Why Environmental Ethics Shouldn’t Give Up on Intrinsic Value

McShane, Katie
Environmental Ethics Vol. 29/1 (2007), pages 43-61

Recent critics (Andrew Light, Bryan Norton, Anthony Weston, and Bruce Morito, among others) have argued that we should give up talk of intrinsic value in general and that of nature in particular. While earlier theorists might have overestimated the importance of intrinsic value, these recent critics underestimate its importance. Claims about a thing’s intrinsic value are claims about the distinctive way in which we have reason to care about that thing. If we understand intrinsic value in this manner, we can capture the core claims that environmentalists want to make about nature while avoiding the worries raised by contemporary critics. Since the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic value plays a critical role in our understanding of the different ways that we do and should care about things, moral psychology, ethical theory in general, and environmental ethics in particular shouldn’t give up on the concept of intrinsic value.

Instrumental Value in Nature as a Basis for the Intrinsic Value of Nature as a Whole

Elliot, Robert
Environmental Ethics Vol. 27/1 (2005), pages 43-56

Some environmental ethicists believe that nature as whole has intrinsic value. One reason they do is because they are struck by the extent to which nature and natural processes give rise to so much that has intrinsic value. The underlying thought is that the value-producing work that nature performs, its instrumentality, imbues nature with a value that is more than merely instrumental. This inference, from instrumental value to a noninstrumental value (such as intrinsic value or systemic value), has been criticized. After all, it seems to rely on the bizarre idea that a thing’s instrumental value could be a basis for it’s intrinsic value. This idea, however, is not as easy to dismiss as many might think. Review of the obvious arguments that might be deployed to defeat it shows that they have to be rejected, suggesting that a thing’s instrumental value could be, and arguably is, a basis for it’s intrinsic value. Defending this apparently bizarre idea provides a way of justifying the claim that nature as a whole has intrinsic value.

A Defense of Environmental Ethics: A Reply to Janna Thompson

Nelson, Michael P.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 15/3 (1993), pages 245-257

Janna Thompson dismisses environmental ethics primarily because it does not meet her criteria for ethics: consistency, non-vacuity, and decidability. In place of a more expansive environmental ethic, she proposes to limit moral considerability to beings with a “point of view.” I contend, first, that a point-of-view centered ethic is unacceptable not only because it fails to meet the tests of her own and other criteria, but also because it is precisely the type of ethic that has contributed to our current environmental dilemmas. Second, I argue that the holistic, ecocentric land ethic of Aldo Leopold, as developed by J. Baird Callicott, an environmental ethic that Thompson never considers, nicely meets Thompson’s criteria for acceptable ethics, and may indeed be the cure for our environmental woes.

Minimal, Moderate, and Extreme Moral Pluralism

Wenz, Peter S.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 15/1 (1993), pages 61-74

Concentrating on the views of Christopher Stone, who advocates moral pluralism, and J. Baird Callicott, who criticizes Stone’s views, I argue that the debate has been confused by a conflation of three different positions, here called minimal, moderate, and extreme moral pluralism. Minimal pluralism is uncontroversial because all known moral theories are minimally pluralistic. Extreme pluralism is defective in the ways that Callicott alleges and, moreover, is inconsistent with integrity in the moral life. However, moderate pluralism of the sort that I advance in Environmental Justice is distinct from extreme pluralism and free of its defects. It is also consistent with Callicott’s version of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, which is itself moderately pluralistic.

Cheney and the Myth of Postmodernism

Smith, Mick
Environmental Ethics Vol. 15/1 (1993), pages 3-17

I draw critical parallels between Jim Cheney’s work and various aspects of modernism, which he ignores or misrepresents. I argue, first, that Cheney’s history of ideas is appallingly crude. He amalgamates all past Western philosophical traditions, irrespective of their disparate backgrounds and complex interrelationships, under the single heading, modern. Then he posits a radical epistemological break between a deluded modernism—characterized as foundationalist, essentialist, colonizing, and totalizing—and a contextual postmodernism. He seems unaware both of the complex genealogy of postmodernism and of those aspects of modern traditions that prefigure his own thesis. Second, Cheney’s account of primitive peoples is both ethnocentric (though positively so) and inaccurate. Third, Cheney reduces context or place to a concept of bioregionality. In this way, he reinstates a privileged foundationalism which, by his own definitions, makes his philosophy modernist. I develop these criticisms in order to suggest a less restricted contextual approach to environmental values.