Professor Dave Williams
August 16, 2008
Pluralism and Environmental Pragmatism
Pluralism and Environmental Pragmatism
With the widely differing theoretical environmental ethic philosophical frameworks that are currently espoused, it is clear that a single unified theory has not yet emanated from this discipline. This has frustrated “monists” within the discipline. Monists contend that there must be a single environmental ethic framework that is the only true framework. Underpinning this standpoint is the idea that environmental ethics would be devoid of any objectivity if there is not a single “true” theoretical framework: “One strong motivation behind moral monism is the fear of the alternative. Without a single unified and coherent theory, we seem relegated to ethical relativism” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 262). In contrast to the monists, “pluralists” are those who “accept the possibility that more than one basic approach can be legitimate” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 262) and they subscribe to “a plurality of moral truths,” as opposed to the relativist, who contends that lack of a single truth means that there can be no moral truth. Desjardins notes that “perhaps it is a mistake to apply scientific and mathematical standards to ethics. Perhaps we are asking too much when we seek clear, unambiguous and certain decisions on ethical matters. Perhaps we can be rational about ethical matters without having unequivocal, definitive answers” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 263). Environmental pragmatism acknowledges moral pluralism, and focuses less on what is true, per se, and more on what it is that we should do about issues. It is a very “contextual” approach in that each issue presents its own complexities that need to be reviewed in order to begin to make a decision. Pragmatists “understand that practical reasoning may not always offer unambiguous advice” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 266). Desjardins also goes on to describe that “pragmatism also supports democratic values such as tolerance and respect for diverse opinions and the commitment to engaging in free and open procedures for deciding rather than seeking the single ‘true’ decision” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 266). Desjardin then goes on to note that he had a personal experience where a task force had to make a difference. Apparently, the task force was not able to make much headway in its first two years of existence. He contends that this resulted from the fact that the first two years were characterized by the task force members coming at the issue unyieldingly from whatever their theoretical viewpoint was that they began the meetings with. He feels that once the task force began focusing on what the different participants actually did already agree on that they really started to gain momentum and make headway with the issue: “the alternative began with the practical matter of getting things done, and it did this by starting with specific issues on which people agreed. Ultimately, ‘theory’ followed practice in the sense that the final governing principle was developed out of the agreed upon starting points” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 267). Critics of environmental pragmatism claim that the decision plans that emanate from this pragmatism approach are really nothing more than more of the same. In other words, they still reflect business as usual and the status quo. Pragmatists feel as if this criticism is not valid because they view the pragmatic approach to decision-making as a venue through which opinions not in step with the status quo get surfaced so that more people may benefit from them as they make decisions. In other words, because this process makes differing positions known and because it makes the black-box of the decision-making process transparent, then it opens the door for the status quo to evolve: “as values are brought in line with practices, they evolve to...
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