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Ethics and Philosophy
Bennett, J. and W. Chaloupka (1993). In the nature of things: language, politics, and the environment. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
Brennan, A. (1992). "Moral Pluralism and the Environment." Environmental Values 1(1): 15-33.
Cooper, D. E. and J. A. Palmer (1992). Environment in Question: Ethics and Global Issues. New York, Routledge.
This book is intended to be used as a text for an environmental issues course. It addresses issues from a variety of fields - economics, ethics, ecology etc. and on a variety of topics. It could be a good sourcebook, but only a few articles explicitly discuss sustainability.
The first of these, "Towards A Sustainable Future" by Joy A. Palmer gives a brief history of Our Common Future. Then twelve priorities for concern are outlined based on the author's review of many publications about sustainability. This article basically just reviews the problems of sustainability and concludes that we need better policies and interdisciplinary approaches to sustainability and particularly more education. This could be a good introduction piece, but doesn't offer anything new or compelling.
Vandana Shiva's "Recovering the Real Meaning of Sustainability" is a bit more helpful. Shiva suggests that the meaning of sustainability is lost when it is recognized that development in economic terms and commercialization are roots of the ecological crisis in the third world, yet these same techniques are offered as a cure for the crisis in the form of sustainable development. Shiva proposes that the false sense of sustainability is based on three flaws: "primacy is assigned to capital," production and conservation are divided and conservation is dependent on capital, and assuming the substitutability of nature and capital. For Shiva, the real meaning of sustainability refers to nature and people's sustainability including the recognition that nature supports our lives, providing the main source of our sustenance. Consequently, we need to maintain the integrity of processes and cycles in nature.
DesJardins, J. R. (1997). Environmental ethics: an introduction to environmental philosophy. Belmont, CA, Wadsworth Pub. Co.
Elliot, R. and A. Gare (1983). Environmental philosophy: a collection of readings. St. Lucia, Queensland; New York, University of Queensland Press.
Elliot, R. (1995). Environmental ethics. Oxford; New York, Oxford University Press.
This is an edited volume of a variety of articles - see notes. Willams' article is a very economic based approach that does not adequately address the difficulties of determining the maximum sustainable yield although it is the approach she advocates. Callicott discusses the relation between land ethics, environmental ethics, and animal liberation. Rolston claims that there is not enough concern for or conservation of species. He argues this must be done and to do so we need an unprecedented mixture of biology and ethics, though I was not that impressed with his justification for conservation since there was so little of it, nor was I impressed with his indication of the way forward. I think the piece is just too short for adequately addressing these topics. Elliot's piece is an interesting examination of whether nature can be restored to its original value. He posits that we should strategically argue that restoration proposals are empirically inadequate, though they may be the best option at times when the needs of all are considered. His reasoning hinges on several ideas, but mainly that there are sources of value that cannot be replaced, and that the way systems and entities come into being is important in establishing their value. The more interesting of the later articles include the Routley's very logical discussion of human chauvinism. Matthews takes a different stance as she argues that of two ways to view the universe (with substance or self-realizing frameworks) that the self-realizing framework is far superior since it allows us to identify with the universe as a self, realizing it has a grand telos and intrinsic value. Consequently, identifying with it cannot diminish us in value, contrary to the belief of some that identifying with the universe will make us seem less important. Also, while some argue that in the universe creation/preservation and destruction are equally important and so there is no incentive for humans to preserve rather than destroy, Matthews argues that all selves asymmetrically exhibit a will to exist and so we should attempt to do what all things do. (She does not discuss this but she should that self preservation for humans requires the interdependence of all and so to preserve ourselves implies that we must act with caution, ok. she does talk about it a little, just not right here.) Also she argues that unless we allow that the universe is a self, we couldn't identify with it because a self can only identify with beings which are also selves. Clements' article on the unnaturalness of stasis is a helpful analysis of the general implications of the concept of stasis and how it can or cannot be extended to a helpful goal. The final article in this book clearly outlines some of the major conceptual problems facing the environmental movement, however each problem is addressed in only a page or two, so the analyses are brief.
Elliot, R. (1998). Environmental ethics. Oxford; New York, Oxford University Press.
Engel, J. R. and J. G. Engel (1990). Ethics of environment and development: global challenge, international response. Tucson, University of Arizona Press.
