Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 8, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2001

Environmental Virtue Ethics

John O’Neill
Pages 125-136

Environmental Virtues and Public Policy

The Aristotelian view that public institutions should aim at the good life is criticized on the grounds that it makes for an authoritarian politics that is incompatible with the pluralism of modem society. The criticism seems to have particular power against modem environmentalism, that it offers a local vision of the good life which fails to appreciate the variety of possible human relationships to the natural environment, andso, as a guide to public policy, it leads to green authoritarianism. This paper argues to the contrary that an Aristotelian position which defends environmental goods as constitutive of the good life is consistent with recognition of the plurality of ways our relations to the natural world can be lived. It is compatible with the recognition of distinct cultural expressions of such relations and of the special place particular histories of individuals and social groups have in constraining environmental policy.