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Environmental Ethics

Volume 1, Issue 3, Fall 1979

R.J. Nelson
Pages 263-278

Ethics and Environmental Decision Making

Environmental ethics tends to be dominated by the idea that the right environmental actions require a change in the value systems of many people. I argue that the “rebirth” approach is perverse in that moral attitudes are not easily changed by moral suasion. A properly ethical approach must begin where we are, as moderately moral people desiring the best for all. The real ethical problem is to develop procedures for collectively defining environmental ends that will be fair to the parties participating in the decision process. This idea is essentially utilitarian, and depends on the maximization of expected social utility. This type of environmental ethics is contrasted with current theories of social choice in welfare economics and with Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness.

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