Volume 11, 2018
Jack L. Weir
Monism or Pluralism in Environmental Ethics?
This paper argues that moral pluralism is the best theory of environmental ethics. Pluralism has been widely used in legal and medical ethics, but not in environmental ethics. Current theories of environmental ethics make two errors: (a) attempting directly to derive non-consequential obligations (duties, rights, respect, and justice) from values, and (b) failing to explain and resolve indecision and disagreement. This paper argues that moral pluralism does not make the two errors. In addition, pluralism is theoretically justified by giving a complete account of the depth, particularity, and diversity of human moral experience, including non-consequential duties to the environment. Pluralism is not arbitrary moral relativism. Rooted in the way the world actually is, moral pluralism is like the sciences in that lower-level generalizations (basic principles) rest on particular facts, events, and cases in the world. Because pluralism’s moral principles are derived from facts about cases, the principles are inductively warranted, confirmed, and revisable. What is needed today is an ethical theory that will empower decision-makers, legitimize tolerance, and peacefully resolve problems, either by producing agreement or by explaining the reasons for the continuing disagreements. Pluralism is that theory.