The Tension

frizzflowerUrban and Civil

Nov 29, 2013 (3 years and 6 months ago)


Chapter 12:

Environmental Ethics

By Melissa Gholamnejad, M.A. Philosophy, Claremont Graduate University

The Tension

Conservation efforts usually come into
tension with human development efforts.
Human habitats clash with natural

Conservation, tourism; tensions
between economic growth and moral
and aesthetic sensitivity.

Some Questions to Consider

What wins out

a nonhuman species or
human economic growth?

Do other species even have rights?

If so, rights in what sense? Moral rights?

Who/what belongs to the moral

Are other species members of a moral

What enables something to possess moral

Moral Community

In the past our definition of moral
community has been (specially in the
west) anthropocentric.

A moral community included human
beings only because by virtue of being a
person posses moral status (Plato’s 3

parts of the soul).

Viewpoint of Western Philosopher

Humans are naturally superior to all
other species by virtue of the capacity to

Aristotle: (384
322 BCE)

The most gifted student of

Held that the source of
meaning comes from
concrete physical reality.

A scientist who studied
botany, physics, biology,
astronomy, politics,
psychology, aesthetics,
and poetry.

Aristotle Continued

For Aristotle ethics originates from our
encounter in the real world and with
each other, the world of experience.

Relationship is a key, for individual does
not exist alone as a private, independent
entity. The individual exists in
relationship with others

Not a question of DOING the right thing,

Aristotle Continued

Humans by nature are RATIONAL

We have a unique capacity to reason, to
be rational.

We realize our true nature as rational
animals, when we properly exercise our
reason throughout our lives.

How about animals that are capable of
some degree of thinking, like the

Thomas Aquinas (1225

A philosopher and theologian.

His interpretation of natural law
became the authority in Roman
Catholic moral teaching for over
300 years.

An act is right or wrong
contingent upon whether or not
that act deviates from what is
viewed as “natural”.

Following the natural law is
following the will of God.

Aquinas Continued

Use of natural law distinguishes us from animals
in our capacity to discern this universal purpose
(innate purpose to nature), this law, through the
“gift of reason”.

We possess an inherent moral sense of what is
right and wrong.

While non
rational being part in natural law is
that their will is determined by God’s.

Capacity to reason indicates that humans are
created in the image of their creator God.
Nonhuman animals, lack this capacity and are
justifiably subjected to humans for human use.

Group of Philosophers called

Socrates, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz,

Hold that at least some important truths,
such as the existence of God, the
immortality of the soul, the truth about
what we ought to do, are either self
evident or can be deductively proved.

Rene Descartes (1596

First modern philosopher,
famous for making the
connection between
geometry and algebra.
Father of analytic

Meditation on First

published in
1641, which provided a
philosophical ground work
for the possibility of the

Descartes Continued

Began writing

in 1639
questions concerning the possibility of

First item of knowledge: COGITO ERGO

I think therefore I am or I am, I exist.

Thinking or reasoning very important in
human life. Since nonhuman animals and
other species lack this faculty, humans are
necessarily superior.

Only humans have minds, thus, animals
cannot feel pain.

Immanuel Kant (1724

Divided philosophy into 3

Logic: Which applies to all

Physics: which deals with the
way the world is.

Ethics: which deals with what
we ought to do.

Kant Continued

Claimed that because humans are superior (in
regards to being rational), they can justifiably
use animals as a means to humans’ own
ends. That is we have no DIRECT duties
toward animals.

However, we do have INDIRECT duties to
treat animals with respect and this indirect
duty strictly prohibits us from treating animals


our actions
should be derivable from universal principles:
when we act, we are to ask whether the
reasons which we propose to act could be
made universal.

Cannot Continue

We cannot continue in this
anthropocentric way because our
resources have become scarce.

We need change in worldview.

Thus environmental concerns compel us
to reexamine our traditional views
regarding what constitutes the moral
community, and whose interest have
priority over other species.

Jeremy Bentham (1748

Born in London, he was the earliest
proponents of animal rights.

Advocacy of utilitarianism of animal
rights and his opposition to the ideas
of natural law and natural rights.

Goal in life was to create a complete
utilitarian code of law.

Utilitarianism: notion that the right act
or policy is that which cause “the
greatest good for the greatest
number of people”=the “greatest
happiness principle”

Bentham Continued

His principle of utility: “good” as that
which produces the greatest amount of
pleasure, and the minimum amount of
pain; and “evil” as that which produces
the most pain without pleasure (both
physical and spiritual).

If reason alone was the criterion by
which we judge who ought to have
rights, human infants and adults of
certain form of disability fall short too.

