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«environmental ethics for the long term Broad in scope, this introduction to environmental ethics considers both contemporary issues and the extent of ...»

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environmental

ethics for the

long term

Broad in scope, this introduction to environmental ethics considers both contemporary issues and the extent of humanity’s responsibility for distant future life. John

Nolt, a logician and environmental ethicist, interweaves contemporary science, logical analysis, and ethical theory into the story of the expansion of ethics beyond the

human species and into the far future. Informed by contemporary environmental

science, the book deduces concrete policy recommendations from carefully justified ethical principles and ends with speculations concerning the deepest problems of environmental ethics. Pedagogical features include chapter outlines, annotated suggestions for further reading, explanations of key terms when first mentioned, and an extensive glossary.

John Nolt is a philosophy professor at the University of Tennessee. He began his career as a logician, but soon took to moonlighting as an environmental activist. The activism eventually drew him into academic work in environmental ethics. He has published many articles and several books in both philosophical logic and environmental studies.

This page intentionally left blank JOHN NOLT environmental ethics for the long term An Introduction First published 2015 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2015 Taylor & Francis The right of John Nolt to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Nolt, John, 1950Environmental ethics for the long term: an introduction/John Nolt.

pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Environmental ethics. I. Title.

GE42.N65 2015 179.1—dc23 ISBN: 978–0–415–53583–0 (hbk) ISBN: 978–0–415–53584–7 (pbk) ISBN: 978–1–315–75168–9 (ebk) Typeset in Berling and Arial Rounded by Swales & Willis, Exeter, Devon To Évora Kreis, Ben Nolt, Jenna Nolt and Annette Mendola—and especially to my mother, Jane E. Nolt, for inspiring a younger edition of me with an abiding love of learning.

This page intentionally left blank C ONT ENT S Preface xi Acknowledgments

–  –  –

5.3 THE MORAL STATUS OF SENTIENT ANIMALS

5.3.1 ANIMAL WELFARE 5.3.2 REASONS FOR EXCLUDING NON-HUMANS FROM MORAL

CONSIDERABILITY

5.3.3 THE ARGUMENT FROM MARGINAL CASES

SINGER’S ANIMAL LIBERATION

5.4 5.4.1 SINGER’S CENTRAL ARGUMENT 5.4.2 THE QUESTION OF KILLING 5.4.3 VEGETARIANISM 5.4.4 OBJECTIONS TO SINGER’S THEORY

A DEONTOLOGICAL ANIMAL ETHIC: TOM REGAN’S THE CASE FOR

5.5

ANIMAL RIGHTS

5.5.1 REGAN’S AXIOLOGY: INHERENT VALUE 5.5.2 THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY OF INDIVIDUALS 5.5.3 THE RESPECT PRINCIPLE 5.5.4 CONFLICT-RESOLUTION PRINCIPLES 5.5.5 IMPLICATIONS AND OBJECTIONS

5.6 VARNER’S RULE UTILITARIANISM

5.7 CARRUTHERS’ CONTRACTUALISM

5.8 CARE ETHICS

5.9 ROLSTON ON ANIMALS

5.10 PALMER’S RELATIONAL ETHIC

5.11 THE LESSONS OF ANIMAL ETHICS

5.12 ANIMAL ETHICS FOR THE LONG TERM

–  –  –

Morality progresses, but slowly. Slavery is now condemned around the world.

Virtually every nation has signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The status of women has improved globally. Prejudice against those whose religious convictions or sexual orientations differ from cultural norms is falling away. Racism is in retreat worldwide. Some of these goals were distant dreams in the minds of the best moral thinkers two centuries ago. Some of them were not yet thinkable.

Yet moral practice lags far behind moral ideals. Still today human rights are regularly violated in many places, and great tragedies are brewing in the destructive power of our technology and rapid growth of our population. Whether and how quickly ethical thinking can alter our behavior remains to be seen.

One measure of moral progress is the enlargement of our conception of the moral community—the set of those whose welfare we hold to be morally considerable.

The earliest ethics were tribal. Tribal moral communities were in part non-human, encompassing a host of gods or spirits. Often these were associated with particular natural forces, places, animals and even plants. But as regards human beings, tribal ethics were largely confined to the tribe. If you were a member of the tribe, your welfare mattered; if not, it didn’t—and you were therefore a legitimate target of rape, robbery or murder. In the Old Testament book of Joshua, for example, God orders the twelve tribes of Israel to invade the land of Canaan, seize its cities, and put their inhabitants—men, women, children, and livestock—to the sword. This slaughter of innocents who were minding their own business or at worst trying to defend their homes was deemed righteous. The ethic was, after all, tribal, and the victims were not members of the tribes.





As tribes merged into federations, and civilizations grew from city-states to nationstates and empires, the moral community expanded as well. People who formerly belonged to alien groups now were included in one’s moral community. Then, occasionally, something remarkable happened: people who had seemed little more than animals gradually became familiar, and the realization dawned that they were not much different from oneself.

During the twentieth century, as civilization globalized, the moral community grew to encompass everyone on the planet. Today it is widely acknowledged that everyone’s welfare is equally worthy of moral consideration. We don’t, on the whole, live up to this ethic, but some of us try. And that is progress, because for a long time no one tried.

xii preface

One of this book’s themes is that moral progress is far from complete. Even though the moral community now—in theory, at least—includes everyone on the planet,

we still usually fail to consider the welfare of the vast majority of human beings:

those who are yet to be born. We also tend to exclude animals—even our nearest relatives, the chimps and bonobos—and all other non-human forms of life. Chapter 4 and subsequent chapters consider these omissions.

