What is Wrong with Extinction? - The Answer from Anthropocentric Instrumentalism

Dissertation, Lund University (2006)
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Abstract
The book contains the first part of an investigation aimed at finding out why it is morally wrong to cause species to go extinct. That it is morally wrong seems to be a very basic and widely held intuition. It seems reasonable that a moral theory worth taking seriously ought to be able to account for that intuition. The most common attempt to answer our question is to refer to the instrumental value of the species for human beings – the anthropocentric instrumental approach as I have chosen to call it. This is the answer that is discussed in this book. We have found many ways in which different species have instrumental value for human beings – both individually and as a part of ecosystems and of biodiversity in general. We could not guarantee however that this includes all species. In some cases, it also turned out that the instrumental value of the species in fact favours exploitation maybe even as far to the extinction of the species. We also noticed that there is no guarantee that the instrumental value of the species can always outweigh the competing values that we would gain by different encroachments that contribute to the extinction of the species. We found however that there are some special circumstances that help push the scale in the direction of preservation. I am thinking of some particular types of value such as choice value and transformation value – values that in general seem to favour preservation of species. This principle shows us that it would be rational from an anthropocentric instrumental vantage point to rule in favour of preservation in many of the cases where we are uncertain about the value of the species, about the best way of utilising the value, or about the connection between the species and other species or biodiversity in general. I am finally thinking of the moral principle that we have duties to consider the future interests of generations to come. We found that with a few exceptions it is justified to adopt such a principle. This in combination with the principles of precaution ought in general to urge us not to cause the extinction of species unless we have very trustworthy evidence that they will not turn out to be more valuable alive to future generations in comparison to what we can get from driving them to extinction. In relation to the discussion about the value of other species for human beings, it is worth noticing that all the arguments we have found in favour of preservation would be even stronger – and therefore account even better for the intuition that it is at least prima facie wrong to cause extinction – if we also accepted that other entities than human beings can have moral standing. Finally, we noticed that our moral intuitions strongly indicate that even in the cases where the instrumental value of other species for human beings talks in favour of preservation, there is still something lacking. Something we have to account for in order to totally account for our moral intuition against extinction. The conclusion will have to be that anthropocentric instrumentalism is in favour of preservation in many cases – probably in more cases than is generally acknowledged – but that it is not enough to give a complete account of the intuition that it is prima facie morally wrong to contribute to the extinction of species. We therefore have to continue our search for such an account
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