The Brundtland report includes a statement that "human survival and well-being could depend on success in elevating sustainable development to a global ethic" and this book examines what kind of an ethic is necessary and how it differs from existing ethics. The first four chapters discuss the subject in general, while the last section is filled with responses from around the world, representing various geographic, political, and religious points of view. The introduction outlines five practical reasons why there is a renewed interest in morality and ethics today, and indicates that the moral challenge for sustainable development is to develop a shared moral language. It also highlights the alternatives to the term "sustainable development" used by authors in this book due to the destruction that has occurred from development in the past, and the ambiguity of the terms sustainable and development. These terms include "authentic integral development," "ecological/holistic world view," reverential development," ecosophical development," "noosphere," "just, participatory ecodevelopment," "communalism," and "desirable society." The general articles highlight the discrepancy between the amount people talk about the environment and the few changes that are actually made to stop or reverse harmful activities, and the need to combine social justice concerns and environmental concerns though they have often been separated in the past. Another article discusses the strengths and weaknesses of major religious traditions with respect to the environment and posits that religion can be helpful to the environmental movement in that it has the ability to critically assess conservation ethics. The article on science and religion holds that both science based and traditional cultural values need to be reassessed in order to obtain a coherent, adequate environmental development ethic.
Ferré, F. and P. Hartel (1994). Ethics and environmental policy: theory meets practice. Athens, University of Georgia Press.
Giampietro, M. and S. G. F. Bukkens (1992). "Sustainable development: scientific and ethical assessments." Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics 5(1): 27-57.
This is an excellent article that investigates the difficulties in assessing sustainable development. Two basic models are used. First, a energy theory of value can be used to describe the interactions of humans and the biosphere. While this approach is very theoretically sound, its weakness is that most systems are not evaluated based on the amount of energy that they use. Second, a hierarchy theory is examined where individual humans, human society, and the environment as a whole are seen as different levels in the hierarchy. As such claims made on the basis of priorities of one level are bound to conflict with the claims made on the basis of priorities of another level. Both scientific theories and ethical laws have a hard time working across levels in the hierarchy. Because of the great amount of uncertainty associated with environmental actions, and the fact that human activity has reached geological proportions, humans are responsible for preserving dynamic equilibrium between humans and the biosphere and learning by doing is no longer applicable. While this article does not put forth a great ethical solution to this dilemma of sustainable development, it includes an e description of the history of ethics, and how it must be transformed to address the environmental situation. This article also assesses the ideological camps present in debates about sustainable development and categorizes them as "blind technological optimists," "fundamental greenies" who think technology is the cause of all problems, "stubborn economists" who think that externalities do not have to be considered, "humanitarian zealots" who focus on the needs of individual humans without examining the greater ecological needs that will benefit all humans and the biosphere, and "blamer moralists" who point fingers at rich nations, without working to solve problems. An assessment of the energetic use of various countries is also included in this article - it is shown that there is a large gap in the in the graph between developing and developed countries. However, the graphs are not clearly labeled so they are not actually helpful. Given all of this evidence, the authors suggest that the main problem of today is to understand the ethical and scientific terms of the dilemma of human development to allow humans, and life to continue.
Gruen, L. and D. Jamieson (1994). Reflecting on nature: readings in environmental philosophy. New York, Oxford University Press.
Grumbine, R. E. (1994). "Wildness, wise use, and a sustainable development." Environmental Ethics 16(3): 227-249.
Johnson, V. and R. Nurick (1995). "Behind the headlines: the ethics of the population and environmental debate." International Affairs 71(3): 547-565.
Katz, E. (1993). "Artefacts and Functions: A Note on the Value of Nature." Environmental Values 2(3): 223-232.
Artefacts or human creations are compared with natural entities, the difference being that artifacts are always the result of human intention and design while the latter are independent of human purpose. Artefacts are designed with a function in mind, natural entities are not, and indeed do not have functions.
Artefacts are valued only for their instrumental, anthropocentric uses while natural entities can be valued for their autonomous existence. The autonomy of natural entities is what implies that they have value in and of themselves, because any autonomous subject has value. Since they have value, natural entities should be preserved.
Mannison, D. S., M. A. McRobbie, et al., Eds. (1980). Environmental Philosophy. Monograph Series, Department of Philosophy Research School of Social Sciences Australian National University.
