Environmental Science and Ethics Essay

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For this first reading response, I'd like you to focus on your own ideas about what environmental ethics means and why it is important. Our approach to the course is grounded in philosophical inquiry, which means it is important to be clear about our terms and their meanings. For this response, please respond in complete sentences to the following prompts:

Define ethics. What does the term mean to you? For this part of the response, write two to three sentences, drawing from your own experience. Do not refer to any other text or source.

Second, define environmental ethics. What does this term mean to you. For this part of the response, write two to three sentences, drawing from your own experience. Do not refer to any other text or source.

Next, choose one text that was assigned for week one and define environmental ethics according to the author or authors of the text. Do not simply copy and paste - use your own words and explain the definition according to the authors. Include the name of the text and the author(s) in your response.

Lastly, in a few sentences, describe why environmental ethics is an important field of study to you personally. You can write about what you'd like to learn in this class, or an aspect of environmental ethics you find compelling, significant, or problematic.

Your response should be constructed in well-formed, organized sentences and paragraphs. You response should be at least three full paragraphs and not more than five paragraphs in length.

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5 An Expansive Conception of Persons Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. This chapter begins with the insightful critique of a prominent Western conception of persons by Ross Poole, which will nicely frame our development of an American Indian expansive conception of persons. We will find that human beings are essentially “spirit beings” in a changeable human form who become persons by virtue of their relationships with and obligations to other persons in a social group that is more closely related to a family than to a Western civil society. Unlike Western conceptions, however, we will see that the Native conception of persons is expansive, for all sorts of nonhuman spirit beings—ancestors and animals, plants and places, physical forces and cardinal directions, the Sun, Earth, and other powerful spirit beings—are members of the American Indian familial community, and so are persons. A Western Conception of Persons In Chapter 1 we noted the deeply ingrained Western conviction—reinforced by science, religion, and common sense—that human beings are different in kind from other nonhuman animals, but that cultural anthropologists and ethnographers often observe that American Indian traditions regard human beings and other nonhuman animals as in some way equal. “They do not separate man from the beast,” says J. W. Powell (1877), “[s]o the Indian speaks of ‘our race’ as of the same rank with the bear race, the wolf race or the rattlesnake race” (10). But we will see that what Powell regards as a “very curious and interesting fact” is an often-repeated misinterpretation undoubtedly born of an imposition of Western categories and prejudices on the American Indian worldview. Instead, I will argue that a recurring theme in Native traditions is an expansive conception of persons, in which nonhuman animals—and other sorts of other-than-human beings—are recognized 77 Norton-Smith, T. M. (2010). Dance of person and place : One interpretation of american indian philosophy. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from uoregon on 2019-06-22 15:51:12. 78 The Dance of Person and Place as persons in a sense as or more robust than a Western conception of human persons. Thus, the value of human beings is not diminished, but the value of other kinds of entities in the world is enhanced. It is not that “[m]ankind is supposed simply to be one of the many races of animals” in Native worldviews—as Powell haughtily asserts—but that Indians regard the many races of animals to be people like humankind: Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. Behind the apparent kinship between animals, reptiles, birds, and human beings in the Indian way stands a great conception shared by a great majority of the tribes. Other living things are not regarded as insensitive species. Rather they are “people” in the same manner as the various tribes of human beings are people. The reason why the Hopi use live retiles in their ceremony goes back to one of their folk heroes who lived with the snake people for a while and learned from them the secret of making rain for the crops. . . . In the same manner the Plains Indians considered the buffalo as a distinct people, the Northwest Coast Indians regarded the salmon as a people. (Deloria 1994: 89–90) A Native expansive conception of persons in which not only animals but plants and places, physical forces and cardinal directions, even the Sun, Moon, and Earth are persons is clearly different from various Western conceptions in which being human is a necessary condition for personhood. Indeed, the commonsense notion of a person, as captured by everyday usage, is telling: A person is “a human being, whether man, woman, or child . . . as distinguished from an animal or a thing” (“person” 2004). And according