The Environment

The Environment: Philosophy, Science, and Ethics

William P. Kabasenche
Michael OʹRourke
Matthew H. Slater
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    The Environment
    Book Description:

    Philosophical reflections on the environment began with early philosophers' invocation of a cosmology that mixed natural and supernatural phenomena. Today, the central philosophical problem posed by the environment involves not what it can teach us about ourselves and our place in the cosmic order but rather how we can understand its workings in order to make better decisions about our own conduct regarding it. The resulting inquiry spans different areas of contemporary philosophy, many of which are represented by the fifteen original essays in this volume.The contributors first consider conceptual problems generated by rapid advances in biology and ecology, examining such topics as ecological communities, adaptation, and scientific consensus. The contributors then turn to epistemic and axiological issues, first considering philosophical aspects of environmental decision making and then assessing particular environmental policies (largely relating to climate change), including reparations, remediation, and nuclear power, from a normative perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30177-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Environment: How to Understand It and What to Do about It
    (pp. 1-18)
    Katie McShane

    If we take the dictionary definition of ‘environment’ at face value, a thing’s environment is just that thing’s surroundings.¹ The term ‘environment’ gets used this way in biology, for example, when we talk about the interaction between an organism and its environment. (For examples, see the chapters by Brandon and Trestman in this volume.) On this definition, your environment could include other human beings and human-built objects (buildings, cars, computers, chairs, and so on), as well as non-human parts of the natural world. However, when we talk not about an individual organism’s environment but about “the environment”simpliciter, we typically...

  5. 2 The Concept of the Environment in Evolutionary Theory
    (pp. 19-36)
    Robert N. Brandon

    One of the central explanatory projects of evolutionary biology is adaptation—the marvelous fit between organism and environment. Adaptation is always adaptation to an environment. An anteater’s tongue works well to extract ants from their colony, but would serve a grass-eating ungulate poorly. Adaptation in the abstract makes no sense. Evolution by natural selection explains adaptation. The basic idea is familiar: organisms that are better adapted to their environment—fitter—reproduce at higher rates than those less fit, so that, provided the relevant variation is heritable, the fitter increase in frequency in subsequent generations. Although the concept of fitness, or...

  6. 3 What If Ecological Communities Are Not Wholes?
    (pp. 37-56)
    Rachel Bryant

    There seems to be an assumption that ecological communities¹ are wholes. The assumption is that networks of or ecological interactions among populations and among individual organisms arrange themselves into what Odenbaugh (2007) calls “Hutchinsonian Communities”: “group[s] of species that at least weakly interact with one another and not others at a time and through time.”² Communities are thus supposed to be “more or less closed network[s] of interacting populations” (Sterelny 2006).³ This chapter addresses the questionHow important to community ecology is the assumption that ecological communities are wholes?

    The answer matters because there is a chance that the boundaries...

  7. 4 The Environment, from a Behavioral Perspective
    (pp. 57-72)
    Michael Trestman

    Behavior as conceived of in a variety of biological disciplines is a kind of interaction between a system of a certain sort (such as an animal) and its environment (the containing system in which it is situated)—but what kind of interaction? Behavior involvesrespondingto environmental events or conditions, and behaviors may also bedirectedat certain environmental events or conditions astargetsorgoals. What kinds of relation are these, and what exactly are the relata—to what sorts of systems is it meaningful to apply such categories? What is it to be a behaving system? Correlatively, what...

  8. 5 Systems Theory and the New Ecophilosophy
    (pp. 73-88)
    Brian K. Steverson

    After two and a half decades of development, the pronouncement came in the mid 1990s that work in environmental philosophy up to that time, though it may have been philosophically entertaining for those academics involved in it, had been a practical failure. Andrew Light and Eric Katz, editors of the first volume of collected essays in the new subdiscipline of environmental pragmatism, explained the failure this way:

    As environmental ethics approaches its third decade it is faced with a curious problem. On the one hand, the discipline has made significant progress in the analysis of the moral relationship between humanity...

  9. 6 Situated Adaptationism
    (pp. 89-116)
    Denis M. Walsh

    Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin’s paper “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme” appeared in 1979. Since then it has become a staple of evolutionary biology and its philosophy. It is a classic. To read it is to marvel at its intellectual breadth, to delight in its iconoclastic audacity. But as with many essential elements of a literary canon (BeowulfandUlyssesspring to mind), wonder is one thing and comprehension quite another. It isn’t at all obvious what “The Spandrels” is trying to say. The querulous tone comes through loud...

  10. 7 Thinking Ecologically: The Legacy of Rachel Carson
    (pp. 117-136)
    Lorraine Code

    In my 2006 bookEcological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location, I read between the lines of Rachel Carson’s texts—especiallySilent Spring(Carson 1962)—in order to develop an epistemological approach I callecological naturalism. I begin by showing how the dominant theories of knowledge of affluent post-Industrial Revolution societies have been complicit in perpetuating a rhetoric of mastery and possession: of knowledge “acquired” for manipulation, prediction, and control of nature and human nature; of knowledge as a prized commodity that legitimates its possessors’ authoritative occupancy (and sometime abuse) of positions of power, as they recast “the natural world”...

