Environmental Ethics

Volume 18, Issue 1, Spring 1996

Tim Hayward
Pages 55-63

Universal Consideration as a Deontological Principle

A major problem that skeptical critics have identified with the project of environmental ethics as it is often conceived is that it involves the search for a criterion of moral considerability, and some claim that this search has not only been unsuccessful, but it is in principle mistaken. Birch has recently argued that this whole problem can be avoided through his proposal of universal consideration in a “root sense,” which applies to all beings, with no exceptions marked by any of the criteria proposed by others. I argue that the strengths of this proposal are its openness to new value discoveries and its focus on agents’ practices. Its flaw is its failure to account convincingly for how values are ever formulated or obligations generated. Hence, it does not represent a viable alternative to the approach he rejects. However, rather than return to that approach, I suggest that Birch’s own line of argument could be developed more consistently if, from his starting point of “deontic experience,” one were to develop an explicitly deontological ethic that focuses more decisively on moral consideration as opposed to moral considerability.