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.

Against Biospherical Egalitarianism

French, William C.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 17/1 (1995), pages 39-57

Arne Naess and Paul Taylor are two of the most forceful proponents of the principle of species equality. Problematically, both, when adjudicating conflict of interest cases, resort to employing explicit or implicit species-ranking arguments. I examine how Lawrence Johnson’s critical, species-ranking approach helpfully avoids the normative inconsistencies of “biospherical egalitarianism.” Many assume species-ranking schemes are rooted in arrogant, ontological claims about human, primate, or mammalian superiority. Species-ranking, I believe, is best viewed as a justified articulation of moral priorities in response to individuals’
or entities’ relative ranges of vulnerability and need, rooted in their relative ranges of capacities and interests.

Are Humans Superior to Animals and Plants?

Taylor, Paul W.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 6/2 (1984), pages 149-160

Louis G. Lombardi’s arguments in support of the claim that humans have greater inherent worth than other living things provide a clear account of how it is possible to conceive of the relation between humans and nonhumans in this way. Upon examining his arguments, however, it seems that he does not succeed in establishing any reason to believe that humans actually do have greater inherent worth than animals and plants.

In Defense of Biocentrism

Taylor, Paul W.

Environmental Ethics Vol. 5/3 (1983), pages 237-43

Gene Spitler has raised certain objections to my views on the biocentric outlook: (1) that a factual error is involved in the assertion that organisms pursue their own good, (2) that there is an inconsistency in the biocentric outlook, (3) that it is impossible for anyone to adopt that outlook, and (4) that the outlook entails unacceptable moral judgments, for example, that killing insects and wildflowers is as morally reprehensible as killing humans. I reply to each of these points, showing that the biocentric outlook on nature is not only a possible, but also a reasonable world view.

The Ethics of Respect for Nature

Taylor, Paul W.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 3/3 (1981), pages 197-218

I present the foundational structure for a life-centered theory of environmental ethics. The structure consists of three interrelated components. First is the adopting of a certain ultimate moral attitude toward nature, which I call “respect for nature.” Second is a belief system that constitutes a way of conceiving of the natural world and of our place in it. This belief system underlies and supports the attitude in a way that makes it an appropriate attitude to take toward the Earth’s natural ecosystems and their life communities. Third is a system of moral rules and standards for guiding our treatment of those ecosystems and life communities, a set of normative principles which give concrete embodiment or expression to the attitude of respect for nature. The theory set forth and defended here is, I hold, structurally symmetrical with a theory of human ethics based on the principle of respect for persons.