A Theory of Ecological Justice

By Brian Baxter | Go to book overview

2

The case for social constructivism considered

What is at issue in the universalist-contextualist dispute

The claim that this book puts forward is that the issue of distributive justice between species with respect to environmental resources is a meaningful and important one, and that a set of general considerations to guide moral persons in their deliberation on such matters may be elucidated. These considerations are intended to have perfectly general applicability, to be recognizable as reasonable by all moral persons who care to inspect them. This claim, therefore, supposes that it is possible for there to be something like a perfectly general moral language which persons from all cultural backgrounds can understand and deploy in the course of moral deliberation and argument.

In taking this view, I am nailing my colours to the mast of moral universalism, thereby joining with other moral theorists who have shown no particular interest in the putative issue of distributive justice between different species. For example, there are those who believe that issues of distributive justice between human beings from different cultures may similarly be discussed in a perfectly general way. In fact, as noted in the last chapter, the concept of international distributive justice is nowadays recognized as a prima facie defensible extension of the concept of distributive justice between members of the same community. Hence, in taking the universalist view, ecological justice theorists are to that extent not isolated in their conception of what is defensible in the field of moral theory.

Of course, the universalism of ecological justice may well have a different basis from that of other universalist discourses. For example, it can (and I think should) be given a basis in some form of naturalistic ethics, which seeks to vindicate the universalism of discourse about justice and other moral concepts in terms of a shared human nature, ultimately to be explained in evolutionary terms. Other forms of universalist discourse may be based on alternative general features of all human moral agents (or perhaps all moral agents simpliciter), such as rationality, considered as a set of abstract constraints upon thought. We should note, in passing, that these may not be exclusive categories - some ethical theorists have recently begun to argue that rationality can and should be given a naturalist explanation (see Preston 2002).

However, whatever the basis sought for moral universalism, it is clear that it is a conception which appears to many nowadays to be simply indefensible. Let us,

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