St. Francis, Paul Taylor, and Franciscan Biocentrism

Mizzoni, John
Environmental Ethics Vol. 26/1 (2004), pages 41-56

The biocentric outlook on nature affirms our fellowship with other living creatures and portrays human beings as members of the Earth’s community who have equal moral standing with other living members of the community. A comparison of Paul Taylor’s biocentric theory of environmental ethics and the life and writings of St. Francis of Assisi reveals that Francis maintained a biocentric environmental ethic. This individualistc environmental ethic is grounded in biology and is unaffected by the paradigm shift in ecology in which nature is regarded as in flux rather than tending toward equilibrium. A holistic environmental ethic that accords moral standing to holistic entities (species, ecosytems, biotic communities) is more vulnerable to these changes in ecology than an environmental ethic that accords moral standing to individuals. Another strength of biocentrism is its potential to provide a unified front across religious and scientific lines.

Against the Social Construction of Nature and Wilderness

Crist, Eileen,
Environmental Ethics Vol. 26/1 (2004), pages 5-24

The application of constructivism to “nature” and “wilderness” is intellectually and politically objectionable. Despite a proclivity for examining the social underpinnings of representations, constructivists do not deconstruct their own rhetoric and assumptions; nor do they consider what socio-historical conditions support their perspective. Constructivists employ skewed metaphors to describe knowledge production about nature as though the loaded language use of constructivism is straightforward and neutral. They also implicitly rely on a humanist perspective about knowledge creation that privileges the cognitive sovereignty of human subject over nature. Politically, the constructivist approach fails to take the scientific documentation of the biodiversity crisis seriously; it diverts attention toward discourses about the environmental predicament, rather than examining that predicament itself; and it indirectly cashes in on, and thus supports, human colonization of the Earth.

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).

The Relevance of Environmental Ethical Theories for Policy Making

Stenmark, Mikael
Environmental Ethics Vol. 24/2 (2002), pages 135-148

I address the issue of whether differences in ethical theory have any relevance for the practical issues of environmental management and policy making. Norton’s answer, expressed as a convergence hypothesis, is that environmentalists are evolving toward a consensus in policy even though they remain divided regarding basic values. I suggest that there are good reasons for rejecting Norton’s position. I elaborate on these reasons, first, by distinguishing between different forms of anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism, second, by contrasting the different goals that anthropocentrists, biocentrists, and ecocentrists set up for environmental policy making, and, lastly, by identifying three important policy areas (population growth, wilderness preservation, and wildlife management) where differences in basic values generate divergent policies.

Fabricating Nature: A Critique of the Social Construction of Nature

Kidner, David W.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 22/4 (2000), pages 339-57

Models of nature have usually referred to ecological, or more generally, scientific understandings, and have seldom included cultural factors. Recently, however, there has been a trend toward defining nature as a “social construction,” that is, as an artifact of human social and linguistic capability. I argue that constructionism attempts to assimilate nature to an exclusively anthropocentric “reality,” and that it should be seen as expressing long-term industrialist tendencies to separate the “human” and the “natural” realms and to assimilate the latter to the former. Consequently, the constructionist approach, rather than offering us a fertile means of incorporating cultural influences within environmental theorizing, is better viewed as a cognitive counterpart to industrialism’s physical assimilation of the natural world.