Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

By Holmes Rolston III | Go to book overview

1
Is There an Ecological Ethic?

The Ecological Conscience1 is the arresting title of a representative environmental anthology. The puzzlement lies neither in the noun nor in the by now familiar modifier, but in their operation on each other. We are comfortable with a Christian or humanist ethic, but the moral noun does not regularly take a scientific adjective: a biological conscience, a geological conscience. In a celebrated survey, The Subversive Science, 2 where ecology reaches into our ultimate commitments, Paul Sears entitles an essay "The Steady State: Physical Law and Moral Choice." To see how odd, ethically and scientifically, is the conjunction, replace homeostasis with gravity or entropy.

The sense of anomaly will dissipate, though moral urgency may remain, if an environmental ethic proves to be only an ethic--utilitarian, hedonist, or whatever--about the environment, brought to it, informed concerning it, but not in principle ecologically formed or reformed. This would be like medical ethics, which is applied to but not derived from medical science. But we are sometimes promised more, a derivation in which the newest bioscience shapes (not to say, subverts) the ethic, a resurgent naturalistic ethics. "We must learn that nature includes an intrinsic value system," writes Ian McHarg. 3 A Daedalus collection is introduced with the same conviction: Environmental science "is the building of the structure of concepts and natural laws that will enable man to understand his place in nature. Such understanding must be one basis of the moral values that guide each human generation in exercising its stewardship over the earth. For this purpose ecology--the science of interactions among living things and their environments--is central." 4 We shall presently inquire into the claim that an ecological ultimacy lies in "The Balance of Nature: A Ground for Values." Just what sort of traffic is there here between science and morality?

The boundary between science and ethics is precise if we accept a pair of current (though not unargued) philosophical categories: the distinction between

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Reprinted by permission from Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy 85 ( 1975):93-109. Copyright © 1975 by the University of Chicago Press.

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Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • I. Ethics and Nature 11
  • 1: Is There an Ecological Ethic? 12
  • Notes 28
  • 2: Can and Ought We to Follow Nature? 30
  • 3: Philosophical Aspects of the Environment 53
  • 4: The River of Life 61
  • Ii. Values in Nature 73
  • 5: Values in Nature 74
  • Notes 89
  • 6: Are Values in Nature Subjective or Objective? 91
  • 7: Values Gone Wild 118
  • Iii. Environmental Philosophy in Practice 143
  • 8: Just Environmental Business 144
  • Introduction 144
  • References 177
  • 9: Valuing Wildlands 180
  • Iv. Nature in Experience 221
  • 11: Lake Solitude 223
  • 12: Meditation at the Precambrian Contact 233
  • 13: Farewell, Washington County 241
  • 14: Nature and Human Emotions 248
  • Subject Index 263
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