Volume 23, 2008
Philosophy of Environment
Environmental Ethics in Modern Philosophy
A brief history of environmental consciousness in the western world places our views in perspective and provides a context for understanding the maze of related and unrelated thoughts, philosophies, and practices that we call “environmentalism”. Environmental ethics is a collection of independent ethical
generalizations, not a tight, rationally ordered set of rules. Environmental ethics is a collection of interrelated independent tendencies - a process field that is brought together for a long time. Ethics really results from people’s perceptions, attitudes and behaviour. Society is facing many important decisions about the use
of science and technology. These decisions affect the environment, human health, society and international policy. To resolve these issues, and develop principles to help us make decisions we need to involve anthropology, sociology, biology, medicine, religion, psychology, philosophy, and economics; we must combine the scientific rigour of biological data, with the values of religion and philosophy to develop a world-view. The goal of environmental ethics is not to convince us that we should be concerned about the environment. Instead of it, environmental ethics focuses on the moral foundation of environmental responsibility, and how far this responsibility extends. The challenge of duty-based eco-centrism is to explain how conflicts are to be resolved between human‐centered duties and environment-centered ones. An adequate duty-based approach to environmental obligation requires prioritizing environmental duties according to a ranked importance of the various ecosystems in question. Conflicts between prioritized environmental and human duties, then, can only be resolved on a case by case basis. Although eco-centrism fails as a normative theory, eco-centrism may have merit as a way of expressing emotional
outrage at environmental damage and demanding change.