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.