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Environmental Ethics

Volume 26, Issue 4, Winter 2004

Stephen J. Duffin
Pages 381-401
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics20042644

The Environmental Views of John Locke and the Maori People of New Zealand

In recent years, the trend in environmental ethics has been to criticize the traditional Western anthropocentric attitude toward nature. Many environmentalists have looked toward some of the views held by indigenous peoples in various parts of the world and argue that important ecological lessons can be learned by studying their beliefs and attitudes toward nature. The traditional Western viewpoint has been labeled as a form of shallow environmentalism, allowing few rights for anything other than human life. In contrast, indigenous peoples are seen as respecting all things. Thus, the claim is made that the latter’s ecological views are deeper than those of Western views. John Locke is often placed at the center of this tradition that is associated with indifference to the environment. Yet, a comparison of the fundamental beliefs that drive the environmental ethics of the Maori people with those of John Locke reveals surprising similaries. It may well be the case that any adoption by the West of another culture’s view would be too difficult given that there are so many foundational beliefs that are alien to the West, but which are nevertheless required to drive such an ethic. Nevertheless, if we can find similarities between various views, such as those of the Maori and Locke, we may have a greater appreciation of one another’s beliefs and hence less reluctance to adopt them if they will benefit the environment. Our efforts could then perhaps be directed toward putting environmental ethics into practice rather than fighting over which doctrine is the correct one.

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