Modes of Reasoning – Lecture 17
I – Environmental Ethics
• The first moral issue examined in this course was the moral status of
animals: what rights do animals have?
• Another issue of contemporary moral importance is the issue of the
natural environment or ‘ecology’.
• It is rather generally conceded that we have some obligations to
protect and nurture the natural environment.
• Given this general consensus, the fundamental issue in environmental
ethics becomes what exactly our moral obligations are concerning the
natural environment. 2
II – Environmental Ethics: Two Approaches
• Besides the issue of exactly what moral obligations we have towards
the natural environment, there is the more preliminary question of
from where these obligations derive.
• There are two fundamental views or positions regarding from where
moral obligations towards the natural environment derive, which
divide environmental ethicists into two broad categories: deep
ecologists and shallow ecologists.
Deep ecology: our moral obligations to protect the natural
environment derive primarily from the value of the natural
Inherent value (also known as ‘intrinsic value’): a value that
something S has in and of itself.
Instrumental value: a value that something S has by virtue of the fact
that it has value for some other thing T.
• According to deep ecologists, nature has an inherent value.
-It is valuable in of itself, apart from any value it might have for other
entities such as human beings.
-Even if humans and animals did not exist, the existence and
preservation of the planet could still be given a rationale.
E.G.: Even if we had another planet to live on, we still shouldn’t
destroy the earth. 3
• Deep ecologists tend to hold more extreme positions about the scope
of our moral obligations toward the planet.
-Since nature has an inherent value, we have very substantial moral
obligations to protect and preserve its resources.
-We must protect nature at virtually any cost since there is something
worthwhile about nature in and of itself. 4
Shallow ecology: the natural environment only has instrumental
-Nature is valuable only to the extent that it is valuable to some
domain of entities, i.e., especially human beings and animals.
-Our moral obligations to protect and preserve nature derive from the
fact that it has certain basic purposes for us: it enables us to live,
breath, eat, enjoy beauty, etc.
-If humans and animals didn’t exist, the existence and preservation of
the planet could not be given a rationale.
E.G.: if we had another planet to live on, we shouldn’t worry about
whether or not the earth is destroyed. 5
• Shallow ecologists tend to hold less extreme views about our moral
obligations towards the natural environment than deep ecologists.
-Our moral obligations to protect and preserve the natural
environment are limited: limited to cases in which protecting and
preserving the environment provides a significant benefit to humans
and other animals.
• However, there is a broad range of positions within this spectrum.
-Many shallow ecologists claim that we have quite substantial moral
obligations to protect and preserve nature.
-They advocate policies and actions which might be described as
-It’s just that this is given an instrumentalist justification: such
policies and actions will be beneficial to humans and animals. 6
III – Naess on the Environment and Deep Ecology
• Arne Naess is a proponent of deep ecology.
-The natural environment has an inherent value, one independent of
the value it has for humans and other animals.
-Our moral obligations towards nature, obligations that should be
sanctioned by the law, are rather substantial.
• In his article, though, he is interested to lay out, elucidate and defend
the deep ecological position rather than delineate its consequences
with respect to our moral obligations.
• What sorts of general theoretical and intuitive considerations support
the position of deep ecology, or what is called the ‘deep ecosophy’
(the philosophy underlying deep ecology)? 7
(1) Value Objectivism: values are objective, real or inherent features
-Things can have values independently of the purposes they serve for
humans and animals.
-Value subjectivism, according to which things can only have value
relative to the purposes they serve for humans and animals, is a
prejudice of modern 20 -21 Century western society.
-It is anthropocentric to think that things can only have values for us.
-Most other cultures at most other times were subjectivists and
believed that certain things, besides humans and other animals, could
have inherent value. 8
(2) Living beings and intrinsic value: all living things (everything
existing within nature) have an intrinsic or inherent value.
-Any living being has a right to life.