Nonanthropocentrism and environmental policy

With this variety of views in the field, how should environmental ethics proceed? One answer would be that it will simply proceed, whether it should or not, as a new set of debates between the more traditional nonanthropocentric views and the biocentric, anthropocentric, or other alternative views briefly mentioned at the end of the previous section. Many anthropocentric environmental ethicists seem determined to do just that (see Norton 1995 and Callicott 1996). There is, however, an alternative: in addition to continuing the tradition of most environmental ethics as philosophical sparring among philosophers, we could turn our attention to the question of how the work of environmental ethicists could be made more useful in taking on the environmental problems to which environmental ethics is addressed as those problems are undertaken in policy terms. The problems with contemporary environmental ethics are arguably more practical than philosophical, or at least their resolution in more practical terms is more important than their resolution in philosophical terms at the present time. For even though there are several dissenters from the dominant traditions in environmental ethics, the more important consideration is the fact that the world of natural-resource management (in which environmental ethicists should hope to have some influence, in the same way that medical ethicists have worked for influence over the medical professions) takes a predominantly anthropocentric approach to assessing natural value, as do most other humans. [...] Environmental ethics appears more concerned with overcoming human interests than redirecting them toward environmental concerns. As a consequence, a nonanthropocentric form of ethics has limited appeal to such an audience, even if it were true that this literature provides the best reasons for why nature has value (de-Shalit 2000). And not to appeal to such an audience arguably means that we are not having an effect either on the formation of better environmental polices or on the project of engendering public support for them. As such, I would argue, environmental ethics is not living up to its promise as a field of philosophy attempting to help resolve environmental problems. It is instead evolving mostly as a field of intramural philosophical debate. [...]

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