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Nature in Common?

Nature in Common?: Environmental Ethics and the Contested Foundations of Environmental Policy

Edited by Ben A. Minteer
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Nature in Common?
    Book Description:

    This important book brings together leading environmental thinkers to debate a central conflict within environmental philosophy: should we appreciate nature mainly for its ability to advance our interests or should we respect it as having a good of its own, apart from any contribution to human well-being? Specifically, the fourteen essays collected here discuss the "convergence hypothesis" put forth by Bryan Norton-a controversial thesis in environmental ethics about the policy implications of moral arguments for environmental protection. Historically influential essays are joined with newly-commissioned essays to provide the first sustained attempt to reconcile two long-opposed positions. Bryan Norton himself offers the book's closing essay.

    This seminal volume contains contributions from some of the most respected scholars in the field, including Donald Brown, J. Baird Callicott, Andrew Light, Holmes Rolston III, Laura Westra, and many others. AlthoughNature in Common?will be especially useful for students and professionals studying environmental ethics and philosophy, it will engage any reader who is concerned about the philosophies underlying contemporary environmental policies.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-705-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. PART I Introduction

    • 1 Unity among Environmentalists? Debating the Values-Policy Link in Environmental Ethics
      (pp. 3-18)

      Environmental ethics emerged from the thickets of applied philosophy in the early 1970s as a rebuke to anthropocentrism, the human-centered outlook embedded within the Western ethical system. The anthropocentric worldview was singled out by the first generation of environmental philosophers for its failure to extend the boundaries of moral considerability—and the attribution of intrinsic value—to nonhumans (including animals and plants) and to larger ecological communities. These newnonanthropocentric philosophers argued that the mainstream ethical traditions of the West—for example, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and so forth—were not only insufficient as foundations for a new environmental...

  5. PART II The Convergence Hypothesis Debate in Environmental Ethics:: The First Wave

    • 2 Contextualism and Norton’s Convergence Hypothesis
      (pp. 21-35)

      As a prominent voice in environmental philosophy for more than two decades, Bryan Norton has labored to show that the intractable axiological debate between “anthropocentrists” and “nonanthropocentrists”—which has served to frame most discussions of environmental ethics—often distracts attention away from the fact that when it comes to practical principles of environmental management, the two opposing approaches for the most part converge.¹ His argument has been that because the nonanthropocentric position involves highly questionable metaphysical and epistemological commitments, and because nothing of normative importance contained in nonanthropocentric theories is lost in dispensing with these commitments, environmentalists would be better...

    • 3 Convergence and Contextualism: Some Clarifications and a Reply to Steverson
      (pp. 36-48)

      Brian Steverson has recently criticized my convergence hypothesis, arguing that it fails when articulated in conjunction with my contextualist methodology because contextualism does not support the strong intuitions of deep ecologists in favor of species preservation.¹ The convergence hypothesis, which I have offered as an alternative to the traditionally divisive characterization of environmentalists as split between “shallow” anthropocentric resource managers and “deep” nonanthropocentric environmental radicals, states that “provided anthropocentrists consider the full breadth of human values as they unfold into the indefinite future, and provided nonanthropocentrists endorse a consistent and coherent version of the view that nature has intrinsic value,...

    • 4 Why Norton’s Approach Is Insufficient for Environmental Ethics
      (pp. 49-64)

      On 10 March 1995, a story appeared on the front page of Canada’s national newspaper,The Globe and Mail:“Four warning bursts of machine gun fire across the bow brought the Spanish trawler Estai to a halt after a four-hour chase through the foggy Atlantic.” The problem was overfishing beyond the 200-mile limit in the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. When increased national quotas and the use internationally of complex modern fishing technologies reduced the availability of fish in the North Atlantic,² the Spanish fishers pushed their trawlers beyond the legal 200-mile limit, thus coming too close to...

    • 5 Convergence in Environmental Values: An Empirical and Conceptual Defense
      (pp. 65-80)

      Must our disagreements about the moral status of nature prevent us from supporting the same environmental policies? This question is at the core of Bryan Norton’s convergence hypothesis, first discussed in an early paper inEnvironmental Ethicsand later developed in his bookToward Unity among Environmentalistsas well as in several more recent publications.¹ Stated simply, Norton’s claim is that individuals who rely on a sufficiently broad and temporally extended range of human values (a position he originally termed “weak anthropocentrism”) and nonanthropocentrists who embrace a consistent notion of the intrinsic value of nature will both tend to endorse...

    • 6 The Relevance of Environmental Ethical Theories for Policy Making
      (pp. 81-94)

      An issue of great importance is whether differences in ethical theory have any relevance for the practical issues of environmental management and policy making. Bryan G. Norton has been one of the key advocates of the view that the difference in value commitments has little relevance when it comes to concrete decisions about growth, pollution control, biological diversity, and so on. In his bookToward Unity among Environmentalists,he offers an extended argument for this conclusion. The central hypothesis of the book is that “environmentalists are evolving toward a consensus in policy even though they remain divided regarding basic values.”¹...

