Philosophy 310 Environmental Ethics Winter 2012
Question Three: What does it mean to be an “environmentalist” in the Pacific Northwest in the 21st century? Over the course of this term, we have surveyed several different approaches to environmental ethics. Each would offer a somewhat different response to the question. What is your response? Which of the several ethical stances we have surveyed provides the best orientation for environmentalism in the 21st century?
PHILOSOPHY 310 ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
What does it mean to be an environmentalist in the Pacific Northwest in the 21st century? Certainly, with our modern understanding of global systems and increased globalization due to technology, it means means the same thing here as it does anywhere else in the world. The answer is not, as can be the case with other movements, that we must have a universally true, unanimously agreed upon system of ethics that yields the correct choice for every decision. Such a statement is much too narrow and exclusive to account for the diverse interests of our global community. What it means to be an environmentalist then, as I will discuss in more detail through the remainder of this essay, is to identify within those systems of values with which each of us relates the reasons for preserving, restoring and/or improving the non-human world. Over the course of this term we have surveyed several different approaches to environmental ethics. It can not be denied that each approach we discussed makes reasonable arguments based on concepts and values we can at least understand. The tendency for us as thinkers is to try to choose one of these isms and align ourselves strictly to its tenets. I can’t help but wonder why we can’t agree that each of these perspectives offers valuable insight into the values in the world, and all are worth consideration. Although many of these ideas seem contradictory, it is important that we see them
PARADOX: A statement that reduces the matter at hand to complete obscurity while clarifying it -Gene Wolfe
instead as paradoxical. I do not believe that it is necessary to discount other forms of value judgement in order to identify with any one of them. In an effort for diversity without sacrificing conciseness I will focus on strong anthropocentrism, biocentrism and social ecology. Each approach makes defensible arguments based on a set of values that we as thinkers can find truth in.
Strong anthropocentrism is the belief that all and only humans have moral standing or intrinsic value. This system of reasoning has been vilified throughout this course as the closed-minded position standing in opposition to environmentalist action. In reality, it is simply a way of defending a position, and does not necessarily form any particular position. It is, however, perhaps the only orientation that can be used to argue against environmentalism. From an environmental perspective, strong
PHILOSOPHY 310 ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
anthropocentrism simply dictates that human policy toward the environment must be in the best interest of humans. This is as easily extended to a policy of strict conservation or preservation as it is to resource exploitation, as each of these positions would be in some regard good for humans. From a strong anthropocentrist view, one might “have no interest in preserving penguins for their own sake; penguins are important because people enjoy seeing them walk on rocks.” (Clowney & Mosto, 335) The environmental position here is still that penguins are important. Strict adherence to strong anthropomorphism does not disqualify a person from classification as an environmentalist; in fact with very few exceptions, environmentalists still value human needs and desires and moral concern above those of an individual non-human, which is the fundamental assertion of weak anthropomorphism. Biocentrism offers a much...