to Irving Hallowell (1960), persons and human beings are categorically identified in psychology and the social sciences (21). Thankfully, philosophers have been a little more careful and reflective in their attribution of personhood to or identification of persons with human beings. In fact, a widely embraced contemporary philosophical view—with roots in John Locke and Immanuel Kant—has it that being human is not essential to being a person. After rehearsing the historical and conceptual development of this view, Ross Poole (1996) poses an interesting Hegelian sort of challenge that will shed light both on the Western and American Indian conceptions of a person. Poole argues that John Locke’s notion of a person entrenched an earlier Hobbesian conception, which was informed in turn by an even older Roman notion that to be a person is to take on a public role—to be a full subject of the law and thereby have legal rights and duties, as well as to have the right to participate in certain public rituals and ceremonies (39). Norton-Smith, T. M. (2010). Dance of person and place : One interpretation of american indian philosophy. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from uoregon on 2019-06-22 15:51:12. An Expansive Conception of Persons 79 Hobbes’ transitional view incorporates this older notion that a person is one who has the legal right to act on the public stage with the dawning idea that a person is also “the inner being of the agent who occupied the role,” as Poole puts it. Thus, Hobbes melds the earlier tradition that rights and obligations are grounded in one’s person qua public entity with the idea that “person” refers to some intrinsic nature of the one playing that public role (40). It seems, then, that Hobbes began to combine the two components of personhood that Daniel Dennett (1978) finds in John Locke’s later account, namely, a moral notion and a metaphysical notion. In developing the metaphysical component of personhood, Locke (1991) famously distinguishes the idea of a person from the idea of a man (i.e., a human animal). The identity of a man over time is understood as “the same Animal . . . the same continued Life communicated to different Particles of Matter, as they happen successively to be united to that organiz’d living Body” (332–33). On the other hand, Locke proposes that any selfreflective rational being can be a person, and that the identity of a person over time is a function of a being’s conscious identification of recollected past selves with its present self: Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. [T]o find wherein personal Identity consists, we must consider what Person stands for; which, I think, is a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness, which is inseparable for thinking, and as it seems to me essential to it. (335) However, Locke also is concerned about the legal and moral responsibilities and rewards incurred by and due to persons—just as Hobbes was— and he locates these in a second moral component of personhood, where, as Dennett observes, the metaphysical notion of a person as a special kind of self-reflective rational being appears to be a necessary condition for that being’s moral accountability. For, one can take credit or blame for some past action only if one appropriates the past action as one’s own—and that requires consciously identifying a past self with the present self: [“Person”] is a Forensick Term appropriating Actions and their Merit; and so belongs only to intelligent Agents capable of a Law, and Happiness and Misery. This personality extends it self beyond present Existence to what is past, only by consciousness, whereby it becomes concerned and accountable, owns and imputes to it self past Actions, just upon the same ground, and for the same reason, that it does the present. (Locke 1991: 346) Norton-Smith, T. M. (2010). Dance of person and place : One interpretation of american indian philosophy. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from uoregon on 2019-06-22 15:51:12. 80 The Dance of Person and Place Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. Poole (1996) nicely summarizes the Lockean person as the self-conscious, language using, corporeal, rational being who is “cognizant of and thus subject to the demands of law and morality”—an amalgam of the metaphysical and moral notions—but not the human organism at all. As such, in Locke’s view not all human beings are persons; and, Poole importantly observes, “it is at least conceptually possible that some nonhuman animals might be counted as persons” (40–41). The distinction between persons and human beings is more sharply drawn by Kant, who developed the concept of a person as a moral agent wholly independent of actual facts about human beings. Moral laws are universal and necessary, so they cannot be mere empirical generalizations we might make about actual human behavior, since an empirical generalization can be falsified by a single disconfirming instance. However, moral laws are never falsified by actual human actions and circumstances; despite the fact that human beings actually murder, the moral imperative “Thou shalt not murder” is still true and necessarily binding on all moral agents—that is, binding on all persons. Now, the only way Kant (1964) can account for such universal, apodictic imperatives—and a person’s categorical duty to obey them—is by ignoring altogether the