  6. PART III Expanding the Discussion:: The Convergence Hypothesis Debate Today

    • 7 Converging versus Reconstituting Environmental Ethics
      (pp. 97-117)

      Bryan Norton propounds a “convergence hypothesis.” He also predicts that convergence is taking place between the anthropocentrists and the nonanthropocentrists. Further, he promotes this. Anthropocentrism, also called “homocentrism,” or “human chauvinism,” is “the view that the earth and all its nonhuman contents exist or are available for man’s benefit and to serve his interests and, hence, that man is entitled to manipulate the world and its systems as he wants, that is, in his interests.”¹ As Norton writes, “The thesis of anthropocentrism … [is that] only humans are the locus of intrinsic value, and the value of all other objects...

    • 8 Environmental Ethics and Future Generations
      (pp. 118-141)

      In a number of influential books and articles published over the past twenty-five years, Bryan Norton has described and defended themes in environmental philosophy that deservedly command the attention of philosophers and policy makers alike. His views emphasize common sense over extremism, pragmatism over other ideologies, and the importance of philosophers not only toapplytheir ethical theories to real problems but to do so in a way that givespracticaladvice to those who must make important decisions and want to do the right thing. This last theme invites some controversy, which I discuss in the last section of...

    • 9 The Convergence Hypothesis Falsified: Implicit Intrinsic Value, Operational Rights, and De Facto Standing in the Endangered Species Act
      (pp. 142-166)

      Stated plainly, the convergence hypothesis alleges that anthropocentric instrumental values and nonanthropocentric intrinsic values eventually lead to the same public policies. Also stated plainly, anthropocentrism is the doctrine that only human beings have intrinsic value and all nonhuman natural entities have only instrumental value—that is, they have value if and only if they serve in some way as means to human ends. The human ends served may be very broad indeed; they may be psychological and spiritual as well as material and consumptive. And they may be long; they may include the ends of future generations. Thus, to value...

    • 10 Convergence in an Agrarian Key
      (pp. 167-184)

      Bryan Norton offered “the convergence hypothesis” as the central thesis in his 1991 bookToward Unity among Environmentalists. It was intended as a way to achieve the goal stated in the book’s title, but it was articulated both as a conjecture about the implications of divergent positions in environmental philosophy and as an appeal to his fellow environmental philosophers. The conjecture held that the philosophical differences dividing ecocentric and anthropocentric perspectives in environmental ethics did not entail very many different policy prescriptions, and that such differences tended to disappear as the geographical or temporal scope of the policy prescription grew...

    • 11 Convergence and Ecological Restoration: A Counterexample
      (pp. 185-195)

      How does philosophy engage the world? Marx had a famous negative answer to this question in the last of his theses on Feurbach: “The philosophers have onlyinterpretedthe world, in various ways; the point, however, is tochangeit.” If philosophy as a discipline is to respond to the critique of Marx, it requires a sustained effort to effect change beyond a mere increase in analysis and understanding. Philosophy must engage and shape policy. Action must be undertaken at the behest of philosophical ideas. If the world is not different because of the adoption of different philosophical ideas, then...

    • 12 Does a Public Environmental Philosophy Need a Convergence Hypothesis?
      (pp. 196-214)

      The convergence hypothesis, which Bryan Norton rolled out at the end ofToward Unity among Environmentalists, is often held as offering a core challenge to one of the received dogmas of contemporary environmental ethics, namely, that a truly “environmental” ethic would have to embrace some form of philosophical nonanthropocentrism which in turn would ground some account of the noninstrumental or intrinsic value of nature. According to this largely empirical claim, “provided anthropocentrists consider the full breadth of human values as they unfold into the indefinite future, and provided nonanthropocentrists endorse a consistent and coherent version of the view that nature...

    • 13 The Importance of Creating an Applied Environmental Ethics: Lessons Learned from Climate Change
      (pp. 215-227)

      Over the last thirty years, environmental ethics literature has been growing rapidly.

      Yet, for the most part, environmental ethics has failed to influence environmental policy making. In fact, in 2003 Eugene Hargrove, the editor and founder of the journalEnvironmental Ethics, acknowledged this failure of environmental ethics to penetrate public policy making in an editorial in the same journal.¹

      In the experience of one who has been monitoring the environmental ethics literature from deep inside the policy world, Hargrove’s claim that environmental ethics is rarely considered by policy makers is right on the mark. Environmental ethics literature is almost never...

    • 14 Who Is Converging with Whom? An Open Letter to Professor Bryan Norton from a Policy Wonk
      (pp. 228-232)

      Dear Bryan:

      Well, now you see what comes from mixing philosophy with the real world. You try to make a sensible case about how humans and nonhumans can just get along, and now a number of your fellow thinkers are very unhappy with you. No harm done, I suppose; after all, this is just academic business as usual, nothing that the rest of us should worry about. Nevertheless, I do think you’ve put your finger on a real problem here. The question is: are you ready to go the distance?

      Let me first make sure I understand this whole convergence...

  7. PART IV Reply by Bryan G. Norton

    • 15 Convergence and Divergence: The Convergence Hypothesis Twenty Years Later
      (pp. 235-260)

      In 1985, having received the Gilbert White Fellowship from Resources for the Future, I went to Washington, D.C., and began work on what would becomeToward Unity among Environmentalists.¹ Having spent two previous years working in the D.C. area, I had made a number of contacts in the activist community there, and returning to the capital allowed me to continue working with those contacts. My prior work in environmental ethics had equipped me with a number of theoretical concepts and distinctions, and inWhy Preserve Natural Variety?(1987), I organized my arguments for protecting species and habitats into the standard...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 265-298)
  10. Index
    (pp. 299-301)