Volume 25, Issue 3, Fall 2003
The External Goods Approach to Environmental Virtue Ethics
If virtue ethics are to provide a legitimate alternative for reasoning about environmental issues, they must meet the same conditions of adequacy as any other environmental ethic. One such condition that most environmental ethicists insist upon is that an adequate environmental ethic provides a theoretical platform for consistent and justified critique of environmentally unsustainable practices and policies. The external goods approach seeks to establish that any genuinely virtuous agent will be disposed to promote ecosystem sustainability on the grounds that ecosystem sustainability is a necessary external good for cultivating the virtues and/or human flourishing. At most the external goods approach is able to provide an environmental ethic that in most contexts will require that any genuinely virtuous agent will have the goal of promoting a weak environmental sustainability. A better approach may be the substantive approach, which incorporates environmental concern and practice into the substance of the virtues, rather than as a boundary condition for any prospective virtue.