Environmental Ethics

Knowing Our Environment

Environmental Ethics Information and Definition

Environmental ethics is a subject in philosophy and falls under applied ethics. Environmental ethics can be described as the study of the ethical relationship between human beings and the environment. The environment is taken to include all non-human parts of the world. Many philosophers have written about the subject but it has recently come into prominence due to the increasing awareness about global warming and environmental degradation.

Interestingly, the field of environmental ethics grew from scientists and not from the philosophers. Scientists like Rachel Carson, Garett Hardin and Lynn White wrote papers that are seen to have encouraged the interest of philosophers to look into environmental ethics. This specific philosophical discipline developed in the 1970s.

The main concern of environmental ethics is man’s moral duty and obligation to the environment. Typical questions asked are: why should man exercise a duty of care to the environment? What are the obligations man has towards his environment? Is it only human beings that matter or does the environment matter as well? Traditionally, man was viewed to be the only one that mattered and nature was there for the sole use by man. This view was referred to being anthropocentric.

It is very clear what the effects of man’s activities are on the natural environment. The environmental degradation caused by man’s activities has led to the rethinking of the anthropocentric perspective. This is due to the recognition of the fact that the damage caused by man to the environment will be detrimental to the well being of human beings now and for future generations. This is because man is dependent on the environment and its continuing existence will be good for man.

Environmental ethics therefore concerns itself with the question of animal ethics and land ethics. Other living organisms such as trees are also considered. There is a great debate on what value should be accorded to animals with some philosophers holding the view that animals should be given equal moral standing to human being. This is based on the argument that animals like human beings have the capacity to feel pain and pleasure. It is almost impossible to consider the effects of man’s activities on the environment without considering the rights of animals.

There are very many theories and arguments for and against the different perspectives as far as environmental ethics is concerned. The arguments on what is right or best will possibly continue to the end of time.

One thing is clear however. Human beings do have a moral duty to the environment and to its non-human components. This duty cannot be ignored and it is becoming increasingly urgent to care for the environment, not only for ourselves but for future generations.