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The Ethics of Environmental Concern

The Ethics of Environmental Concern

Copyright Date: 1991
Edition: 2
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Ethics of Environmental Concern
    Book Description:

    First published in 1983, The Ethics of Environmental Concern has become a classic in the relatively new field of environmental ethics. Examining traditional attitudes toward nature, and the degree to which these attitudes enable us to cope with modern ecological problems, Robin Attfield looks particularly at the Judeo-Christian heritage of belief in humankind's dominion, the tradition of stewardship, and the more recent belief in progress to determine the extent to which these attitudes underlie ecological problems and how far they embody resources adequate for combating such problems. He then examines concerns of applied ethics and considers our obligations to future generations, the value of life, and the moral standing and significance of nonhumans. Simultaneously, he offers and defends a theory of moral principles appropriate for dealing with such concerns as pollution, scarce natural resources, population growth, and the conservation and preservation of the environment. The second edition includes a new preface and introduction, as well as a bibliographic essay and an updated list of references incorporating relevant scholarship since the publication of the first edition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4025-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)

    The Ethics of Environmental Concern, though published in 1983, was mostly composed two years earlier, final touches being added in 1982. Since then, public awareness has increasingly been focused on growing problems such as the greenhouse effect, acid rain, holes in the ozone layer and the destruction of rainforests. Awareness has also increased of the impact on the Third World, as well as on nonhuman species, of pollution, deforestation, overfishing and the growth of deserts. Recently there has been a sudden realization of the way that Eastern Europe too is afflicted with ‘ecological disaster areas’.¹

    Since those years, there has...

  6. Introduction to the First Edition
    (pp. xxi-xxvi)

    This is an unusual book. It is an exercise neither solely in philosophy nor solely in history, nor certainly in any other single discipline. Part One is predominantly but not exclusively a study in the history of ideas, while Part Two is a philosophical investigation into normative ethics and some of its applications. This sort of structure is dictated by the subject of environmental ethics; indeed a similar structure was employed by John Passmore in his book Man’s Responsibility for Nature, the one authoritative treatment of environmental ethics so far produced.

    In Part One moral traditions are explored, for no...


    • 1 Ecological Problems
      (pp. 1-19)

      Ecological problems have been defined as problems arising ‘as a practical consequence of man’s dealings with nature’,¹ where ‘nature’ is used of the nonhuman environment of man. Ecology is the science of the complex interplay of natural organisms and natural systems, and brings to light, among other things, the long-term, distant and unexpected consequences of these dealings. Transactions with nature usually have multiple side-effects, and it is wise when considering how to cope with them to keep this fact to the fore: designating the problems as ‘ecological’ is one way of giving it due recognition. The choice of phrase also...

    • 2 Man’s Dominion and the Judaeo-Christian Heritage
      (pp. 20-33)

      In this chapter I shall consider the theory that the source of our ecological problems is to be found in the Judaeo-Christian belief that mankind was created to have dominion over nature, a belief which, according to the theory, can be interpreted as implying that humans may treat their natural environment as they like. This theory has to confront the objection that ideas cannot have such a causal efficacy, and also seems to imply that the attitude to nature of the medieval West was improperly exploitative: having considered these difficulties, the second of which I claim to have substance, I...

    • 3 The Tradition of Stewardship
      (pp. 34-50)

      It is worthwhile to investigate further whether the central religious and ethical tradition of our culture has been despotic or environmentally responsible. Even if the Bible is not despotic as to its writers’ view of nature (as was argued in chapter 2), the teaching of its adherents could still have been so; and if it had been so, then the causes of our ecological problems would be easier to understand, and we should be obliged to depart from this teaching as radically as possible. If, however, as I shall argue in this chapter, the Judaeo-Christian tradition has historically stressed responsibility...

    • 4 Nature and the Place of Man
      (pp. 51-66)

      From what we have seen so far, our moral traditions already embody an ethic on which humans are the stewards and guardians of nature, an ethic which derives from the Judaeo-Christian tradition and is apparently well-suited to our current ecological problems. But it remains appropriate to enquire whether our underlying view of reality and our traditional interpretations of the scheme of things are sufficiently suited to our problems, or whether, as a number of writers have maintained, we need a new way of regarding mankind and the world, or, in other words, a new metaphysics. Latterly John Passmore has claimed...

    • 5 Belief in Progress
      (pp. 67-87)

      Why are the societies of both Western and Eastern Europe, and those which descend from them, so expectant of perpetual growth and perpetual increases in human power and happiness? The Judaeo-Christian tradition does not seem to explain these deep-rooted attitudes, despite the views of White to the contrary;¹ yet they do appear to prevail wherever Western (or Soviet) science, technology and institutions are to be found.

      This suggests the importance of discussing a more recent idea from the common background of these societies, the idea of progress, a widespread presupposition in one version or another, in both capitalist and Marxist...


    • 6 Future Generations
      (pp. 88-114)

      I now turn to ethical considerations, and in this chapter in particular to the nature and grounding of our obligations towards future people. This will require a change of method, away from a historical approach to a more traditionally philosophical one. Thus in order to consider the basis of our obligations, I shall be reviewing various theories of normative ethics, theories about the criteria of right action and of obligation. But I shall also be concerned with particular obligations, ones attested by widespread intuitive judgements or by moral reflection on them, even where they do not tally with the predictions...

    • 7 Multiplication and the Value of Life
      (pp. 115-139)

      The increasing size of the human population is widely regarded as an ecological problem. A social problem it certainly is, at least in some places; and it results in some measure from people’s transactions with other species, since advances in the control of disease must be part of its explanation. Indeed this is already enough to make it an ecological problem. But it also results, plausibly, from poverty in places where life-expectancy is short, and to this extent is to be seen as one facet of the many-sided problem of development and underdevelopment, rather than as primarily an ecological issue....

    • 8 The Moral Standing of Nonhumans
      (pp. 140-165)

      So far I have confined the basis of the argument to human interests. If the interests of future humans, including those whom we could bring into existence, are taken into account, there is already a formidable case for the conservation of natural resources, wildlife, wilderness and ecosystems, as also for population policies allowing people to have what they need if their lives are to be worthwhile. But perhaps not only humans are entitled to moral consideration. Perhaps some nonhumans, or even nonhuman nature in general, are of moral relevance. There again, perhaps some nonhumans, or some states of nonhumans, are...

    • 9 Inter-species Morality: Principles and Priorities
      (pp. 166-184)

      Granted that nonhuman animals and most plants have moral standing, what principles of inter-species morality should we recognize? What, indeed, is the relative moral significance of the various species and their members, and what bearing does their moral significance have on our practice? These are the questions to be addressed in the course of the present chapter.

      I have argued that each of a wide range of organisms has moral standing. But no particular conclusion follows about their relative moral significance. Some, such as Arne Naess, favour, insofar as it is possible, the equality of species,¹ while others, such as...

    • 10 Problems and Principles: Is a New Ethic Required?
      (pp. 185-195)

      In this chapter I shall briefly review the way the principles arrived at in the four preceding chapters bear on the problems of pollution, resources, population and preservation, and discuss their adequacy and the extent of such revisions as may be required to our moral traditions.

      Though I did not adopt the ‘Polluters Stop’ principle of Lippit and Hamada, a case was made out for the containment of pollution and the prevention of its escalation. The example given was the need to curtail the emission of waste heat; but there are many other cases where pollution can threaten the impoverishment...

  9. A Review of Recent Literature
    (pp. 196-214)
  10. References
    (pp. 215-234)
  11. Index
    (pp. 235-249)