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Environmental Ethics

Volume 15, Issue 2, Summer 1993

James Fieser
Pages 171-180

Callicott and the Metaphysical Basis of Ecocentric Morality

According to the theory of ecocentric morality, the environment and its many ecosystems are entitled to a direct moral standing, and not simply a standing derivative from human interests. J. Baird Callicott has offered two possible metaphysical foundations for ecocentrism that attempt to show that inherent goodness can apply to environmental collections and not just to individual agents. I argue that Callicott’s first theory fails because it relies on a problematic theory of moral sentiments and that his second theory fails because it rests on an unsupported parallel between the breakdown of the subject-object dichotomy suggested by quantum theory and an alleged actualization of morality upon the interaction of environmental collections with consciousness. Finally, I argue that Callicott overrates the need for a metaphysical grounding of inherent value, and that the metaphysical question has little bearing on the normative issue of ecocentrism.

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