The Challenge of Environmental Ethics

Note to the reader – The following page was composed and edited for the purposes of an environmental ethics class at Rhodes College. The page is predominately based off of reading and material from two sources: Marc Fellenz’s The Moral Menagerie: Philosophy and Animal Rightsand an anthology published on environmental ethics entitled Environmental Ethics: An Anthology. With that said, traditionally ethics classes have focused on the ethical dilemmas that center around human action and human suffering. While these issues are incredibly important to humans, the focus on human needs obscures the fact that ethical theorizing does not seem to deal well with non-human entities such as animals, plants and the environment in general.

The Various Approaches to Environmental Ethics

The usual suspects (Utilitarianism, Deontological Ethics, Virtue Ethics and Contractualism) fall short when they try to deal with issues in environmental ethics. Marc Fellenz argues that traditional theories cannot be satisfactorily extended to animals in his book, The Moral Menagerie, because they are all inherently anthropocentric. Alternative approaches to the "usual suspects" include Care Ethics and Environmental Pragmatism.

Ecocentrism - Ecocentrism is an approach to environmental ethics that holds that the alleged anthropocentrism of traditional ethics can be avoided if we make nature the source of moral values. Some environmental ethicists think this can only happen if nature has intrinsic value. One example of an ecocentric ethic is the Deep Ecology movement.

Biocentrism - There is some concern that an Ecocentric approach casts the net too wide and gives moral status to entities (such as non-sentient eco-systems) that do not appear to be appropriate objects of moral concern. Biocentrism tries to avoid this problem by focusing on a narrower range of entities.

Biodiversity - In focusing on endangered Biodiversity, some ecologists hope to convince humans to limit their growth within and effects upon the biotic community. But there is quite a bit of disagreement in the ecological community as to how and why one should engage in Wilderness Preservation.

Ecofeminism - Some feminist philosophers see a strong connection between the historical treatment of women and the treatment of nature and that has led them to develop the environmental philosophy they call "Ecofeminism."

Moral Pluralism provides yet another alternative when considering environmental ethics; one that attempts to synthesize various moral approaches.

Environmental Justice ; Environmental Activism

More recently, the effects of Climate Change have become of great concern though out the world but what is the correct approach in addressing this problem?

Simon P. James looks at Zen Buddhism and Environmental Ethics for an Eastern Perspective on our relationship with the natural environment.

On March 26th, Rhodes College hosted a conference on "Green Shakespeare" which explored the connections between Environmental Ethics and Literature.

Environmental Ethics Applied: Practical Examples of Environmental Concerns

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