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Environmental Ethics

Volume 23, Issue 1, Spring 2001

Ben A. Minteer
Pages 57-75
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics200123138

Intrinsic Value for Pragmatists?

Conventional wisdom suggests that environmental pragmatists balk at the mere mention of intrinsic value. Indeed, the leading expositor of the pragmatic position in environmental philosophy, Bryan Norton, has delivered withering criticisms of the concept as it has been employed by nonanthropocentrists in the field. Nevertheless, I believe that Norton has left an opening for a recognition of intrinsic value in his arguments, albeit a version that bears little resemblance to most of its traditional incarnations. Drawing from John Dewey’s contextual approach toward moral inquiry, I offer a reconstructed notion of intrinsic value that avoids the metaphysical pitfalls identified by Norton. I argue that this contextual understanding of noninstrumental claims has the advantage of turning our attention toward, and not away from, the critical realm of practice and policy, and that it is especially compatible with the norms of democratic deliberation. By way of example and in defense of my position, I conclude with a rejoinder to Holmes Rolston’s claims about the role of foundational intrinsic value commitments in settling the human-nature dilemma at Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal.

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