This collection of essays is intended to stimulate serious philosophical reflection on the relation of human kind to everything else on the planet. The editors believe that if a change is to be made regarding our relationship with the environment, we must have a sturdy grounding for such action in a complete account of the rationale for such action.
Articles include and examination of why species should be preserved. Robert Elliot concludes that people are needed for something to have intrinsic value (what he calls the subjectivist post ion) because someone needs to be present to value the object for it to be valuable. However the intrinsic value of naturally evolved species is more difficult to establish because you have to notice that it is there. Elliot believes that species should be preserved because of this intrinsic value and their instrumental value to humans, yet we should not care about the destruction of species if no unwanted consequences for humans result.
William Godfrey-Smith reflects on whether rights can be ascribed to non-humans and if all values must be grounded in human interests and concerns. He concludes that all values do not have to be based on anthropocentric concerns because there is no reason to suppose that there is a single intrinsic good or value for the sake of which everything else is valuable. He admits that a world without valuers would be a world in which nothing was valued, but maintains this world would not necessarily be one without valuable things.
H.J. McCloskey reflects on the meaning of environmental ethics, trying to figure out what exactly it is.
Richard and Val Routley's "Human Chauvinism and Environmental Ethics" is the centerpiece of this book: many articles refer to their work, and it is by far the longest piece. The Routleys assert that chauvinism, or the tendency to discriminate against items or individuals outside a particular class without sufficient justification occurs in most moral codes, including the typical western ethics. The chauvinism present is human chauvinism, which is defined as a chauvinism against nonhumnas because there is nothing biological about humanity that could justify overwhelmingly favorable treatment for humans and unfavorable treatment for nonhumans. If biological divisions are to be made, they would logically be made at the level of consideration towards others or having preferences, but these do not fall along the human/nonhuman line. Due to this deep chauvinism in western ethics, the Routleys call for a new ethics and value theory, and consequently a new economics and politics etc. They posit that much of the old ethics can be retained if enriched with new environmental terms and value choice is reexamined.
Martinez-Alier, J., G. Munda, et al. (1998). "Weak comparability of values foundation for ecological economics." Ecological Economics 26: 277-86.
Merchant, C. (1992). Radical ecology: the search for a livable world. New York, Routledge.
Milbrath, L. W. (1993). "Redefining the Good Life in a Sustainable Society." Environmental Values 2(3): 261-269.
Milbrath posits that quality of life is necessarily subjective, and is undefinable in physical terms. He characterizes a high quality of life as a life that includes a "long-run sense of joy in living," a sense of physical well-being, a sense of fullness of life i.e. that one is or has achieved what one wants to become, and finally a sense of zest for life and hope and confidence that living will be good.
Milbrath notes that in contemporary society high quality of life is often measured only by material possessions, and that such possessions do not entail a high quality of life as defined above. Consequently, he advocates living a good life in a sustainable society by living more consciously, and recognizing what the good life actually entails.
While I agree with many of his points, including the fact that people can have loss of physical well-being and still be satisfied in life, I think Milbrath's definition leaves much to be desired. My main objection is that if people can have a high quality of life with poor physical well-being, there seems to be no imperative to feed, clothe and house people who do not have these things, or to seek medical treatment for those who are sick and such conclusions are morally repugnant. Consequently, I think that Milbrath's work needs a giant disclaimer: these theories of quality of life may work well if people have basic access to food, shelter, health care, and sanitation services. If one does not have one's basic physical needs met (for example, one is starving to death) I think it will be very difficult to have a zest for life, a great deal of hope, and a sense that one has achieved what one desires.
Norton, B. G. (1999). "Pragmatism, Adaptive Management, and Sustainability." Environmental Values general(4): 451-466.
Norton proposes using a pragmatic concept of truth developed by C.S. Peirce as an analogy for defining sustainability. Norton is particularly enamored with this analogy because he finds Peirce's definition shifts an understanding of truth from a correspondence to an external world to a forward looking approach that a necessary part of sustainability studies. He also finds that Pierce's emphasis on an "evolving, questioning community" is a trait that must be shared by advocates of sustainability who need to be able to constantly work with new information and search for truth.
Paden, R. (1994). "Against Grand Theory in Environmental Ethics." Environmental Values 3(1): 1994.
Environmental ethics should allow biology to influence their theories by influencing their concept of a moral community and work to establish mid-sized rather than grand theories.
