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Environmental Ethics

Volume 23, Issue 4, Winter 2001

Jay R. Harmon
Pages 377-389

Notions of Self-Interest
Reflections on the Intersection between Contingency and Applied Environmental Ethics

If agents motivated only by self-interested reasons practice different degrees of ethical environmental behavior at least partly because they hold different notions of what is in their self-interest, then the nature of our self-interest conceptions is a central issue in environmental ethics. Unless set by biology, as seems unlikely from the evidence, the breadth of the individual self-interest conception we each develop must depend on the specific experiences we are each contingently exposed to in our lives. If nurturing a stronger environmental ethic within our society is a goal, if that ethic depends at least in part on how we individually conceive of our self-interest, and if the development of each of our self-interest conceptions responds contingently to input from others, then these reflections lead to normative considerations that reach beyond the standard ethical questions regarding how to act to others that concern, antecedently, whether to act at all.

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