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Environmental Ethics

Volume 12, Issue 1, Spring 1990

Carolyn Merchant
Pages 45-68

Environmental Ethics and Political Conflict
A View from California

l examine three approaches to environmental ethics and illustrate them with examples from California. An egocentric ethic is grounded in the self and based on the assumption that what is good for the individual is good for society. Historically associated with laissez faire capitalism and a religious ethic of human dominion over nature, this approach is exemplified by the extraction of natural resources from the commons by private interests. A homocentric ethic is grounded in society and is based on the assumption that policies should reflect the greatest good for the greatest number of people and that, as stewards of the natural world, humans should conserve and protect nature for human benefit. Historically associated with govemment regulation of the private sector, a homocentric approach can be illustrated by federal, state, and local environmental agencies charged with protecting the welfare of the general public. An ecocentric ethic is grounded in the cosmos, or whole environment, and is based on the assignment of intrinsic value to nonhuman nature. Exemplified by ecologically based sciences and process-oriented philosophies, an ecocentric approach often underlies the political positions of environmentalists. This threefold taxonomy may be useful in identifying underlying ethical assumptions in cases where ethical dilemmas and conflicts of interest develop among entrepreneurs, govemment agencies, and environmentalists.

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