Theories in Environmental Ethics




Theories in Environmental Ethics

Most philosophers have been struggling with the issue of values and relative factors that formulate the entire subject. The current scenario presents a host of considerations that qualifies either as imperative or otherwise, depending on an individual’s point of view. Holmes Rolston stands out as a vocal defender of environmental ethics, and his arguments base on the issue of values, especially in the field of environmental ethics (Silva, 2011). Just like other like-minded philosophers, he claims that many theorists in this particular field are unable to distinguish between human beings and nature in one or more fundamental ways (Robin, 2003). For instance, he states that these theorists cannot establish the intrinsic values present in whatever element of nature that are not necessarily bestowed upon them by human beings. This statement may either be true of false. However, it rests on the assumption that intrinsic values can be bestowed upon objects or living things through the efforts of both humans and/or other beings. The statement serves as an introduction to the complex matters that constitute the topic of values. It is evident that it is not possible to place intrinsic values upon any being by another since they emanate from within. This implies that Rolston’s sentiments, at this point, are contradictory (Silva, 2011). In order to get a clear picture of the argument, and a possible conclusion, it is important to analyze the various theories that have been developed in a bid to address the issue of environmental ethics (Robin, 2003). Many attempts aimed at streamlining environmental ethics revolve around the assumption that humans possess an ethical responsibility towards nature. One may argue that the placement of values on the natural world depends on humans due to their rights and requirements as humans. They possess this responsibility because the environment supports their survival; therefore, it needs protection. Another view states that the natural world should be valued and protected for its own sake because it has an intrinsic value or worth.

Anthropocentricism, sentientism, and biocentricism are the major theories used in analyzing the value of nature. In Anthropocentricism, the determination of value of nature is by its effect on human beings. This implies that the pollution of environmental constituents is normally avoidable simply because humans have a right to enjoy clean water and air. It is important to note that most environmental campaigns, in the modern world, base on Anthropocentricism. The preservation of forests, for instance, and the promotion of ecotourism are typical constituents of the theory (Preston, 2007). They all strive to ensure that human existence is positively affected. Many individuals, despite it carrying certain weaknesses and complications, have promoted the theory. Placing value on nature as dictated by the impact felt by humans is a deadly idea in certain ways. For instance, anthropogenic accounts are likely to interfere with the meaning and importance of the interconnectedness in life. It is evident that there is an interconnection between humans and other components of nature in the process of living. However, the theory can easily distort this awareness. Its propagation can be through overlooking the close relation of human welfare to that of other components of nature (Robin, 2003). Those who rely on human interest to place value on nature are likely to find themselves in a conflict of interest. For instance, one group might be championing for human interests in the sphere of increased economic opportunity; thus, clash with another group. Possibly, the other group would be campaigning for reduced pollution. The anthropocentric framework entails such clashes; thus, its process of valuing remains questionable and faulty.

Sentientism is another commonly used theory in the issue of valuing nature. It is considered as an extension of anthropocentricism because it offers an extension of values to other beings other than humans. The approach is also known as extensionism especially when it deals with natural values in terms of humans, other living beings, and non-living things, as well (Silva, 2011). Sentientism is the most common branch of extentionist principles, and it does not place value on non-living things. By virtue of extension, sentientism goes a step further to include all beings considered sentient and have feelings. In sentientism, the aspect of interests plays a pivotal role in determining our obligations to the natural world (Preston, 2007). It is evident that interests portrayed by humans are present in this category. However, the approach provides essential modifications to anthropocentricism. Here, the aspect of interests extends to include animals. The approach is imperative in promoting animal rights through fostering value of all animals, especially in environmental ethics. It also stipulates that the interests of humans should not necessarily determine environmental issues, at all times. On that perspective, it is important to understand that it is erroneous to use certain interests held by humans to override the plight of animals. For instance, humans building a road should not impede on the welfare of Koalas in that particular area by killing them (Preston, 2007). This should face resistance especially when the Koalas cannot coexist well with the road. Human interest should not be used to further impede on the Koala species’ continuation.

Many individuals regard the biocentric approach as the most controversial view. Here, there is the holistic definition of the natural world as opposed to sentientism and anthropocentricism approaches.  Biocentricism acknowledges all beings as valuable, and encourages individuals to view everything as a living organism. Sentientism targets individual entities, but biocentricism focuses the entire system, holistically (Preston, 2007). There is the harmonization of extension of interests that encompass both human interests and animal interests into obligations that serve the entire nature since it has intrinsic values. Apparently, there is the adherence to certain deontological obligations to Mother Nature through this approach. This is observable in its effects on the so-called deep ecologists. It is evident that sentientism and anthropocentrism are not easily distinguishable under biocentricism due to their identical nature. In simpler terms, the latter are considered as zoocentric because they do not value non-animal entities. Biocentricism does not have means through which it can distinguish between the other two approaches; thus, it simply categorizes then as zoocentric (Preston, 2007). The classification of this view can either be as a violation of the notion of self-interest or the best solution towards long-term sustainability of the environment. The approach eliminates boundaries in a typical community to include non-living things like rocks and plants, as well as animals. It is also one of the biggest critics to the issue of human growth economics, and it provides the best avenue through which the biodiversity of a variety of species receive protection. There is the negation of both instrumentalist and consequential aspects in this approach, and they serve as the strong points. There are several objections to the approach, and they pose different challenges.

A common objection of biocentricism states that too many entities are bound to gain moral status. The extension of valued groups, which include the ones that possess complex biological needs, could be appropriate, but biocentrists introduce wrong charges against sentientism. The accomplishment of this is through rubbishing its intrinsic life value by stating that a sentient being does not enhance or relate to interests and moral standing through being sentient. Biocentrists believe that the psychobiological option of personal warfare stands justified, and they certainly recognize the correct entities that should be valued (Robin, 2003). However, they fail to recognize that when there is no connection of interests to a species’ craving or need that relates to the interest in that particular species to live, it results in the nullification of the interest. I, therefore, disagree with biocentricsm in favor of sentientism for certain reasons. For instance, the measure of suffering or rejoicing precedes the presence of interests. It is pertinent to consider this condition before tackling the aspect of interests at any level. In simpler terms, it is of paramount importance to address sentience before any meaningful discussion on interests and values can take place. It means that sentietism categorizes those organisms that have value in the best way possible. This means that sentientism offers the best explanation for valuing organisms due to its strengths. Many people would go for anthropocentrism as evidenced by lots of literature on the subject, but sentientism provides the best scenario. It is evident that biocentricism possesses meaningful strengths, but the weaknesses are also very conspicuous and injurious to its credibility. Sentient beings have the ability to develop and maintain interests in certain issues leading to their importance in valuing nature.





Preston, N. (2007). Understanding ethics. New York, NY: Federation Press

Robin, A. (2003). Environmental ethics: An overview for the twenty-first century. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell

Silva, C. (2011). Biocentrism in green ethics and philosophy: An A-to-Z guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications