When Paul Taylor’s Respect for Nature was published in 1986, it was an intellectually liberating event. Environmental ethics was a young field very much in search of its identity. While animals were on the academic agenda thanks to Peter Singer and Tom Regan, it was far from clear how to think sensibly about our moral relations with nonsentient nature. Environmental ethics had an uncertain relationship both to the academic world and to the environmental movement, sometimes seeming to combine the obscurantism of the former with the dogmatism of the latter. It is revealing that what were probably the two best papers in this nascent field were skeptical and tentative. One suggested that a new environmental ethic probably was not needed, while the other seemed only to say that such an ethic was worth trying to develop.1 Into the breach came Paul Taylor with a carefully reasoned, highly sophisticated account that not only made environmental ethics a subject of serious academic inquiry, but also connected it to the values and lifestyles that were emerging in the environmental movement.
What first struck me about Taylor’s book was that it made no pretense of universal appeal. Taylor claimed that it was rational to accept what he called “the biocentric outlook,” that this “underlies and supports” the attitude of respect for nature, and that there is a particular system of standards and rules that would guide moral agents were they to accept the
1 Richard Routley, “Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?” Proceedings of the XVth World Congress of Philosophy 1 (1973): 205–210; and Tom Regan, “The Nature and Possibility of an Environmental Ethic,” Environmental Ethics, vol. 3 (1981): 19–34.