contingencies arising from particular human desires and inclinations, and grounding the moral law in reason. As such, the moral law is necessarily binding not just on human beings, but also on any rational creature whatsoever: Every one must admit that a law has to carry with it absolute necessity if it is to be valid morally—valid, that is, as a ground of obligation; that the command “Thou shalt not lie” could not hold merely for men, other rational beings having no obligation to abide by it—and similarly with all other genuine moral laws; that here consequently the ground of obligation must be looked for, not in the nature of man nor in the circumstances of the world in which he is placed, but solely a priori in the concepts of pure reason. (57) So, as Poole observes, it is not the contingencies of our actual human nature or situation that makes us persons in Kant’s view. Reason makes us persons; and by virtue of our reason—imperfect though it may be—we are creatures with an intrinsic value. So, Kant identifies our rational nature as what we are essentially, and he abstracts that which is essential to us—our personhood—from our humanity (44–45). After tracing the development of the view that being human is not essential to personhood through contemporary philosophers Frankfurt (1971), Dennett (1976), and Nerlich (1989), Poole (1996) argues that Norton-Smith, T. M. (2010). Dance of person and place : One interpretation of american indian philosophy. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from uoregon on 2019-06-22 15:51:12. Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. An Expansive Conception of Persons 81 something has gone awry: Philosophers in the Lockean/Kantian tradition begin by identifying certain features they take to be essential to personhood—perhaps moral agency, self-consciousness, or rationality—and then observe that not every human being has that essential feature, so being human is not sufficient for being a person. Nor is it necessary, for one can imagine other sorts of nonhuman beings with these essential features. Therefore, they conclude, being human is neither necessary nor sufficient for personhood; being a person is thus wholly abstracted from a particular kind of existence—a human existence (46–47). Poole proposes instead that the interesting sorts of features various philosophers have identified that distinguish persons from other kinds of things—moral agency, rationality, language use, and self-awareness among them—arose from, hence cannot be understood apart from, a specific kind of organic, social life that gave rise to them in the first place. Self-consciousness—Locke’s criterion of personhood—is an embodied human self-consciousness; rationality—Kant’s criterion—is an embodied human rationality; moral agency—their common concern—is a human moral agency constituted by a human being’s actual participation in a network of human social and political practices and relationships. Indeed, one’s personal identity is a special kind of social identity. Ignoring this, Poole (1996) argues, leads to the “calamitous consequence” in moral philosophy that persons, as the bearers of moral rights and responsibilities, are abstracted from the very concrete, human situations that engender moral dilemmas in the first place—including abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and consuming nonhuman animals (48–51). Our attention is instead drawn toward concerns about our moral obligations to Vulcans, machines passing the Turing test or any similar nonhuman “persons” in the fantasy world of thought experiments. Importantly, Poole (1996) argues against the metaphysical notion that personhood—however conceived—is our essential being, because there are all sorts of interesting features about human beings besides the usual candidates for personhood that could reasonably serve as the core of a conception of persons, so no one of them should be identified as that which is essential to being human: Cognitive scientists, for example, may be more impressed with our capacity to draw and evaluate certain kinds of inference, than the fact that we can dance or make love, so they construct a concept of a person on the basis of these preferred attributes. In itself this move is harmless enough, and may even be useful in certain contexts. But we should be wary of assuming that this concept signifies what we most essentially are. (55–56) Norton-Smith, T. M. (2010). Dance of person and place : One interpretation of american indian philosophy. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from uoregon on 2019-06-22 15:51:12. 82 The Dance of Person and Place Likewise, we should be wary of the seemingly plausible proposals that our essential being is constituted by personhood construed as self-awareness, rationality, or moral agency—even participating in a certain kind of social and moral life. Because there are so many attributes that could serve as the core of personhood, identifying any one attribute as our essential being is unjustified. Perhaps remarkably, we will find elements of Poole’s Western development of the concept of a person in our consideration of an American Indian expansive conception of personhood. First, human beings are not persons by nature; that which makes them persons cannot be abstracted from a particular, concrete kind of existence. Human beings become persons—and sustain their identity as persons—by virtue of their participation in certain forms of social practices and performances, and through their relationships with and obligations to other persons. Second, the social practices and performances, relationships and obligations that engender and sustain human beings as persons are moral in nature, that is, moral agency is at the core of personhood. Finally, being a person is not what is essential to being human. However, we will see that these three elements are entirely consistent with the view that there are nonhuman persons! Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. Native Conceptions of Animate Beings and Persons We begin with the now familiar traditional Native story of “Coyote, Iktome, and the Rock,” told by Jenny Leading Cloud (Erdoes and Ortiz 1984). It has versions in at least the Lakota, Blackfoot, and Apache traditions, and it has even slipped into popular Western culture. It will serve as a touchstone as we clarify the American Indian notion of a human being as an animate being, the Native expansive conception of persons, and the important difference between them. As the story goes, Coyote and Iktome were going about in their usual way when they came upon Iya—a quite old and powerful Rock—and Coyote (quite uncharacteristically) gifted him his thick woolen blanket. In response to Iktome’s surprise, Coyote replied: “It’s nothing. I’m always giving things away. Iya looks real nice in my blanket.” “His blanket, now,” Iktome reminded. Well, the weather turned off wet and cold, and the pair took refuge in a cave. Coyote, without his warm blanket, was freezing, so he sent Iktome back to retrieve the blanket from Iya. The Rock rebuffed him saying, “No, what is given is given!” Coyote was beside himself when Iktome returned empty handed, so he confronted Iya himself—and he took back the gifted blanket. Norton-Smith, T. M. (2010). Dance of person and place : One interpretation of american indian philosophy. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from uoregon on 2019-06-22 15:51:12. Copyright © 2010. State University of New York Press. All rights reserved. An Expansive Conception of Persons 83 “So there; that’s the end of it,” Coyote said. “By no means the end,” said the Rock. Coyote returned to the cave with the blanket and found Iktome fixing a lunch of pemmican and fry-bread. The pair dined and then settled down for a smoke to enjoy the fair weather that followed the storm when they heard a rumble that shook the very ground. It was Iya, returning to retrieve his blanket. “Friend, let’s run for it!” cried Iktome. “Iya means to kill us!” Iya chased Coyote and Iktome across the river and through the woods; Iya’s power enabled him to swim the river as though he were made of wood, and to splinter trees left and right in the forest. Iktome recognized the peril and “excused” himself, turning into a spider and scampering down a mouse hole. Iya caught Coyote—and rolled right over him, squashing him flat. After collecting his blanket, the Rock returned to his place, saying, “What is given is given.” (Leading Cloud, in Erdoes and Ortiz 1984: 337–39). Coyote is a Trickster in many Native traditions; his role is played by Raven and Hare in others. One of Trickster’s many purposes in stories is to show most graphically what is bound to happen when one forgets one’s proper place, failing to be mindful of one’s relationships with and responsibilities to others, or giving into one’s own desires at the expense of others. When Trickster acts on impulse, is greedy, vain, sometimes just mindlessly self-absorbed—or when he reclaims a gifted blanket—then he disrupts a delicate equilibrium between persons in a dynamic network of relationships sustained by mutual respect, courtesy, and equality. This should be his lesson—and we should learn as well, for we all too often act in the same ways (Martin 1999: 59–62). It often ends badly for Coyote; but like his contemporary animated relative, Wiley Coyote, he seems always to recover—and never to learn from his missteps. Iktome, the Spider person, is usually the butt of laughter—human, plant, and animal alike—because he always seeks shortcuts; Deloria (1999) shares that his stories teach humility and “the consequences of attempting to be what one is not supposed to be”1 (26). The first misconception to dispel is that these and like powerful nonhuman spirit persons are gods as understood in Western religious traditions.2 For, if they were such entities, then they would be quite different from human beings in kind—they would be supernatural, infallible, and omnipotent. But there is, first of all, no distinction between the natu...
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Running Head: ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS

1

Environmental Ethics
Institutional affiliation
Date
1st July 2019

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS 2
Ethics is a term that means doing the right actions and being in a state which is rational to
make people have the belief that certain actions are justified to be the right decisions. This may
be through weighing the consequences and facts through following one’s intuition. The
consequences of being ethical are positive impressions that consequently lead to positive moral
outcomes. Environmental ethics refers to the et...

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Boston College

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