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Environmental Ethics

Volume 38, Issue 3, Fall 2016

Mark Michael
Pages 347-366

Environmental Pragmatism, Community Values, and the Problem of Reprehensible Implications

Environmental pragmatists such as Bryan Norton and Ben Minteer argue that environmental philosophers should look to the values of real people and communities to determine which environmental policies and legislation should be put into place. But they want to avoid a kind of simplistic relativism, since that view entails all sorts of reprehensible conclusions about what is right and wrong and what is valuable, both generally and with respect to the environment. Their solution is to distinguish between the community’s surface or apparent values and its true values—the community’s true values serve as the basis for the moral appraisal and justification of policies and legislation, and they believe that these will neither endorse nor justify reprehensible principles or policies. The community’s true values, according to Norton, are those that survive a critical, deliberative process. However, there is no reason to think that the process described by Norton will yield normatively better values—values that do not have reprehensible implications. Even if the process described by Norton were to have this effect, he cannot consistently appeal to it, since it runs counter to his overall account of value as being nothing more than actual instances of real people caring about and valuing something. If value is a function of what people actually value here and now, then what people would value under conditions that are unlikely to occur is irrelevant to what is valuable and what can count as the true values of a community. Thus, Norton’s view, and environmental pragmatism, at least to the extent that Norton’s account is representative of that view, remains susceptible to the reprehensible implications problem.

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