All too often, grand theories are too technical for lay people to understand and almost unrelated to real environmental crises. Additionally, the outcome of grand theories tends to a flurry of critiques and attacks by theorists from other camps. This effort should be spent on doing something useful. The author suggests that one example of such useful work is the need for environmental ethicists to attack the absolute moral property rights advocated by many people. Paden also suggests that environmental ethicists could analyze cost-benefit analysis, risk analysis, or other policy tools or examine the value of natural beauty. The author admits that such work might not have the prestige of working with a grand theory, but encourages such work for its intense practicality.
Paden also discusses how environmental science could influence ethics. Three examples include, the extent of the moral community, a new model for understanding such a community, and as a test case for ethical theories. He points out that traditional moral communities are homologous groups of entities which are defined by a characteristic inherent to the theory. Paden suggests that by taking a clue from the variety of participants in any particular community, we can build a new model of a moral community that has a variety of participants. Given that the membership of such a community is diverse, it follows that the relationships between members would also be diverse. Consequently, what is moral in one relationship may not be in another, and one's duties to one thing may not be the same as one's duties to another. By understanding small bits of the moral community, environmental ethics could draw on biology and possibly come to understand the whole community better while being able to construct moral arguments to fit specific circumstances.
Redclift, M. (1993). "Sustainable Development: Needs, Values, Rights." Environmental Values 2(1): 3-20.
Sustainability has become popular because it can be used to support various agendas, both political and social. When the idea of sustainable is connected to development, the combination is the "high water mark of the Modernist tradition." (Where Modernism is the view that ideas grounded in the Western philosophy and science can provide a foundation for social criticism and understanding.) However, its emphasis on the diversity of views is clearly an expression of Postmodernism.
The concept of sustainable development arose as people needed to assert the importance of living within ecological limits yet still wanted to include the idea of progress. The term sustaining can mean "supporting a desired state of some kind" or conversely "enduring and undesired state." "The verb 'to sustain' carries a passive connotation, while the adjective 'sustainable' is used in an active sense." These differences in meaning are what give the idea of sustainability so many applications.
Evolution, scientific specialization and economic development on an enormous scale helped form the situation in which sustainability became important, and also formed the Modernist position. Reason and freedom are taken as ideals which allow progress. Science is taken as a way to transform nature and provided a way to critique our actions. While sustainability is a product of modernism in that it is based on science, and has a progressive goal, it also allows a way past the problems of Modernism in that it stresses intertemporal and interspatial equitable allocation of goods.
This article brings up an interesting point about the Brundtland definition of sustainability. Namely, the Brundtland definition suggests that needs can be separated from development, as they can be arrived at separate from development. However, this author argues that needs are historically and culturally defined and so they cannot be separated from development issues.
Sometimes using a biological concept of sustainability can be taken as a model for human intervention, and sometimes as a point of legitimization i.e. as a constraint on human development.
Redclift asserts that our view of the environment is closely tied to our view of science. Consequently, since sustainability is seen as a principle coming from the sciences (the sustainability of the ecosystems) and can morph into a moral imperative, it is a useful principle for policies. In other words, it has the scientific clout to make it accepted by many people, and yet has the moral weight to entice people to agree with it.
In the end, Redclift argues that we must "assume responsibility for our actions, while exploring the need to change our underlying social commitments" and that the idea of sustainability is uniquely positioned to help people achieve this goal because it has many meanings and draws from many disciplines.
Note: if this summary seems a bit scattered, I thought the article was as well. Redclift tries to tackle an enormous amount of material in this article (I didn't add in a summary of the difference between neoclassical and environmental economics and how this relates to sustainability since I've done so elsewhere) and ends up with an article that needs to be more clearly structured. I think a few hundred more pages and a good editor would help.
Reed, M. G. and O. Slaymaker (1993). "Ethics and sustainability: a preliminary perspective." Environment & Planning A 25(5): 723-739.
Singer, P. (2000). A companion to ethics. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass., Blackwell Reference.
Slicer, D. (1995). "Is there an ecofeminism deep ecology debate?" Environmental Ethics 17(2): 151-169.
Soulé, M. E. and G. Lease (1995). Reinventing nature? responses to postmodern deconstruction. Washington, D.C., Island Press.
Sterba, J. P. (1994). "Reconciling Anthropocentric and Nonanthropocentric Environmental Ethics." Environmental Values 3(3): 229-244.