Peter Singer

Published in 1975

Published in 1979
Practical Ethics
, his most
comprehensive work.

Professor of bioethics at
Princeton University.

He was influenced by

He is a utilitarian.

Singer Continued

His ethical conduct is justifiable by
reason that go beyond to “something
bigger than the individual” addressing a
large audience.

The capacity for pleasure and pain, or
simple sensation, is a viable criterion for
moral status.

For Singer all creatures who have the
capacity for sensation are part of the
moral community.

Carl Becker (Buddhist)

Holds the position that we
cannot maintain this attitude
(whatever benefits there are
in our environment, they
exist for us) because our
resources have become
distressingly scarce. The
only way to resolve this crisis
is which human need far
outstrip natural resources
would be a complete change
in our worldview.

Becker Continued

For Becker this is where Buddhist
Philosophy, particularly in teaching
regarding the interconnectedness of all
things, is invaluable.

Reminds us that other living entities are
stakeholders in the decisions we make
with respect to the environment.

Joel Feinberg (1926

Feinberg seeks to refute the
philosophical theory of psychological
egoism in his 1958 paper

Psychological egoism

the view that
humans are always motivated by self
interest, even in what seems to be acts
of altruism. Example of Kant.

Argues having some sense of self
awareness entitles one to moral status
and respect.

If so, this would exclude plant species
and the like from membership into the
moral community

Mark Sagoff

Argues that this emphasis upon
respecting individual living beings
essentially conflicts with promoting
the interest of the ecosystem.

If we do extend our moral concern
into a bigger ecological picture,
incorporating ecosystem, one lesson
we can learn from ecology and the
study of ecosystem is that nothing
acts in isolation.

All things are interdependent.


In order to have sustainability it
demands a vision of moral responsibility
regarding the future of our planet.

Animal Liberation and
Environmental Ethics

By Mark Sagoff pages 418
427 of our

Discusses “The Land Ethic” written by
Aldo Leopold. Which states that:
“enlarge the boundaries of the
community to include soils, waters,
plants, and animals, or collectively, the

Views to Consider

Christopher Stone and Laurence Tribe state that we should
expand our moral community to include not only human
beings but soil, water, plants, and animals.

Stone suggests that animals as well as trees be given legal
standing so that their interest can be represented in court.

Peter Singer states that

A) animals capacity to suffer pain or enjoy pleasure or
happiness places people under moral obligation.

B) only a being that can experience pain and pleasure can
have an “interest”

Singer does not include rocks, trees, lakes, rivers, or
mountains in the moral community.

His thesis stats that not necessary for animals to have
rights which we are to respect rather animals have
utilities (useful) that ought to be treated on an equal
basis with those of human beings.

What Is Our Moral Obligation
To Animals?

Is the moral obligation to animals to their
being or to their rights

1) Duties to nonhuman animals may be
based on the principle that cruelty to
animals is bad

2) Human beings are to prevent and to
relieve animal suffering however it is
caused, whether in the farm or in the
wild (a stronger claim).

Singer Vs. Leopold

Singer’s thesis:
society has an
obligation to prevent
the killing of animals
and even relieve
their suffering
wherever, however,
and as much as it is
able, at a
reasonable cost to

Ecological system is
beautiful and
demands respect
but not on

Singer Vs. Leopold

Deplore suffering of
domestic animals

Concerned with
welfare of individual
animals, without
special regard to
their status as
endangered species

Aversion to hunting

Not environmentalist

Indifference to the
matter of suffering of
domestic animals

Urgent concern
disappearance of

Top predators are
gone hunter may
serve an ecological

Environmentalist Vs. Animal
Liberation (Animal Equality)

Concerned with ecological issues
not humanitarian issues

Acting for the sake of individual

Maintain the diversity, integrity,
beauty and authenticity of the
natural environment

Allow hunters to shoot animals
whose populations exceed the
carrying capacity of their habitat.

Population biology not animal

Would sacrifice the lives of
individual creatures to preserve
the authenticity, integrity and
complexity of ecological systems.

Suffering of animals their primary

Singer: Moral obligation to animals
are justified because they are in
distress and human ability to relieve
the stress

Require society to relieve animal
suffering wherever it can and at a lesser
cost to itself, domestic or wild.

Of course if suffering of animals
creates human obligation, then should
we stop a cat from killing a mouse.

Henry Shue: if we give animals equal
rights as humans, then we cannot
allow animals to be killed for food.

Sacrifice authenticity, integrity and
complexity of ecosystem to protect the
rights, or guard lives of animals