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Environmental Ethics

Volume 14, Issue 3, Fall 1992

Roger Paden
Pages 239-251

Nature and Morality

In their attempt to develop a nonanthropocentric ethic, many biocentric philosophers have been content to argue for the expansion of the moral community to include natural entities. In doing so, they have implicitly accepted the idea that the conceptions of moral duties developed by anthropocentric philosophers to describe the moral relationships that hold between humans can be directly applied to the human/nature relationship. To make this expansion plausible, they have had to argue that natural entities have traits that are similar to the morally relevant traits of human beings, e.g., interests, the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, or “purpose.” Not only are these arguments often unconvincing, but it seems implausible that the same moral concepts and principles that govern human relationships also should govern human/nonhuman relationships. Many nonanthropocentric ethics, I argue, are (mistakenly) anthropomorphic. They anthropomorphize nature and they anthropomorphize our relationship with nature. To go beyond this relationship I recommend the development of a nonanthropomorphic biocentric ethic. Such an ethic requires us to understand better what nature is and what role nature plays in moral experience and action. In such an ethic, I argue, nature is viewed as a transcendent “thing” with a transcendental moral significance.