respect for nature they subscribe to a set of normative principles and hold themselves accountable for adhering to them. The principles comprise both standards of good character and rules of right conduct. The attitude of respect is embodied or expressed in their character and conduct to the extent that their character fulfills the standards and their actions are in accordance with the rules. It is, indeed, a test of the sincerity and depth of one’s moral commitment in taking that attitude whether one acknowledges the ethical requirements imposed by those standards and rules and holds oneself responsible for abiding by them.

The rules and standards constitute a system of ordered principles, the details of which I shall be making explicit in this chapter. For convenience of exposition I shall first discuss rules of conduct and the priority principles for ordering them. Then I shall consider standards of good character and the types of virtues associated with the various rules of conduct.

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