Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice

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Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice Marion Hourdequin

Companion Website Material—Chapter 2 Companion website by Julia Liao and Marion Hourdequin

www.bloomsbury.com/uk/environmental-ethics-9781472510983 © Marion Hourdequin 2014 Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice. London: Bloomsbury

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE

Chapter Outline Chapter 2. Classical ethical theories and the environment Introduction Utilitarianism, cost–benefit analysis, and the environment Utilitarianism Cost–benefit analysis and economic valuation Critiques and alternatives: Objections to utilitarianism and cost–benefit analysis For further thought Kantian ethics and the environment Kant’s ethics: Rationality, reciprocity, and respect Limitations of Kantian ethics Extending respect For further thought Virtue ethics and the environment Aristotle’s teleological ethics Strengths, weaknesses, and contemporary developments in virtue ethics Environmental virtue ethics For further thought Conclusion Further reading

Key points Introduction ●

Normative ethical theories are concerned with questions of how we should act in the world and what makes an act right or wrong.



Although the application of normative ethical theories can be complex in the real world, they attempt to offer moral guidance or at least frameworks for thinking through moral problems.

Utilitarianism, cost–benefit analysis, and the environment ●

Consequentialists believe that only the consequences of an action matter morally.

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COMPANION WEBSITE MATERIAL—CHAPTER 2



Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism. Utilitarians believe that the morally right action is that which maximizes utility.



Jeremy Bentham’s hedonistic utilitarianism defines utility as the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain. In contrast, preference utilitarianism defines utility as the satisfaction of preferences.



Utilitarianism has a number of key strengths: (a) Utilitarianism accounts well for the common intuition that consequences matter in ethics; (b) utilitarianism is theoretically simple, with just one prescription, to maximize utility; (c) utilitarianism brings all values together on a single scale, so they can be aggregated and weighed against one another; (d) because it considers the pains and pleasures of all those affected by our actions, classical utilitarianism holds that we must take account of the pain and pleasure of all sentient beings, including nonhuman animals; and (e) utilitarianism translates easily into a decision-making procedure: cost–benefit analysis (CBA).



CBA parallels utilitarianism because it compares policies and actions by adding up their costs and benefits. CBA provides a systematic way to make decisions about environmental actions and policies.



CBA often uses hedonic pricing and contingent valuation to determine the benefits of nonmarket goods. Hedonic pricing compares the costs of items that are similar except in relation to the feature being priced, and uses the price differential between the items to put a price on the feature. Contingent valuation uses surveys to assess how much people would be willing to pay for the nonmarket good being priced.



Utilitarianism is subject to a number of critiques: (a) No action is ruled out in principle, as long as it maximizes utility; (b) utilitarianism does not take distribution directly into account; (c) utilitarianism suffers from epistemic problems because it is difficult to predict all of the effects of a particular action on overall utility; (d) utilitarianism is problematic in its attempt to aggregate diverse goods on a single scale; (e) not every preference (or pleasure) deserves equal consideration.



A parallel set of criticisms applies to CBA.

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ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE



For those who reject CBA, the challenge is in finding a viable alternative on which to base policy decisions. The precautionary principle, which places special weight on the protection of human health and the environment, offers one possible alternative approach.

Kantian ethics and the environment ●

Kant believed that humans possess both an animal and a rational nature. Our animal nature is the source of our desires, but humans are special because we also possess reason and can act on rational principles rather than being ruled by our desires.



The core insight of Kantian morality is that the autonomy of every rational being is deserving of respect. Kant believed in one key moral principle called the Categorical Imperative.



One formulation of the Categorical Imperative is the Universal Law Formula. It states that each person should act on principles that could be universalized, or that all persons could rationally accept. Therefore, it prohibits actions such as cheating, lying, or offering false promises.



Another formulation of the Categorical Imperative is the Humanity Formula. It states that each person has a duty to respect others and act only in ways that recognize others as rational, autonomous beings. Therefore, we must always treat other rational beings as ends-in-themselves, never as merely means to our ends.



The key strengths of Kantian ethics are: (a) it captures the moral intuition that some things simply should not be done, regardless of their effects on overall utility; (b) it provides a basis for universal human rights; and (c) it does not treat all preferences as equally deserving of moral weight.



Unlike consequentialism, which focuses on outcomes, Kant’s ethics is deontological, or focused on moral duty.



