Notes on Jamieson, chapter 6

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Transcript Notes on Jamieson, chapter 6

Notes on Dale Jamieson, Ethics
and the Environment, chapter 6
The Value of Nature
The Plurality of Values
Conflicts and Trade-Offs
A Biocentric Argument
All living things have experiences.
Anything that has experiences has interests.
Therefore, all living things have interests.
Anything that has interests is morally considerable.
Therefore, all living things are morally considerable.
Paul Taylor’s Biocentrism
In Respect for Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986) Paul Taylor
argues that there are four beliefs “that form the core of the biocentric outlook” (pp.
(a) “Humans are members of the Earth’s Community of Life in the same sense and
on the same terms in which other living things are members of that community.”
(b) “The human species, along with all other species, are integral elements in a
system of interdependence such that the survival of each living thing, as well as its
chances of faring well or poorly, is determined not only by the physical conditions of
its environment but also by its relations to other living things.”
(c) “All organisms are teleological centers of life in the sense that each is a unique
individual pursuing its own good in its own way.”
(d) “Humans are not inherently superior to other living things.”
James Sterba’s “Alien Invasion”
Thought Experiment
“Suppose our planet were invaded by an
intelligent and very powerful species of aliens
that can easily impose their will upon us.
Suppose these aliens have studied the life
history of our planet and they have come to
understand how we have wreaked havoc on
our planet, driving many species into
extinction, and how we still threaten many
other species with extinction. In short,
suppose these aliens discover that we are like
a cancer on our biosphere. Suppose further
that these aliens are fully aware of the
differences between us and the other species
on the planet. Suppose they clearly recognize
that we more closely resemble them in power
and intelligence than any other species on the
planet does. Even so, suppose the aliens still
choose to protect those very species we
threaten. They begin by forcing us to use no
more resources than we need for a decent
life, and this significantly reduces the threat
we pose to many endangered species.
However, the aliens want to do more. In order
to save more endangered species, they
decide to exterminate a certain portion of our
human population, reducing our numbers to
those we had when we were more in balance
with the rest of the biosphere. Now if this
were to happen, would we have moral
grounds to object to these actions taken by
the aliens?” (From James Sterba, “Rethinking
Global Justice from the Perspective of All
Living Nature and What Difference it Makes,”
American Journal of Economics and
Sociology, January 2007).
Sterba’s Set Up
In Three Challenges to Ethics: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism (New York:
Oxford, 2001, pp. 27-49), Sterba builds on the work of Paul Taylor and asks us to consider
“the nature of “interspecies morality” by analogy with morality as a compromise between
egoism and altruism
HUMAN INTERESTS <-------------------------------> INTERESTS OF OTHER SPECIES
James Sterba’s Argument for
“Biocentric Pluralism”
We should not aggress against any living being unless there are either selfevident or non-question-begging reasons for doing so.
To treat humans as superior overall to other living beings is to aggress
against them by sacrificing their basic needs to meet the nonbasic needs of
Therefore, we should not treat humans as superior overall to other living
beings unless we have either self-evident or non-question-begging reasons
for doing so.
We do not have either self-evident or non-question-begging reasons for
treating humans as superior overall to other living beings.
Therefore, we should not treat humans as superior overall to other living
Not to treat humans as superior overall to other living beings is to treat them
as equal overall to other living beings
Therefore, we should treat humans as equal overall to other living beings.
Sterba’s Four Priority Principles
Human Defense
Human Preservation
Human Defense
Human Defense = “Actions that defend oneself and other
human beings against harmful aggression are permissible
even when they necessitate killing or harming individual
animals or plants or even destroying whole species or
ecosystems” (p. 33).
Human Preservation
Human Preservation = “Actions that are necessary for
meeting one’s basic needs or the basic needs of other
human beings are permissible even when they require
aggressing against the basic needs of individual animals
and plants or even of whole species or ecosystems” (p.
Disproportionality = “Actions that meet nonbasic or luxury
needs of humans are prohibited when they aggress against
the basic needs of individual animals and plants, or of whole
species or ecosystems” (p. 37).
Restitution = “Appropriate reparation or compensation is
required whenever the other principles have been
violated” (p. 38).
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve
the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong
when it tends otherwise.”
Jameson’s objection to Leopold’s use of the term “biotic community”
(p. 150).
Edward Abbey, esp. Desert Solitaire
The Plurality of Values
Prudential Values
Aesthetic Values
Natural Values
Prudential Values
Nature should be valued insofar as it serves the interests of human
Two problems with the prudential argument for environment
preservation: (a) it is argument from ignorance and (b) it assigns no
value to activities that drive species to extinction
Aesthetic Values
Sources of Aesthetic Value: Object or Subject (or Both?)
The Experience of the Sublime
Natural Values
Autonomy => Wildness
Conflicts and Trade-Offs
Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep vs. Mountain Lions
Feral Goats vs. Endemic Plants
Natives vs. Exotics
A Thought Experiment
Should we interfere if we see a predatory animal about to
attack its prey, in order to protect the prey? For example,
should we try to stop a fox from killing a squirrel? What if
the fox is about to attack a stray cat? Should we prevent a
companion cat from hunting wild birds? (From Marc Bekoff,
Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat
Animals with Compassion and Respect [Boston:
Shambhala, 2007].)