word "value" means worth. It also refers to an ethical precept
on which we base our behavior. Values are shaped by the culture in which
we live and by our experiences. However, there are values that are held
high by most cultures. These include fairness and justice, compassion
and charity, duties and rights, human species survival and human well-being.
values guide our behavior, there are many behaviors to which we grow accustomed
because of the society, culture, and conditions in which we live. We may
not explicitly examine our environmental values, for example, when we
decide whether to live close to or far away from work. Or, perhaps it
is more correct to say that we think of more our economic or social environment,
comfort, and convenience when we make this choice. Such decision making
by large numbers of people has had many serious environmental impacts,
such as air pollution from large commuting populations, deterioration
of the built environment in cities, and problems of environmental inequities.
his book Toward Better Problems, philosopher Anthony Westin suggests
that rather than exploring the validity of inherent or intrinsic values,
environmental ethics needs to view all the values we possess and interpret
them together as an "ecology of values." He writes, "The
idea is to trace the relations of values as a system, thus interweaving
a complex and varied set of values into a loose pattern, intricate and
indeed still in conflict as it may be. Thus we might do for values themselves
what the science of ecology does for the multiple forms of life: uncover
their organic places within larger wholes. Indeed, I propose to call such
a project an 'ecology of values.'" Weston's ethic suggests that the
ultimate "grounded" value may be as much in the interdependence
between values as in the value itself.
tension—or even a strong conflict—can occur between individual
values and societal ones. As larger centralized technical systems are
used for convenience and become a part of everyday life, one might find
it hard to keep up with living in conformity with one's individual values.
The environmental impacts of suburban living noted above is an example
of this. Economic and social conditions may cause large numbers of people
to have to ignore or compromise their environmental values. On another
level, the lack of knowledge about environmental impacts may lead to decisions
that have cumulative negative impacts on the environment.
his book The Value of Life, Stephen Kellert developed a "Typology
of Basic Values" (Table 1) with nine values of nature used as taxonomy
for examining various views of nature and diversity of life. These values,
considered biological in origin, signify "basic structures of human
relationship and adaptation to the natural world developed over the course
of human evolution." (Kellert 37, 26) This typology is a good example
of Weston's "ecology of values." Kellert does not try to explain
the inherent or intrinsic good in the value but rather presents the values
for the purpose of studying public values of nature. He found during his
research, however, that the foundation of these values seemed to be in
the very biological nature of the human being. These values are influenced
by learning and experience and if not developed through connections with
nature could potentially harm our biological growth.
and material exploitation of nature
experience and exploration of nature
Curiosity, discovery, recreation
study of structure, function
understanding, observational skills
appeal and beauty of nature
of nature for language and thought
emotional attachment and "love"
sharing, cooperation, companionship
reverence and ethical concern for nature
meaning, kinship, altruism
Mastery, physical control, dominance of nature
skills, physical prowess, ability to subdue
aversion, alienation from nature
protection, safety, awe
1: A Typology of Basic Values
How we value
nature and the environment determines our personal environmental ethic
as well as our development as human beings. The following exercises will
help develop your ideas about environmental values and their application.
a list of the values for inter-human behavior that you consider
important for the maintenance of a "good" human
society and include your definition of good.
of these do we implement, or apply as guidance for our behavior
towards the environment? How would these "environmental"
values be implemented to reflected in individual or societal
of these are presumed or reflected in governmental decision
making in the United States?
of a course or other instance in which a teacher or decision
maker has ascribed a (implicit or explicit) value to nature,
or to parts of it. How would you classify this (set of) value(s)?
of an example in which you make a decision affecting nature.
Explain briefly how you would classify your value system in
one environmental regulation of the United States. In two or
three sentences, describe the main objective of this regulation.
Describe briefly the set of values embedded in it.
1, taken from Chapter 3 of Kellert (page 41), shows a rough estimate from
his studies of these classes of values towards living diversity in American
Society. The data (frequency of values) represent over 3000 interviews
in 49 states of the U.S.
X: American Mean Attitude and Knowledge Scores
(reproduced from Stephen
Kellert's The Value of Life;
Chapter 3, p.41)