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Environmental Ethics

Volume 19, Issue 1, Spring 1997

Bryan G. Norton
Pages 87-100

Convergence and Contextualism
Some Clarifications and a Reply to Steverson

The convergence hypothesis asserts that, if one takes the full range of human values—present and future—into account, one will choose a set of policies that can also be accepted by an advocate of a consistent and reasonable nonanthropocentrism. Brian Steverson has attacked this hypothesis from a surprising direction. He attributes to deep ecologists the position that nonhuman nature has intrinsic value, interprets this position to mean that no species could ever be allowed to go extinct, and proceeds to show that my commitment to contextualism prohibits me from advocating the protection of species universally. In response, I show, by reference to recent scientific findings, how difficult it is to defend species preservation in all situations. In particular, I argue that Steverson’s appeal to a possible world in which we have nearly complete biological knowledge misses the point of the convergence hypothesis. It is an empirical hypothesis, with significant indirect, and some direct, evidence to support it. Although it is a falsifiable hypothesis about realworld policies, it cannot be falsified by a contrary-to-fact case.