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Environmental Ethics

Volume 31, Issue 3, Fall 2009

Piers H. G. Stephens
Pages 227-244
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics200931327

Toward a Jamesian Environmental Philosophy

William James’s radical empiricism and pragmatism constitutes a philosophy that can reconcile the split between intrinsic value theorists, who stress the development and relevance of theoretical axiology, and pragmatists who have favored a more direct emphasis on environmental policy and application. By distinguishing James’s emphasis on direct personal experience from John Dewey’s more socialized approach, James’s distinctive emphasis on the transformative possibilities of pure experience and his links to romantic sensibility enable us to articulate and validate the noninstrumental aspects of experienced environmental values that anti-pragmatists habitually regard pragmatism as unable to speak for. Using James’s framework to explicate and support Anthony Weston’s radically noninstrumental “immediate values” better expresses the felt noninstrumental worth of nature than intrinsic value theory can. Nonetheless, a rapprochement between the two sides is possible: although James’s pragmatic naturalism is the framework that can best capture nature’s experienced noninstrumental worth and link it to wider human values, intrinsic value theory has real practical application in the realm of law, and pragmatists can support it in that domain, thus upholding the primary emphasis on practicality and policy that is usually seen as pragmatism’s main strength.