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Essays in Philosophy

Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2002

Environmental Aesthetics

Steve Matthews
Pages 22-37

A Hybrid Theory of Environmentalism

The destruction and pollution of the natural environment poses two problems for philosophers. The first is political and pragmatic: which theory of the environment is best equipped to impact policymakers heading as we are toward a series of potential ecocatastrophes? The second is more central: On the environment philosophers tend to fall either side of an irreconcilable divide. Either our moral concerns are grounded directly in nature, or the appeal is made via an anthropocentric set of interests. The lack of a common ground is disturbing. In this paper I attempt to diagnose the reason for this lack. I shall agree that wild nature lacks features of intrinsic moral worth, and that leaves a puzzle: Why is it once we subtract the fact that there is such a lack, we are left with strong intuitions against the destruction and/or pollution of wild nature? Such intuitions can be grounded only in a strong sense of aesthetic concern combined with a common-sense regard for the interests of sentient life as it is indirectly affected by the quality of the environment. I suggest also that of the positions on offer, a hybrid theory of the environment is best suited to address our first problem, that of having an effective influence in the polity.

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