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Environmental values, animals, and the ethical life

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Title: Environmental values, animals, and the ethical life
Author(s): Scoville, John M.
Director of Research: McKim, Robert
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): McKim, Robert
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Freyfogle, Eric; Orlie, Melissa; Sussman, David; Wallace, James
Department / Program: Philosophy
Discipline: Philosophy
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Environmental Values Animals Ethics Sustainability
Abstract: My dissertation has three main aims. The first is to specify and defend a normative baseline for environmental ethics. By “baseline” I understand a minimum of environmental preservation that corresponds to a minimum of acceptable conduct in our collective interactions with nature. In Chapter 1, I argue that we should specify the baseline in terms of ecological health, with a supporting role played by biological integrity. I clarify the concepts of health and integrity, and address various complexities and objections that arise with respect to these concepts. The second aim is to illuminate normative considerations that are important for an environmental ethic, but that do not reduce to the baseline considerations defended in Chapter 1. In Chapter 2, I consider two ways of thinking about environmental values, namely, end-state and historical views. To value nature in an end-state way is to value it in virtue of the fact that it embodies certain desirable properties, such as complexity or resilience. In contrast, an historical view says that an important determinant of nature’s value is its particular history and genesis. I explore in detail two contemporary versions of an historical view—Robert Elliot’s and the recent view articulated by John O’Neill, Alan Holland, and Andrew Light. My focus is on clarifying what the normatively relevant history is, and on assessing the claim that historical considerations function, in practice, to block certain types of land use. In Chapter 3, I turn to the question of how animals fit into my account. I argue that animals are ontologically distinctive in the order of nature in virtue of the fact that there is something it is like to be an animal. I consider various reasons for thinking that being an animal is ethically significant, including the fact that humans and other animals share a way of being an animal. Concern for animals complicates and enriches the account of why nature matters, for nature includes a variety of beings that experience first-personally their own natural good, or its thwarting. The third aim of the dissertation is to suggest how the various normative considerations adduced in Chapters 1-3 might be integrated into a coherent view that can clarify the meaning of sustainability. I regard debates about sustainability as aiming to specify the nature we should care about, and the relative importance of concern for nature and for human welfare. In Chapter 4, I argue for a conception of sustainability that specifies the normatively relevant sense of nature in terms of ecological health and a non-instrumental view of biological integrity. My view is sensitive to humans being able to meet their needs from nature, and hence sensitive to anthropocentric considerations. But my view also includes a robust defense of nature and nonhuman animals as valuable in ways that do not reduce to human needs or interests. Further, I articulate a justice-based compensation argument to address the issue that already disadvantaged people and nations may have to forego certain development opportunities for the sake of environmental protection.
Issue Date: 2011-08-25
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/26119
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 J Michael Scoville
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-08-25
Date Deposited: 2011-08
 

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