The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Environmental Ethics

Philosopher David Schmitdz is quoted stating
environmental philosophy is not 'applied' in the same way that medical and especially business ethics has been. It's more like highly theoretical meta-ethics, except with real world examples. So someone trots out his theory of value, and in environmental ethics, you get to bring the conversation down to earth (as it were) by saying things like, does that apply to trees?

Indeed, it has been my impression many environmental ethicists delve into theoretical matters because they find that the application of the "classic" moral theories to environmental issues yields unacceptable results. That Kantianism justifies only indirect duties to animals, for instance, is arguably a sufficient reason to question that theory, as well as its meta-ethical underpinnings. Correct or not, that is the pursuit of reflective equilibrium, and it seems to set Environmental Ethics apart.

However, while this focus on meta-ethics might make the field more interesting to analytic philosophers, it is likely to reduce its appeal to undergraduate students of Environmental Ethics. Having taught that class on several occasions, I found that most of the students were looking for something light on technical philosophy, and heavy on environmental debate. I can't speak for every institution, of course, but my impression is that Environmental Ethics is more likely to be offered as a service course, for the benefit of Environmental Studies majors and their ilk. Meta-ethics can be a tough sell in that context.