Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Character and Environment

Character and Environment: A Virtue-Oriented Approach to Environmental Ethics

Ronald L. Sandler
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Character and Environment
    Book Description:

    Virtue ethics is now widely recognized as an alternative to Kantian and consequentialist ethical theories. However, moral philosophers have been slow to bring virtue ethics to bear on topics in applied ethics. Moreover, environmental virtue ethics is an underdeveloped area of environmental ethics. Although environmental ethicists often employ virtue-oriented evaluation (such as respect, care, and love for nature) and appeal to role models (such as Henry Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson) for guidance, environmental ethics has not been well informed by contemporary work on virtue ethics.

    With Character and Environment, Ronald Sandler remedies each of these deficiencies by bringing together contemporary work on virtue ethics with contemporary work on environmental ethics. He demonstrates the many ways that any ethic of character can and should be informed by environmental considerations. He also develops a pluralistic virtue-oriented environmental ethic that accommodates the richness and complexity of our relationship with the natural environment and provides effective and nuanced guidance on environmental issues.

    These projects have implications not only for environmental ethics and virtue ethics but also for moral philosophy more broadly. Ethical theories must be assessed on their theoretical and practical adequacy with respect to all aspects of the human ethical situation: personal, interpersonal, and environmental. To the extent that virtue-oriented ethical theory in general, and Sandler's version of it in particular, provides a superior environmental ethic to other ethical theories, it is to be preferred not just as an environmental ethic but also as an ethical theory. Character and Environment will engage any reader with an interest in environmental ethics, virtue ethics, or moral philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51186-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: A Virtue-Oriented Alternative?
    (pp. 1-8)

    Public discourse regarding the environment is framed almost exclusively in legislative and regulatory terms, so it is easy in environmental ethics to become fixated on what activities ought to be allowed or prohibited. After all, we legislate regarding behavior, not character; policy concerns actions, not attitudes; and the courts apply the standards accordingly. But it is always people, with character traits, attitudes, and dispositions, who perform actions, promote policies, and lobby for laws. So while we might condemn removing mountaintops, filling wetlands, and poisoning wolves, and make our case against these practices before lawmakers, courts, and the public, we must...

  6. 1 What Makes a Character Trait a Virtue?
    (pp. 9-38)

    If claims about which character traits are environmental virtues and vices are to be more than rhetoric, there must be some basis or standard for their evaluation. Moreover, disagreements about which traits are environmental virtues or vices often arise from different conceptions of what makes a character trait a virtue or vice generally. A person who believes that virtues are character traits conducive to maximizing material benefits for herself will endorse a different set of dispositions toward the environment than a person who believes that virtues are character traits conducive to living in harmony with all living things. The central...

  7. 2 The Environment and Human Flourishing
    (pp. 39-62)

    One of the central preoccupations of environmental ethicists is determining the extent to which we ought to enlarge the scope of our moral community. The issue is often conceptualized in terms of concentric circles emanating out from the agent, with each circle representing a different possibility. Should the circle of moral considerability encompass only oneself (egoism)? Only one’s family (nepotism)? Only one’s fellow citizens (patriotism)? All of humanity (anthropocentrism)? All sentient beings (sentientism)? All living individuals (biocentric individualism)? All ecosystems (ecocentrism)? Or some other class? There is an extensive literature concerned with identifying the properties of an individual or collective...

  8. 3 The Environment Itself
    (pp. 63-84)

    In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A significant outcome was the development of the “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” the first principle of which is: “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” The declaration emphasizes the importance of environmental sustainability to human well-being, as well as the obligation to consider the welfare of future generations. Nevertheless, its anthropocentric conceptualization of environmental issues, and the absence of any recognition of the...

  9. 4 Environmental Decision Making
    (pp. 85-102)

    There are two central components to the virtue-oriented approach to environmental ethics: a theory of environmental virtue and an approach to environmental decision making. The previous chapters focused on the former; this chapter concerns the latter. A virtue-oriented approach to decision making is one in which the virtues are the primary evaluative concepts. Actions, practices, and policies are assessed in terms of them, and what makes one more justified than another is that it better accords with, expresses, or hits the target of virtue. It is the virtues that are action guiding, and that some action does or does not...

  10. 5 The Virtue-Oriented Approach and Environmental Ethics
    (pp. 103-122)

    The case in favor of the virtue-oriented approach as an environmental ethic has two parts. The first is the positive arguments for the central components of the approach: its theory of virtue, virtue-oriented principle of right action, and virtue-oriented method of decision making. These have been developed and defended in previous chapters. The second, which is the focus of this chapter, is the approach’s capacity as an environmental ethic. The approach captures well the multifarious dimensions of our relationship with the environment and meets well the environmental ethics adequacy conditions (discussed below).

    The approach’s many pluralisms are key to its...

  11. 6 A Virtue-Oriented Assessment of Genetically Modified Crops
    (pp. 123-140)

    Ninety-nine percent of the genetically modified (GM) crops currently in the field are corn, cotton, soybeans, and canola that have been engineered for herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or both. The most common herbicide-tolerant GM crop is soybeans engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. The most common insect-resistant crops are corn and cotton engineered with genes from the bacterium bacillus thuringiensis so that they produce B.t. spores, a common insecticide used against cotton bollworm and European corn borer.¹ In 2006, GM crops constituted 61 percent of the corn acreage, 89 percent of the soybean acreage, and 83 percent of...

  12. Conclusion: A Virtue-Oriented Alternative
    (pp. 141-144)

    The central project of this book has been primarily a positive one. I have focused on what a virtue-oriented approach to environmental ethics can provide, rather than on what other approaches to environmental ethics cannot. In particular, I have:

    1. Defended a pluralistic, teleological, and naturalistic account of what makes a character trait a virtue (chapter 1).

    2. Demonstrated that this account of what makes a character trait a virtue can be employed to specify the dispositions constitutive of environmental virtues and vices (chapters 2 and 3).

    3. Defended a virtue-oriented, agent-relative target principle of right action and a corresponding virtue-oriented method of...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 145-178)
    (pp. 179-194)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 195-202)