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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 20, Issue 11/12, 2010

Environmental Ethics: Questions for the Future

Joel Jay Kassiola
Pages 51-76

The Social Power of Environmental Ethics
How Environmental Ethics Can Help Save the World through Social Criticism and Social Change

Environmental ethics has an identity and public image problem. Unlike the other applied ethics subfields like biomedical or business ethics, environmental ethics is surprisingly devalued and even rejected as a possible contributor to confronting effectively the global environmental crisis by anti-environmental philosophers and public policy analysts. Thus, environmental ethics has many critics, both within and outside of philosophy, who strongly challenge the contemporary, practical social relevance of this academic field. In contrast to this critical viewpoint, this essay argues for the profound significance of environmental ethics to the environmental crisis, and, in that way, seeks to present a successful rebuttal to the misguided critiques of this area of philosophy. The argument aims to demonstrate how environmental ethics can facilitate social criticism of the prevailing modern social values and the social institutions associated with the market or consumer capitalist society built upon them. My approach will center its insights and prescriptions upon the philosophical grounding of the collective movement for ecologically-and ethically-based social criticism and social change. I conclude the essay by emphasizing: 1) the normative nature of environmental problems (as opposed to an exclusive scientific or technological conception of such problems), and 2) environmental ethics and philosophy as powerful catalysts for necessary social change in order to save the world through social criticism of the status quo ecologically unsustainable and unethical (exemplified by unjust) modern social values such as, limitless economic growth. These points support the upshot that much more is at stake in the controversy over the nature and value of environmental ethics than the typical academic debate: nothing less then the fate of our planet.

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