Two Views of Animals in Environmental Ethics

In David Schmidtz (ed.), Philosophy: Environmental Ethics. Boston: Gale. pp. 151-183 (2016)
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Abstract
This chapter concerns the role accorded to animals in the theories of the English-speaking philosophers who created the field of environmental ethics in the latter half of the twentieth century. The value of animals differs widely depending upon whether one adopts some version of Holism (value resides in ecosystems) or some version of Animal Individualism (value resides in human and nonhuman animals). I examine this debate and, along the way, highlight better and worse ways to conduct ethical arguments. I explain that two kinds of appeals (which I call intuition and reductio) are questionable foundations for environmental ethics and that representatives of both schools occasionally appeal unhelpfully to intuition or caricature the commitments of the other side. I review two stronger arguments for Ecoholism (inference and eco-organisms) and show that they have performed a useful function in environmental ethics. Ultimately, however, both arguments fail because their proponents are unable to answer four critical objections: weakness of will, no eco-organisms, no teleology, and is/ought. I then show that Animal Individualism operates on more secure footing when it comes to philosophical and scientific assumptions. I also propose that Animal Individualism is more likely to prove effective in establishing progressive environmental policies insofar as it builds on existing legal concepts, especially the concept of moral rights, and political institutions, such as democratic states. I note that wild animals are not inherently more valuable than domestic animals and, finally, offer a brief outline of an animal rights environmental ethic.
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Archival date: 2017-01-30
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