Volume 40, Issue 3, Fall 2018
A Cartesian Approach to Environmental Ethics
The philosophy of René Descartes has been attacked by environmental ethicists for supposedly being pivotal in preventing the formulation of proper environmental concerns and attitudes. Yet, Descartes’ philosophy if read charitably is, in fact, effective in developing a proper environmental ethic. He believed God created two kinds of substances, mental and physical; humans are composed of a mental and physical substance, plants and animals of only a physical substance. He argued that humans, animals, and plants, despite their difference in substance, share the same status of creatures and interact with one another. Morally, Descartes argued that humans properly serving God receive theistic pleasure from promoting the welfare of their communities. Humans, animals, and plants exist in an ecological community with one another. Thus, Descartes’ philosophy naturally develops a theo-ecocentric environmental ethic as humans will receive theistic pleasure in promoting the welfare of ecological communities.