“Respect for Nature” (Blog 20)

Paul Taylor gives us our first true glimpse in to an ethic that moves beyond anthropocentrism to what her refers to as a life-centered system of environmental ethics.  “From the perspective of a life-centered theory, we have prima facie moral obligations that are owed to wild plants and animals themselves as members of the Earth’s biotic community.”[1] Taylor argues that the anthropocentric systems of environmental ethics places too much emphasis and importance on sentience as the root of a certain beings moral worth, which makes humans the types of beings to whom all duties are owed. Human-centered ethics has certain interests trespect_naturehat are viewed to be for the good of a being as a necessary component for a being to have a good of its own. But Taylor doesn’t find the two mutually exclusive or necessary; instead, Taylor says, “The good of a population or community of such individuals consists in the population or community maintaining itself from generation to generation as a coherent system of genetically and ecologically related organisms whose average good is at an optimum level for the given environment.”[2] Furthermore, Taylor brings back and expands upon the idea of an Earth community and finds that all moral agents are worth of concern and consideration simply for being a part of this community. In addition, these moral agents have intrinsic value when the realization of their good lead to their prima facie worth. Taylor’s main argument and his ultimate moral attitude in regards to nature is “respect for nature.” He defines this moral attitude as making not just a commitment but, rather, a moral commitment to live a certain kind of life in relation to the natural world.

Taylor makes some very interesting arguments and claims in his essay and they are certainly unique compared to what we have been reading and focusing on in class for the better part of the semester. I personally do believe that plants and animals do have posses their own intrinsic value and pursue their own good in their own unique ways. However, I think it is going to be a very difficult value to ascribe to because in the end, I believe that what we’re all really trying to do is to save the human species not the world or its biological life forms. We have just simply recognized their importance to our own good and are really only prepared to use them as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. I’ve flirted with this idea in past blogs, but never to this extent. My realization or assertion of this position comes from Taylor’s argument that although humans have the power and responsibility to do the valuing “it is not a value derived form considerations regarding human wellbeing or human rights. It is a value that is ascribed to nonhuman animals and plants themselves, independently of their relationship to respect-nature-Ann-van-den-Broeck1what humans judge to be conducive to their own good.”[3] Most (a lot) of other theories that we’ve covered argue from the position that the only way to save ourselves is to save the planet and its natural biodiversity but once you move outside that human-based way of thinking it’s going to be much more difficult, if not impossible, to motive the human population to enact change. Taylor himself says, “The attitude we take toward living things in the natural world depends on the way we look at them, on what kind of beings we conceive them to be, and on how we understand the relations we bear to them.”[4] This only furthers my point that humans view nature as a means to an end and the actions and relationship that results from this view are detrimental to nature. Furthermore, Taylor talks about saving all life forms not just for aesthetics sake but for respect for nature. Now, as I stated at the beginning of this evaluation, I do find intrinsic and moral value in nature beyond just the beauty that it provides to humans. However, I did find it odd for Taylor to make this argument when Leopold created his famous land ethic based partly on the beauty of nature and biodiversity and even the film that we watched focused on the pristine landscapes and the value of the beauty that needed to be preserved.

Question: Taylor denies human superiority but can we really conceive of a world or an ethic in which this doesn’t exist considering that humans do in fact have the job of doing the valuing?

[1] Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce, The Environmental Ethics & Policy Book (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2003), 202.

[2] VanDeVeer, 202.

[3] VanDeVeer, 205.

[4] VanDeVeer, 206.

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