Kant’s ethics is subject to a number of critiques: (a) It may be too strict in its categorical prohibition of certain actions regardless of the situation; (b) it offers limited guidance in dilemmas in which all available courses of actions violate the Categorical Imperative; (c) it can be difficult to interpret formulations of the Categorical

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Imperative to determine what is the best action to take; (d) animals are excluded from moral consideration because they lack rationality. ●

Despite these limitations, some philosophers have extended Kant’s core idea of inherent moral worth to ground duties of respect to nonhuman animals, or to all living things.

Virtue ethics and the environment ●

Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics both focus on what makes acts right or wrong. In contrast, virtue ethics focuses on what makes someone a good person and what it means to live a good human life.



Aristotle held that each kind of living thing has a particular purpose, or telos, for which it is uniquely suited.



According to Aristotle, the human telos is derived from our unique capacities for reason. Thus, a good human life requires developing and exercising practical and theoretical reason.



According to Aristotle, moral virtue begins with habit, as we emulate moral models. To become fully virtuous, however, one must possess practical wisdom, which enables a person to assess what each situation requires, and to integrate fully all of the virtues into one’s thought and action.



Virtue ethics has a number of key strengths. For example, by focusing on overall moral development rather than individual acts, virtue ethics may provide richer guidance in living a moral life. Additionally, virtue ethics draws attention away from tragic moral dilemmas and focuses more strongly on the daily challenge of living a good human life and acting well in relation to others.



Virtue ethics is subject to a number of critiques. For example, many question the idea that there is a single telos, or good for human beings. Others worry that the Aristotelian virtues are not universal. In addition, some critics see Aristotle’s ethics as strongly anthropocentric because Aristotle ranks humans above other living things in his hierarchical worldview.



Contemporary moral philosophers have expanded virtue ethics approaches to the environment. For example, some suggest that www.bloomsbury.com/uk/environmental-ethics-9781472510983 © Marion Hourdequin 2014 Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice. London: Bloomsbury

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE

virtues such as humility and compassion can be expressed in relation to animals and nature. Others suggest that figures such as Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Henry David Thoreau can serve as models for an environmentally virtuous life.

Conclusion ●

Traditional Western moral theories have both limitations and promise in relation to environmental ethics.



Since these theories were not developed with nonhuman organisms or the environment in mind, they will require modification or extension in order to take the natural world more fully into account.



We need not necessarily choose a single moral theory for ethical guidance or see any one theory as providing a full account of morality. Instead, we might think of moral theories as models, each of which captures the key dimensions of moral life.



Moral theories can be helpful but they are not simple algorithms for moral decision making. The application of moral theories to particular problems and cases requires interpretation and judgment.

Questions for thought and discussion 1

What is a key strength of hedonistic utilitarianism over preference utilitarianism? What is a key strength of preference utilitarianism over hedonistic utilitarianism?

2

In your opinion, what is the strongest argument against environmental CBA? Can you think of a better alternative?

3

Although Kant’s ethics is deeply anthropocentric, can you imagine a scenario in which Kant’s ethical theory might help protect the environment?

4

Name an environmentally virtuous role model that you admire. What specific virtues does this person embody?

www.bloomsbury.com/uk/environmental-ethics-9781472510983 © Marion Hourdequin 2014 Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice. London: Bloomsbury

COMPANION WEBSITE MATERIAL—CHAPTER 2

Key terms ●

Categorical Imperative (Universal Law Formula and Humanity Formula)



Commensurability



Consequentialism



Contingent valuation



Cost–benefit analysis



Deontology



Eudaimonia



Extensionism



Hedonic pricing



Hedonistic utilitarianism



Moral agent (versus moral patient)



Moral considerability



Moral particularism



Precautionary principle



Preference utilitarianism



Teleological/teleology



Utilitarianism



Utility



Virtue ethics

Online resources ●

Ethics Updates webpage (contains links to a variety of resources on ethical theory as well as applied ethics): http://ethics.sandiego. edu/

www.bloomsbury.com/uk/environmental-ethics-9781472510983 © Marion Hourdequin 2014 Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice. London: Bloomsbury

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS: FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE



Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the history of utilitarianism: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianismhistory/



Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Kant’s moral philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/



Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on virtue ethics: http:// plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/

www.bloomsbury.com/uk/environmental-ethics-9781472510983 © Marion Hourdequin 2014 Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice. London: Bloomsbury

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Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice

Environmental Ethics: From Theory to Practice Marion Hourdequin Companion Website Material—Chapter 2 Companion website by Julia Liao and Marion Hourd...

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