Environmental Ethics

Volume 43, Issue 3, Fall 2021

Nicholas GeiserOrcid-ID
Pages 195-217

Reciprocity as an Environmental Virtue

Three recent developments in environmental ethics—interest in virtue and character, concern for psychological realism, and collective action required to address global ecological challenges—are in tension with one another. For example, virtue ethical approaches in environmental ethics face objections from “situationist” critique and the strategic dimensions of collective action. This article proposes a conception of reciprocity as a response to this challenge for environmental virtue ethics. Environmental ethics has been traditionally skeptical of reciprocity due to its associations with self-interest, instrumental rationality, and well-defined contractual interactions. However, reciprocity can also be understood as a moral disposition of social agents who wish to respond proportionately and fittingly to the benefits they receive from others. Reciprocity is a psychologically robust moral disposition appropriate to contexts of strategic interaction underlying a variety of conservation and common pool resource challenges. As an environmental virtue, reciprocity’s example demonstrates that environmental virtue ethics need not give up psychological realism or concern with collective action.