Three approaches to environmental ethics - 1

Environmental Ethics
Written by:critical (on, for Professor Annette Lee in course 32.184
(Environmental Ethics).
DEC 94

The three main approaches in environmental ethics are:

Anthropocentric, Extensionist, and Holistic (non-extensionist). Each one of these approaches deals differently with both the criteria for deciding who or what has moral standing, and the adjudication amongst those with moral standing. The Anthropocentric approach derives its criteria for moral standing from human qualities. Anthropocentric ethical theories are characterized by criteria (for moral standing) such as: the status of being human, personhood, potential personhood, rationalism, linguistic capability, and sentience.

In this conceptualization only humans can have moral standing. Non-humans are granted certain consideration in so far as they are valued by humans with moral standing. A major strength of anthropocentric theories is their amenability to methods of adjudication. To have moral standing, one must be human and that is it. Many years have been spent within Western society perfecting a procedure for adjudication, and this procedure is advanced and well-defined. None of the other ethical approaches have so well-defined a method of adjudication.

The overwhelming weakness of anthropocentric theories is their focus on humans. Being human-centred, these ethical theories are severely limiting: thus, their moral criteria are unjustifiable.

The extensionist approach derives its criteria in basically the same way as the anthropocentric approach. The only difference is that it extends moral standing (usually by analogy) to non-human animals. Within society, anthropocentric approaches grant non-paradigm humans moral standing, even though they may lack the relevant criteria (eg. self-awareness, an ability to perceive oneself in the future, or an ability to feel pain). Extensionism basically extends the category beyond non-paradigm humans to include non-humans. The extensionist approach calls for criteria that are justifiable. To be justifiable, criteria cannot be racist, sexist, ageist, speciesist, and so on (the list goes on and on). For the reason of justifiability, existentionists reject criteria which can easily be slapped with any of the above 'ist' labels (eg. speciesist). In the case of one extensionist ethical theorist, Singer, the criteria for moral standing are derived from a being's ability to feel pain. Methods for adjudicating amongst those who can feel pain are not clearly set out by Singer. Regan, on the other hand, does not even appear to ask the question of how to adjudicate. Vandeveer is another extensionist theorist who clearly attempts to deal with the adjudication problem and he has moderate success with his two-factor egalitarianism.

A major strength is the extensionist rejection of overly human-centred criteria. Its weakness lies in its failure to reject hierarchal orderings of the moral community (more on hierarchies below).

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