The consequentialist side of environmental ethics

If self-realisation and environmental preservation are logically distinct concepts then their theoretical foundations may differ. This is the heart of my thesis. Self-realisation is mostly a matter of developing an attitude. Rather than viewing nature merely as a resource with value only in relation to providing satisfaction for humans, environmentalists such as Leopold, Devall, and Taylor recommend that we develop the attitude of appreciating the intrinsic value of wildlife, trees, and waterfalls. The value in developing an attitude may exist apart from the effects expected to follow from it. It need not be understood in a consequentialist framework. On the other hand, problems in the second side of environmental ethics - the preservation and restoration of the environment - are most reasonably cast in a consequentialist theoretical framework.

Consequentialism is the view that actions are right or wrong solely on account of their effects.6' 7 8 It is contrasted by views in which actions are found to be right or wrong entirely by reference to motivation. Kant's view - a right action is one motivated through a sense of duty based on the categorical imperative - is the prime example of the nonconsequentialist position. Cases in which badly motivated actions produce good effects and cases in which well motivated actions produce bad effects illustrate the essential difference between consequentialist and nonconsequentialist positions. According to consequentialism, actions with evil motivation that accidentally produce great benefits are the right actions to perform. Good motivation generally produces good results, so a consequentialist may hold compassion, honesty, and duty in high regard, but only insofar as they are seen as productive of benefits.

There are different versions of consequentialism according to what it is about an action's effects that counts for its being right or wrong, and whether actions are evaluated individually or collectively. Utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism in which only the effects of actions in respect to the pleasure, happiness, and/or preferences of sentient beings are relevant to actions being right or wrong. Although utilitarians usually limit the moral community to humans, Jeremy Bentham suggested that it include all animals capable of pleasure and pain; a position not fully developed until almost two hundred years later, by Peter Singer.9 Usually, utilitarians evaluate the actions of each person individually, but in the case of public policy decisions, the theory might be applied to assess the actions of a society taken collectively.10, 11

There is also a distinction between actual and expected consequential-

ism. According to the former, actions are right or wrong solely on account of their actual effects. With the latter, actions are right or wrong accord- O

ing to the effects that most reasonably can be expected to follow from 3.

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  • colombano
    What is the difference between consequentialist and nonconsequentialist?
    7 years ago

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