The Value of Microorganisms

Cockell, Charles S.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 27/4 (2005), pages 375-90

Environmental ethics has almost exclusively been focused on multicellular organisms. However, because microorganisms form the base of the world’s food chains, allowing for the existence of all higher organisms, the complexities of the moral considerability of microorganisms deserve attention. Despite the impossible task of protecting individual microorganisms—the paradigmatic example of the limitations to a Schweitzerian “reverence for life”—microorganisms can be considered to have intrinsic value on the basis of conation, along with their enormous instrumental value. This intrinsic value even manifests itself at the individual level, although in this case the ethic can only be regulative (an ethical principle). Biocentrism is the most appropriate ethical framework for microorganisms, and the most useful normative framework for implementing the preservation and conservation of microorganisms. This ethic has implications for how we deal with disease-causing microorganisms.

Valuing Predation in Rolston’s Environmental Ethics: Bambi Lovers versus Tree Huggers

Hettinger, Ned
Environmental Ethics Vol. 16/1 (1994), pages 3-20

Without modification, Rolston’s environmental ethics is biased in favor of plants, since he gives them stronger protection than animals. Rolston can avoid this bias by extending his principle protecting plants (the principle of the nonloss of goods) to human interactions with animals. Were he to do so, however, he would risk undermining his acceptance of meat eating and certain types of hunting. I argue, nevertheless, that meat eating and hunting, properly conceived, are compatible with this extended ethics. As the quintessential natural process, carnivorous predation is rightfully valued and respected by such environmentalists as Rolston.
Because the condemnation of human participation in predation by animal activists suggests a hatred of nature, the challenge for Rolston’s animal activist critics is to show that one can properly appreciate natural predation while consistently and plausibly objectig to human participation in it.

Schweitzer Reconsidered: The Applicability of Reverence for Life as Environmental Philosophy

Goodin, David K.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 29/4 (2007), pages 403-21

As the last great philosopher of the will, Albert Schweitzer rejected the radical individualism of Nietzsche and the pessimistic-mystical detachment of Schopenhauer, and instead sought to create a true social ethic. Schweitzer’s particular contribution was to move further than Nietzsche to reconcile philosophy with natural science while simultaneously preserving and transforming the sense of mysticism and higher world-order principles from Schopenhauer. He joined this new cosmology to the virtue ethics of Aristotle, and recovered one key element of his ontology of becoming to transcend the Humean “is/ought” gap for ethics. The result is a philosophy that is as much biographical of Schweitzer himself as it is systematic. This result is both the strength and greatest weakness of his reverence-for-life ethic. It is tailor-made for contemporary environmental ethics: it has applications in many strands of environmental thought, including deep ecology, ecofeminism, and ecotheology, and may attract considerable interest from environmental movements that seek to cultivate deep personal conviction.

Itch Scratching, Patio Building, and Pesky Flies: Biocentric Individualism Revisited

Davion, Victoria
Environmental Ethics Vol. 28/2 (2006), pages 115-128

Biocentric individualism, the position that all life has intrinsic value, is of no practical help in policy-making contexts. Examples commonly used in discussions of biocentric individualism are themselves alienating and threaten to make environmental philosophy appear irrelevant to policy decisions. Hence, both biocentric individualism and typical discussions of it are problematic for those wishing to make environmental philosophy useful in policy. A recent article by Jason Kawall, in which he attempts to defend biocentric individualism, demonstrates these points.

St. Francis, Paul Taylor, and Franciscan Biocentrism

Mizzoni, John
Environmental Ethics Vol. 26/1 (2004), pages 41-56

The biocentric outlook on nature affirms our fellowship with other living creatures and portrays human beings as members of the Earth’s community who have equal moral standing with other living members of the community. A comparison of Paul Taylor’s biocentric theory of environmental ethics and the life and writings of St. Francis of Assisi reveals that Francis maintained a biocentric environmental ethic. This individualistc environmental ethic is grounded in biology and is unaffected by the paradigm shift in ecology in which nature is regarded as in flux rather than tending toward equilibrium. A holistic environmental ethic that accords moral standing to holistic entities (species, ecosytems, biotic communities) is more vulnerable to these changes in ecology than an environmental ethic that accords moral standing to individuals. Another strength of biocentrism is its potential to provide a unified front across religious and scientific lines.