Environmental Ethics

Volume 15, Issue 4, Winter 1993

Keekok Lee
Pages 333-344

Instrumentalism and the Last Person Argument

The last person, or people, argument (LPA) is often assumed to be a potent weapon against a purely instrumental attitude toward nature, for it is said to imply the permissible destruction of nature under certain circumstances. I distinguish between three types of instrumentalism—strong instrumentalism (I) and two forms of weak instrumentalism: (IIa), which includes the psychological and aesthetic use of nature, and (IIb), which focuses on the public service use of nature—and examine them in terms of two scenarios, the après moi, le déluge and the “ultimate humanization of nature” scenarios. With regard to the first, I show that LPA is irrelevant to all the three versions of instrumentalism. With regard to the second scenario, I show that even though it is redundant insofar as (I) is concerned and irrelevant insofar as (IIa) is concerned, it is, surprisingly, effective against (IIb), despite the fact that as a form of weak instrumentalism it is not the target of LPA. In addition, I examine the implications of LPA for the three variants when it is applied to the preservation rather than the destruction of nature and conclude that LPA is effective against (I) and (IIb), but not as effective against (IIa), which can recognize a permission, though not a duty, to save nature.