Sterba, J. P. (1995). "From biocentric individualism to biocentric pluralism." Environmental Ethics 17(2): 191-208.
Sylvan, R. and D. Bennett (1994). The greening of ethics. Cambridge, UK: White Horse Press; Tucson, USA: University of Arizona Press.
The purpose of this book is to set out what is and is not environmental ethics, particularly the greening of ethics and applications of this greening. The authors identify three types of greening of ethics, all of which have as their core the setting of environmental values: to determine how the environment is to be valued and where value resides. These three types are shallow, intermediate, and deep.
Shallow environmental ethics focuses on prudential and instrumental arguments wherein it is noticed that human survival and well being depends on the well-being of the environment and therefore people are motivated to preserve the environment. This approach is also instrumental because it views nature and the environment as means to human ends and values. One example of such an author is John Passmore's Man's Responsibility for Nature which is discussed at length. Problems with this view include the fact that its adherents do not acknowledge the value of the environment, and that it so short-term focused that by the time people adopt a longer-term view it will be too late to reverse environmental damage.
Intermediate environmental ethicists argue that humans are not the only things that have value, and try to extend the realm of environmental ethics to otherkind. Examples of these authors are Leopold's land ethic and the argument from marginal cases exemplified by Peter Singer's case for animal liberation based on a call for consistency and equality, for uniform and similar treatments of all living things. These positions reject the idea that value only is in humans and their activities and consequently try to extend established ethical frameworks beyond the human realm. However, these arguments are still mostly human centered and it seems that human convenience could still override consideration for the environment for any small reason. The main problem with Singer's argument is that they tend to ignore large-scale environmental issues such as wilderness, forest destruction and overpopulation since he focuses on individual animals. Other problems with extensionist ethics are that when the theory is extended, you keep all of the old problems, and that these theories only look at human interactions. For example, when it seemed that only humans used tools, tool use was considered a sign of intelligence, but now that other animals are recognized as using tools, it is no longer taken to be such an indicator. Deep ecology rejects the idea that humans and human projects are the only valuable items and rejects the greater value assumption, that humans and human projects always outweigh other considerations and the value of other things.
Deep ecologists call for a non-human centered ethic, though this ethic is not supposed to replace the previously worked out interhuman ethics. This position recognizes that human beings are the moral agents, but are not ethically privileged. This type of ethic must be practical, i.e. it must be able to translate principles into actions. The founder of deep ecology is Arne Naess and it has been promoted extensively by Bill Devall. Deep ecology uses ecology and tries to state what is most needed to value the environment and ecological relationships. The authors of this book critique deep ecology because it has a less rigorous philosophical core, often intentionally. These authors outline four levels of deep ecology. 1. The source(s) of inspiration, insights and intuitions of the movement which can come from a variety of religious and philosophical traditions. 2. The principles that are derived from the first level and hold the movement together. 3. The generalized hypotheses of ways to behave toward the environment. 4. A level of actions that are specific for each case. The authors acknowledge that the main principles of deep ecology have been defined in various ways over the years, and that with time, the position is becoming more fragmented rather than more coherent. Other problems with deep ecology are its lack of philosophical core, its hesitancy to criticize social structures, politics and economics, and its lack of a satisfactory action theory since this position tends to focus on individual consciousness raising rather than fundamental changes in society.
As an alternative to deep ecology, the authors suggest a deep environmental theory named deep green theory developed by Richard Sylvian and Val Plumwood (formerly the Routleys) which begins with an rejection of human chauvinism and tries to develop a deep philosophical core to its position while advocating specific agendas and critiques of society. This book includes a very helpful comparison of deep ecology and deep green theory. Some highlights of this new theory include its willingness to expand across disciplines to applied ethics and other subjects where value theories are used.
At the end of the book, some practical strategies are discussed, focusing on the need for education, and top down as well as bottom up approaches to allow the new ethic to be as widespread as possible. The authors work with the idea of ethics as a commodity, and that many people need a new one, but don't realize it or seek one out.
I found this book to be one of the most helpful I have read so far, and plan to look into the deep green theory more closely.
Vanburen, J. (1995). "Critical environmental hermeneutics." Environmental Ethics 17(3): 259-275.
Zimmerman, M. E. (1994). Contesting earth's future: radical ecology and postmodernity. Berkeley, University of California Press. [online]
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