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Our Place in the World: A New Relationship for Environmental Ethics and Law

59 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2012 Last revised: 27 Dec 2014

Jedediah S. Purdy

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: July 2, 2012


Forty years ago, at the birth of environmental law, both legal and philosophical luminaries assumed that the new field would be closely connected with environmental ethics. Instead, the two grew dramatically apart. This article diagnoses that divorce and proposes a rapprochement. Environmental law has always grown through changes in public values: for this and other reasons, it cannot do without ethics. Law and ethics are most relevant to each other when there are large open questions in environmental politics: lawmakers act only when some ethical clarity arises; but law can itself assist in that ethical development. This is true now in a set of emerging issues: the law of food systems, animal rights, and climate change. This article draws on philosophy, history, and neuroscience to develop an account of the ethical changes that might emerge from each of these issues, and proposes legal reforms to foster that ethical development.

Keywords: environmental ethics, political philosophy, cost benefit analysis

Suggested Citation

Purdy, Jedediah S., Our Place in the World: A New Relationship for Environmental Ethics and Law (July 2, 2012). Duke Law Journal, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Jedediah S. Purdy (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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