Building an Environmental Ethic from the Ground Up
University of Florida
University of California Davis Law Review, Vol. 37, p. 53, 2003
Environments, Vol. 27, p. 53, 2003
There has been a remarkable theoretical flourishing in the field of environmental philosophy. The resulting literature explores the intellectual and moral causes for the environmentally destructive practices of the dominant western industrial and economic culture, and proposes alternatives that might avoid these consequences. This essay proceeds from the assumption that environmental philosophy has a crucial role to play in the development of environmental law, yet it questions the extent to which these theories and the academic discourse have had practical impact
Part I contends that the American public lacks a coherent account of the values we are pursuing under our current environmental laws. There is an unexamined assumption that environmental laws embody some defined set of “environmental” values. The assumption that our laws are “environmental” in the sense that they reflect purely environmental values is dangerous and arguably incorrect. The essay suggests how the conceptual work done by philosophers can be deployed to advance public thinking about environmental values, ethics, and law.
Part II suggests that philosophers and legal scholars can help bring philosophy down to earth by developing stepping stones – concepts that represent marginal or gradual change from the dominant human-centered utilitarian ethical framework, as opposed to coherent theories of environmental ethics, such as a biocentric intrinsic value theory. Enlightened variants of human-centered utilitarian ethics may bridge the realms of philosophy and law and provide an important tool to enable transformation of the ethics of the American public.
As an example, the essay explores how sustainability, while not a coherent environmental ethic, shows promise as a stepping stone. I outline five attributes of sustainability that lend it potential to highlight key ethical issues and to act as a logical step for those dissatisfied with the ethics embedded in current law and policy. Involvement by philosophers and legal scholars in shaping concepts like sustainability can help ensure that these concepts reach their potential and do not become meaningless slogans. Work at the intersection of environmental law and philosophy may fill an important gap that will ensure that law and philosophy both reach their potential.
Keywords: environmental ethics, environmental philosophy, sustainabilityAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: July 20, 2011
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