Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking

Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking

Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking

Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking


In this study, Clare Palmer challenges the belief that the process thinking of writers like A.N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne has offered an unambiguously positive contribution to environmental ethics. She compares process ethics to a variety of other forms of environmental ethics, as well as deep ecology, and reveals a number of difficulties associated with process thinking about the environment.


I suggest that you take as a model for your essay on White
head's moral philosophy a well-known treatise on the Snakes
of Ireland.

(Schillp 1951: 593)

This response, received by Paul Schillp when he announced his intention to write a paper on Whitehead's moral thinking, is an understandable one. Whitehead's primary concern in his later philosophical work was not moral philosophy, but the construction of a new metaphysics. It is to this task that his philosophical thinking was dedicated, and he never attempted to construct an ethical system. Ethics were, in this sense, secondary to his purpose.

The secondary nature of ethics in Whitehead's system means that precise details of the source of value, and consequently of his ethical position, can be obscure, and need on occasion to be teased out. Broadly speaking, however, an evaluative structure does flow from Whitehead's process metaphysics, a structure developed by other process thinkers, in particular Charles Hartshorne. in this chapter, I will consider the ways in which value is generated in Whitehead's system, entailing a brief examination of the formation of the 'actual occasion' or 'entity' and Whitehead's understanding of the nature of God. I will also consider some developments of Whitehead's position by Hartshorne. I will then move on to consider the human, macro-level of ethics which is underpinned by this process understanding of value. Resemblances between this ethical system and that of utilitarian ethical systems will be considered--in particular that of J. S. Mill. This opens the way, in Chapter 2, to examine the more recent consequentialist systems consciously constructed to take the non-human world into account. These similarities raise the question of whether process thinking is open to the same criticisms as utilitarianism, and in particular whether it shares with utilitarian systems a difficulty . . .

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