Francis of Assisi and the Diversity of Creation

Hughes, J. Donald
Environmental Ethics Vol. 18/3 (1996), pages 311-320

Francis’ view of nature has been seen as positive in an ecological sense even by those who are for the most part critical of Christianity’s attitude to nature, such as Lynn White, Jr. I argue that one element of Francis’ uniqueness was that he saw the diversity of life as an expression of God’s creativity and benevolence and attempted to carry out that vision in ethical behavior. Much of what has been written about him has precedents in traditional hagiography, but there remains an unmistakable impression of originality. It has been noted that Francis insisted on the goodness of creation, used terms of family relationship to refer to creatures other than human, and preached to them. However, another element has escaped notice: his emphasis on the presence of God in the diversity of created entities and his desire that humans should rejoice in this diversity and glorify God for it and with it. His devotion did not immediately dissolve multiplicity into oneness, but glorified God in each created being and delighted in their individuality. He advocated that praise be expressed by acting in ways consistent with respect for created diversity, not only by observing a strict rule of abstaining from harm to living beings, but also in positive treatment of all creatures. Nature took its meaning not from its serviceability to mankind, but from its expression of the multiple forms of God’s benevolent presence.

The Institutionalization of the Ethics of “Non-Injury” toward All “Beings” in Ancient India

Jacobsen, Knut A.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 16/3 (1994), pages 287-301

The principle of non-injury toward all living beings in India was originally a rule restraining human interaction with the natural environment. I compare two discourses on the relationship between humans and the natural environment in ancient India: the discourse of the priestly sacrificial cult and the discourse of the renunciants. In the sacrificial cult, all living beings were conceptualized as food. The renunciants opposed this conception and favored the ethics of non-injury toward all beings (plants, animals, etc.), which meant that no living being should be food for another. The first represented an ethics modelled on the power that the eater has over the eaten while the second attempted to overturn this food chain ethics. The ethics of non-injury ascribed ultimate value to every individual living being. As a critique of the individualistic ethics of noninjury, a holistic ethics was developed that prescribed the unselfish performance of one’s duties for the sake of the functioning of the natural system. Vegetarianism became a popular adaptation of the ethics of non-injury. These dramatic changes in ethics in ancient India are suggestive for the possibility of dramatic changes in environmental ethics today.

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.

The Value of Wilderness

Godfrey-Smith, William
Environmental Ethics Vol. 1/4 (1979), pages 309-19

In this paper I explore various grounds on which wilderness can be regarded as something which we should value, and I draw attention to the problems of resolving conflict which are generated by these diverse grounds. I conclude that our attitudes toward nature are partially determined by a background of metaphysical assumptions which derive in particular from the philosophy of Descartes. These metaphysical preconceptions lead to the misconception that various alternative views about the natural environment are mystical or occult. Thus, an alternative non-Cartesian mode of conception involving holistic or systemic modes of thought is required in order to develop a satisfactory basis for our attitude toward the natural world.

Environmental Ethics in Antarctica

Rolston, Holmes III
Environmental Ethics Vol. 24/2 (2002), pages 115-134

The concerns of environmental ethics on other continents fail in Antarctica, which is without sustainable development, or ecosystems for a “land ethic,” or even familiar terrestrial fauna and flora. An Antarctic regime, developing politically, has been developing an ethics, underrunning the politics, remarkably exemplified in the Madrid Protocol, protecting “the intrinsic value of Antarctica.” Without inhabitants, claims of sovereignty are problematic. Antarctica is a continent for scientists and, more recently, tourists. Both focus on wild nature. Life is driven to extremes; these extremes can intensify an ethic. Antarctica as common heritage transforms into wilderness, sanctuary, wonderland. An appropriate ethics for the seventh continent differs radically from that for the other six.