Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

Synopsis

Holmes Rolston, III, is professor of philosophy at Colorado State University and associate editor of Environmental Ethics, in addition to being a field naturalist and a bryologist

Excerpt

Nature is perhaps the most ancient philosophical category, yet few others are of greater current relevance. Still, a quarter century back, not even the most astute observer would have predicted a wild turn in philosophy. There has been no more surprising philosophical development than the recent, serious reconsideration of the human relationship to the ecosystemic Earth. The questions come in many forms: Have we any duties to natural things at all, or merely duties to persons concerning natural things? What sort of human dominion over nature is proper? In what senses can or should humans follow nature? Have we duties to animals, perhaps at least to sentient animals? Have we duties to endangered species, or, again, only duties to persons concerning rare species?

Is nature only a resource for human needs, natural things accordingly having merely instrumental value? Or are there intrinsic values in ecosystems, apart from human concerns? Are these to be located in organic individuals or in their biological communities, the whole of which the organism is a part? Are the values associated with nature subjective or objective? Precisely what are these values carried by natural things? How are they to be traded off against other human values, against the legitimate and not-so-legitimate demands of industry, business, development? How much nature do we destroy in order to benefit the poor? How much nature do we owe to future generations? How does the present debate about valuing nature reconnect with longstanding issues within philosophy such as the (so-called) naturalistic fallacy, that of moving from an is, describing nature, to an ought, prescribing an ethic? How does it relate to the Darwinian portrait of nature red in tooth and claw? What, after all, is the nature of nature, and what experiences encountering nature are appropriate in the light of contemporary bioscience and of philosophical criticism? The essays that follow discuss the environmental turn in philosophy.

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