Environmental Ethics

Volume 23, Issue 1, Spring 2001

Philip Cafaro
Pages 3-17

Thoreau, Leopold, and Carson
Toward an Environmental Virtue Ethics

I argue for an environmental virtue ethics which specifies human excellence and flourishing in relation to nature. I consider Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson as environmental virtue ethicists, and show that these writers share certain ethical positions that any environmental virtue ethics worthy of the name must embrace. These positions include putting economic life in its proper, subordinate place within human life as a whole; cultivating scientific knowledge, while appreciating its limits; extending moral considerability to the nonhuman world; and supporting wilderness protection. I argue that Thoreau, Leopold, and Carson themselves exemplify the potential for cultivating excellence in engagement with wild nature: their lives are among our most powerful arguments for its preservation.

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