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.