environmental crisis is in part a crisis of concepts as well...We
are many things: men or women, Americans or other nationalities,
as well as mammals, animals, life forms, earth beings. Could we
not as well say that we must invariably think as earth beings, since
we are earth beings too? ...
In fact we can
escape the crisis. We can return to the community of life, we can
re-situate ourselves, in thought and experience, within and not
against the more-than-human world. But we will not do so if we continue
to suppose that we face only a practical problem: how to recycle
better or pollute less or save the forests...all of this is crucial
too...the environmental crisis ultimately lies deeper, challenges
us more profoundly, more philosophically and offers us unsuspected
and fabulous opportunities...Welcome to the adventure."
- Anthony Weston
An Invitation to Environmental Philosophy,
Oxford University Press, 1999.
a book on Environmental Philosophy. Philosophy itself is an important
area of study. It is the "love of wisdom," and it is wisdom, perhaps more
than knowledge, that is central if we are to think and act constructively
in our environment. Where is this wisdom to be had? Part of it is indeed
clear knowledge about the systems that make up the environment—natural,
anthropogenic, technological, ethical, and social—and the complex
interactions among them now, in the past, and evolving into the future.
In addition to what we normally call "knowledge" (scientific,
empirical, expressible in terms of words and numbers), we also ought to
look inward into our spiritual feelings about nature, our inherent understanding
of place, and of the passage of time.
we use toward nature and towards each other—as people or countries—will
ultimately decide our fate as a civilization and even as a species. Recently
some authors have argued that "ecological integrity" needs to
be our ethic in order that we and subsequent generations of humans and
all the beings on Earth co-exist in health and peace.
think of the environment, we think of all that surrounds us (en- viron-
explain?) as if we too are not
part of it. Perhaps nature would be a better word to describe our topic
of study. But through separation of areas of study, human psychology,
sociology, physiology, biology, and certainly philosophy have come to
represent the study of different aspects of the human condition. And,
all of these lie outside what we typically think of as "nature"
or as "study of the environment." The study of the environment
is often considered in terms of science, even engineering and architecture.
Even ecology, the study of natural systems, is a recent addition to science.
This too is revealing that it is an addition to science rather than to
philosophy. However, our wisdom on this score is dawning. Environmental
ethics, environmental history, and even ecological economics have joined
the ranks of environmental studies.
unit, we examine the values, attitudes and behaviors we hold toward the
environment as individuals, societies—and as exhibited in social
systems such as economics and technology—that we have adopted as
part of our civilization.
word of ethics is ethos, meaning "fundamental spiritual characteristics
of a culture." This "culture" can be an organization or
a discipline, so we might speak of the academic ethos or scientific ethos.
The word ethic, derived from ethos, refers to a precept or a founding
or practiced principle. Thus we might refer to the justice ethic or care
ethic, or say that someone has a certain work ethic. Ethics is the study
and definition of formal systems of thought and practice that define and
elaborate obligations and duties. These obligations are based on a fundamental
set of values that may be organized as a religion, or be part of a belief
and practice system, often containing unarticulated tacit knowledge and
values or a mythology that prescribes behaviors. Environmental ethics,
then, refers to the study of formal frameworks that examine human relationships
to the environment.
section, we use the term ethical system very broadly, to stand for the
different belief and value systems that have represented human attitudes
and shaped our behaviors towards the environment as individuals and as
societies. Thus we touch on the fundamental religious tenets that defined
our relationship to the environment through positioning of nature in the
religion and through practices. We also describe the informal sets of
attitudes and behaviors toward the environment and formal systems like
economics and values such a competition that have guided these.