  11. 8 Climate, Consensus, and Contrarians
    (pp. 137-150)
    Jay Odenbaugh

    In debates over global climate change, much is made over the consensus concerning the effects of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions on the Earth’s temperature. Contrarians correctly note that science is partially structured around dissent and criticism. Thus, they charge scientific consensus is irrelevant and even harmful to scientific inquiry. In this essay, I first present the contrarians’ argument. Second, I argue that this claim that consensus is irrelevant and harmful to science is beside the point because claims about the scientific consensus concern how policymakers form their beliefs and not scientists themselves. Third, I argue that policymakers should base their...

  12. 9 Nature as the School of the Moral World: Kant on Taking an Interest in Natural Beauty
    (pp. 151-170)
    Joseph Cannon

    Kant is rarely considered fertile ground for ethical thought about nature. He escapes the scorn reserved for Descartes, as he recognizes, for example, that animals are living beings capable of suffering and that we should not be cruel to them. But he doesn’t appear to go much beyond that. He argues that cruelty is wrong not because of the suffering it causes the animal, but because of the corrosive effect it has on one’s own character. He speaks against the destruction of natural beauty for a similar reason; it is a violation of a duty to oneself. In general, he...

  13. 10 Precaution Has Its Reasons
    (pp. 171-184)
    Mariam Thalos

    Today precaution is not only a watchword; it is a booming industry. On an unprecedented scale, governments are incentivizing investment in risk reductions vis-à-vis planetary climate change, biosphere degradation, and massive losses of biodiversity. Indeed, precaution rhetoric is increasingly displacing cool-headed assessment rhetoric as public policy. Still, despite being “now an established principle of environmental governance, prominent in law, policy and management instruments at international, regional and domestic level, across such diverse areas as pollution, toxic chemicals, food and phytosanitary standards, fisheries management, species introductions and wildlife trade,”¹ precaution has not been clearly differentiated from conventional risk assessment.

    In public...

  14. 11 Add to Cart? Environmental ʺAmenitiesʺ and Cost-Benefit Analysis
    (pp. 185-200)
    Chrisoula Andreou

    This chapter focuses on the use of cost-benefit analysis in decision making, particularly environmental decision making. The sort of cost-benefit analysis at issue incorporates two very controversial features: the assumption of comparability and the willingness-to-pay measure.¹ I show how debates about such cost-benefit analysis can be illuminated by recognizing a well-motivated holistic decision-making strategy that is often neglected in the interpretation of our actual and projected choices. The strategy in question shifts attention from individual choices to patterns of choices and fits neatly with two familiar phenomena: the “pricing” of alternatives that are supposed to be incomparable and the “embedding...

  15. 12 Can We—and Should We—Make Reparation to ʺNatureʺ?
    (pp. 201-222)
    Clare Palmer

    This chapter considers whether any form of reparation can be extended beyond the human sphere, and, if so, when and in what form. The idea is not new. President Richard Nixon called for reparation to nature in his 1970 State of the Union speech,¹ and several environmental ethicists, including Paul Taylor (1986) and Peter Wenz (1988), have attempted to develop (different) arguments to this end. Here I will briefly consider how some arguments for reparation to nature might work, and what difficulties they might encounter, and attempt to develop a tentative and rather restricted reparation argument in the context of...

  16. 13 Getting the Bad Out: Remediation Technologies and Respect for Others
    (pp. 223-244)
    Benjamin Hale

    Arguments for and against environmental remediation have tended to emphasize mitigation of harms while turning a blind eye to other moral considerations that inform our views on environmental wrongdoing (Nelson 2008; Singer 2006). In this chapter, I focus the discussion much more narrowly. I inquire into the conditions that make some very narrow set of mitigation projects permissible, and seek to outline what those conditions might be. Ultimately, I aim at the conclusion that what makes an engineering project permissible is whether all affected parties can accept not only the side effects of the project but also the legitimacy of...

  17. 14 Emissions, Economics, and Equity: Problems with Nuclear Solutions to Climate Change
    (pp. 245-276)
    Kristin Shrader-Frechette

    Philosophical analyses of anthropogenic climate change often focus on ethics and values (Singer 2002; Garvey 2008; Crist and Rinker 2009; Harris 2009). Philosophers often argue that because developed nations (especially the United States) have used disproportionate and inequitable shares of global resources, and thus have caused a disproportionate amount of climate change, developed nations have equity-based duties to significantly reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (Singer 2002; Somerville 2008; Caney et al. 2010; Gardiner 2010).

    Assessments of what is equitable, however, must focus not only on what is wrong with current climate policy but also on how to correct it....

  18. 15 On the Need for Front-Line Climate Ethics
    (pp. 277-292)
    Andrew Light

    In its nearly 40 year history, environmental ethics has been more a theoretical than a practical discipline, largely standing on the sidelines of actual environmental disputes. For those who may have entered the field because they were attracted to the idea of making a meaningful contribution to the resolution of environmental problems using the tools of philosophy, this state of affairs continues to be frustrating. And while there have been ample signs of a reversal over the years—with a new generation of philosophers emerging who are more willing to join the few senior scholars (such as Kristin Shrader-Frechette) in...

  19. List of Contributors
    (pp. 293-294)
  20. Index
    (pp. 295-308)