The Ethical Relevance of Earth-like Extrasolar Planets

Cockell, Charles S.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 28/3 (2006), pages 303-314

The discovery of Earth-sized extrasolar planets orbiting distant stars will merit an expansion of the sphere of entities worthy of moral consideration. Although it will be a long time, if ever, before humans visit these planets, it is nevertheless worthwhile to develop an environmental ethic that encompasses these planets, as this ethic reflects on our view of life on Earth and elsewhere. A particularly significant case would be a planet that displays spectroscopic signatures of life, although the discovery of many lifeless planets might itself intensify the value of life on Earth. A derivation of Schweitzer’s general principle of “reverence for life” and similar frameworks are appropriate ethics with which to view extrasolar planets. The development of an ethical framework for extrasolar planets might provide a means to fashion a deeper and more effective environmental ethic for Earth’s biosphere.

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.

Reverence for Life as a Viable Environmental Virtue

Kawall, Jason
Environmental Ethics Vol. 25/4 (2003), pages 339-358

There have been several recent defenses of biocentric individualism, the position that all living beings have at least some moral standing, simply insofar as they are alive. I develop a virtue-based version of biocentric individualism, focusing on a virtue of reverence for life. In so doing, I attempt to show that such a virtuebased approach allows us to avoid common objections to biocentric individualism, based on its supposed impracticability (or, on the other hand, its emptiness).

A Biocentrist Strikes Back

Sterba, James P.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 20/4 (1998), pages 361-376

Biocentrists are criticized (1) for being biased in favor of the human species, (2) for basing their view on an ecology that is now widely challenged, and (3) for failing to reasonably distinguish the life that they claim has intrinsic value from the animate and inanimate things that they claim lack intrinsic value. In this paper, I show how biocentrism can be defended against these three criticisms, thus permitting biocentrists to justifiably appropriate the salutation, “Let the life force (or better the ethical demands of life) be with you.”

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.