Moral Pluralism

A Case For Moral Pluralism

In his essay entitled Moral Pluralism and the Course of Environmental Ethics, Christopher Stone advances the need for moral pluralism in our approach to ethics (especially environmental ethics). Stone writes the “occasion” of an environmental ethics movement allows us to “reexamine the metaethical assumptions that underline all of moral philosophy” (193). Ultimately, Stone defines the limitations to our current understanding of ethics, and how amending our moral approach to ethics can broaden the scope of our ethical considerations. This is why Stone espouses moral pluralism as it encourages humans to embrace an “alternative” which accentuates the importance for an environmental ethic. It has many similarites to that of pragmatism in that in incorporates many often competing views to come up with solutions, however it differs from pragmatism mainly by the fact that it allows for competing metaphysics as well.

To begin his essay, Stone enumerates five “obstacles” facing the current study of environmental ethics. These obstacles illustrate some of the limitations to our current, ethical approach. Such obstacles includes “putting the objective into coherent form”, deriving a proper “foundation” for “ rational basis” and “identifying…objects toward which some prima facie moral regard is justified” (194-195). Stone shares his discontentment for these ethical assumptions arguing that “the orthodoxy we have to question first is that of metaethics” (195). Here Stone challenges us to move in a direction which examines the importance of metaethics in regards to environmental ethics. In doing so Stone commences with an examination and refutation to what he calls “moral monism”.

For Stone, moral monism remains an inhibiting factor when composing a more comprehensive, environmental ethic. Within moral monism “it suggest that moral considerateness is a matter of either-or; that is, the single viewpoint is presumably built upon a single salient moral property” (195). This remains problematic for Stone because “we are left with no alternative but to do it or not – a feature of the world that makes monism superficially attractive” (198).

Here Stone presents what he calls “moral pluralism” as an alternative to moral monism. According to Stone, “attention to plural approaches would find justification if, by stimulating us to define and come at problems from different angles, it were to advance our grasp of alternatives” (198). Again, Stone wishes to pursue a broader approach to ethics, an approach that can encompass multiple variables and cases where our conventional taste (i.e. moral monism) cannot. Thus “as long as monism reigns, significant distinctions between cases, distinctions marked by nuances of feeling and belief that moral reflection might investigate and amplify, lack a semantic foothold” (199).

One objection to Stone’s moral pluralism might examine whether or not there is room for moral duty within such a strand of ethics. Since Stone is arguing for a diverse set of moral approaches to the environment, it become reasonable to question whether or not humans are responsible to the environment, and whether our responsibility should elicit an attitude of moral obligation. Although Stone is encouraging us to disband from our “orthodox” principle of ethics, he presents no real alternative other than a conceptual one (i.e. moral pluralism). If charging humanity with a need to change is what ethicist are most concerned, then how can moral pluralism provide humanity with a sound ethic towards the environment?

Stone, Christopher, D. "Moral Pluralism and the Course of Environmental Ethics." Environmental Ethics. Ed. Andrew Light and Rolston Holmes III. Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
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