Convergence and Contextualism: Some Clarifications and a Reply to Steverson

Norton, Bryan G.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 19/1 (1997), pages 87-100

The convergence hypothesis asserts that, if one takes the full range of human values—present and future—into account, one will choose a set of policies that can also be accepted by an advocate of a consistent and reasonable nonanthropocentrism. Brian Steverson has attacked this hypothesis from a surprising direction. He attributes to deep ecologists the position that nonhuman nature has intrinsic value, interprets this position to mean that no species could ever be allowed to go extinct, and proceeds to show that my commitment to contextualism prohibits me from advocating the protection of species universally. In response, I show, by reference to recent scientific findings, how difficult it is to defend species preservation in all situations. In particular, I argue that Steverson’s appeal to a possible world in which we have nearly complete biological knowledge misses the point of the convergence hypothesis. It is an empirical hypothesis, with significant indirect, and some direct, evidence to support it. Although it is a falsifiable hypothesis about realworld policies, it cannot be falsified by a contrary-to-fact case.

Why Norton’s Approach is Insufficient for Environmental Ethics

Westra, Laura
Environmental Ethics Vol. 19/3 (1997), pages 279-97

There has been an ongoing debate about the best approach in environmental ethics. Bryan Norton believes that “weak anthropocentrism” will yield the best results for public policy, and that it is the most defensible position. In contrast, I have argued that an ecocentric, holistic position is required to deal with the urgent environmental problems that face us, and that position is complemented by the ecosystem approach and complex systems theory. I have called this approach “the ethics of integrity,” and in this paper I show why this perspective suggests better solutions to difficult cases, for which “weak anthropocentrism” fails to provide an answer.

Contextualism and Norton’s Convergence Hypothesis

Steverson, Brian K.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 17/2 (1995), pages 135-150

Toward Unity among Environmentalists is Bryan Norton’s most developed effort to surmount the frequently intractable debate between anthropocentrists and nonanthropocentrists. Norton argues that the basic axiological differences between the two positions have become irrelevant at the level of policy formation. His thesis is that the two camps converge when dealing with practical goals and aims for environmental management. I argue that Norton’s approach falls significantly short of establishing such a convergence because of the overall methodological framework for policy formation that he defends. The key problem with that framework is that it fails to provide for the degree of species protection most suitable to the nonanthropocentrist position.