Environmental ethics, as I understand the term, is the attempt to expand moral thinking and action in two directions: beyond the human species and into the distant future. The word ‘environmental’ connotes extension beyond the human species. The qualifier ‘long term’ in the title of this book alludes to concern the time after—sometimes long after—we have died.

Among books on environmental ethics, this one is peculiar in its emphasis on clarity, definition and logic. That is because I was trained as a logician—a vocation that, despite almost 30 years of environmental activism, I still pursue. It is often supposed that objective, cerebral logic and passionate, romantic environmentalism do not mix. But that opinion misconstrues both. The interplay of logic and environmental ethics animates this book.

The book begins, however, with empirical science. Chapter 1 is a compendium of the science presupposed by the later chapters. After a brief introduction to some concepts of evolutionary theory and evolution’s connection with value, it traces the history and explains some of the science of six great environmental issues, all of which are concerns of this book. To examine all these problems together is disheartening. There’s a lot to worry about. The chapter therefore ends with a note on what not to worry about.

Chapter 2 is not directly about environmental ethics either. It is, rather, the methodology chapter. It introduces the logical tools used throughout this book and the ethical theories that comprise its historical and conceptual background. Discussion of environmental ethics per se begins in Chapter 3. Chapter 2 explains the central ideas and defines the central concepts necessary for understanding philosophical ethics generally. (Throughout this book, by the way, terms being defined are printed in bold italics—as were the terms “environmental ethics” and “moral community” above. Definitions are also summarized in the Glossary at the end of the book.) Chapter 3 considers environmental problems through the lens of traditional shortterm anthropocentric (human-centered) ethics. The most influential of these, at least in policy contexts, is neoclassical economic theory. Though seldom regarded as an ethic, in fact it operates as one. Chapter 3 traces its origins within the western philosophical tradition and explains its moral inadequacies. The chapter then surveys a selection of more plausible anthropocentric ethics and sketches their implications for environmentalism and environmental policy.

But short-term ethics is insufficient. We will be judged posthumously—if only by our descendants. They will praise or blame us for what we did to their world. From their perspective, it will be obvious why we ought now to be guided by a long-term environmental ethic. Chapter 4 takes this perspective seriously. Long-term ethics preface xiii face an array of surprising conceptual difficulties. These are explained, as are potential solutions.

The remaining chapters concern non-anthropocentric ethics—ethics that include some non-humans, as well as humans, in the moral community. Chapter 5 examines the first step beyond the human species. Its central question is, “How should we treat sentient animals?” (Sentient animals are those capable of suffering and enjoyment.) Starting with a history of human thinking about and treatment of animals, it then explains what is known about animal consciousness. The rest is devoted to various ethical theories regarding animals. These differ widely, but share many common conclusions. The chapter ends with a catalog of conclusions on which there is consensus, followed by a glance at animal ethics for the long term.

The most radical environmental ethics are discussed in Chapter 6. These are biocentric (life-centered) ethics—that is, ethics that include all living beings in the moral community. They are controversial even among environmentalists. The chapter explains and assesses the controversies and attempts to outline a workable biocentric theory.

Together, Chapters 3–6 trace the progressive broadening and deepening of ethics, in response to humanity’s escalating power. With each step in that progression, ethics becomes more complex. The question addressed by Chapter 7 is “Given this

complexity, how can we manage to act ethically?” There are two ways to answer:

practically and theoretically. Accordingly, Chapter 7 is divided into two parts: applications and speculations. The “applications” part illustrates methods for deriving practical ethical conclusions from theory, and the “speculations” part aims to deepen understanding of theory and its relation to action.

Throughout this book you will encounter frequent cross-references. These call attention to important interconnections. I recommend their use. When you encounter one, page backward or forward to the indicated section (or sections) and don’t go on until you understand the connection between it (or them) and the section containing the reference. Only in that way can you glean everything that this book has to offer.

A C K N O W LE D G ME NTS

Many people helped with the writing of this book. My brother, James H. Nolt, read and critiqued the material on economic theory. Jenna Nolt, my daughter, redoubtable research librarian, found sources that I would never have thought of. Jake LaRivere provided corrections and comments on a draft of the section on environmental economics. John Bohstedt pointed me to appropriate historical sources. With Graham Walford I enjoyed discussions of various elements of nuclear technology.

Ralph Hutchison helped with more material on matters nuclear. Eddy Falls read and taught from drafts of early chapters and made a number of helpful suggestions.

Robert Nowell also read chapters and assisted with the research. Elena Hamilton suggested corrections to an early draft. Clerk Shaw and Richard Aquila provided aid in matters of philosophical history. A sabbatical from the Philosophy Department at the University of Tennessee gave me time to write. Four members of my summer 2014 environmental ethics class at the Oak Ridge Institute for Continued Learning—Jim Basford, Claudia Lever, Bob Olson and Charles Rutkowski—spotted many errors in the final draft. Finally my thoughts on ethical theory were honed and sharpened, and my style was improved, by conversations with Annette Mendola, my wife, my love, and clinical medical ethicist extraordinaire.



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