OF ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS
land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land
is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land
yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often
- Aldo Leopold in the Foreword to
Sand County Almanac (1948)
ethics and environmental philosophy are newcomers as academic fields.
For ages, ethics and philosophy have dealt exclusively with human relationship
to each other. Philosophy for the ancient Greeks encompassed what we call
political science, natural science, sociology, and psychology today. It
was about the way humans formed communities and states and about obligations
of individuals to each other and to the state. Ethics was part of it.
(Aristotle's definitions of ethics <insert?>)
The natural sciences, which later divided into disciplines such as chemistry,
physics, and biology, were all part of "natural philosophy."
grew more and more apart from science, it became extremely anthropocentric,
dealing with human issues—cognitive, political, and logical. Ethics
became separated as a field of inquiry into what we "ought"
to do, mostly with respect to other humans. Early ethics stayed closely
tied to the religious sphere.
field we call environmental ethics is relatively recent. The earliest
articulation in formal environmental ethics may be Aldo Leopold's "Land
Ethic," a apart of his Sand County Almanac that is a timeless statement
about the need for change in our ethic toward nature, and the difficulties
in effecting change. "No important change in ethics was ever accomplished,"
he wrote, "without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis,
loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has
not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy
and religion have not yet heard of it." (page 209 in the Special
Commemorative Edition of 1989).
In the quote
at the beginning of this section, Aldo Leopold states that the "land
yields a cultural harvest." This is something recognized and respected
by older civilizations that lived with and by the land and respected what
it gave them. Respect for the land was not, however, restricted to ancient
civilizations. Henry David Thoreau (American, 1817-1862), Ralph Waldo
Emerson (American, 1803-1882) John Muir (Scottish American, founder of
the Sierra Club (link), 1838-1914), and Jean Jacques Rousseau (French,
1712-1778) are some examples of writer/philosopher/naturalists who reflected
on the value of nature in shaping human intellect and affect.
ethics began to emerge as a result of the early writings of conservationists
(including those mentioned above) who lived and worked in the first half
of the last century. The formalization of environmental ethcis really
gained momentum with the environmental movement of the 1960s, following
the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962. Since the 1970's,
environmental ethics has progressed significantly due to the works of
Holmes Rolston (the founding editor of the journal Environmental Ethics),
Anthony Westin, Val Plumwood, Carolyn Merchant, George Sessions, Jim Cheney,
and others. Scientists, historians, economists, and educators have contributed
to clarifying the questions and issues of this new filed. Prominent among
them are Barry Commoner, Lynn White, Roderick Nash, Herman Daly, David
Orr, and Stephen Kellert.
a timeline of ten pioneers of environmental ethics, the premises
of each of their “ethic” toward the environment,
and the environmental ethic of each.
are the feelings that come to your mind first when you think
of the environment? What are the factors that shape these? Why?