How might we evaluate ideas?
  • which one is true--but this isn't very useful
  • how reliable or how high-quality the arguments in favor of the idea are
  • try adopting the idea and see if it has a good outcome
  • evaluate whether they are useful as rhetoric--evaluate whether this idea is good for convincing people
  • who holds different ideas for what reasons
Philosophy started out as a way of talking about why you might believe something
  • that people of different religions or different cultures could agree on
  • they haven't come to agreement, but they have come to ways of explaining the basis of different positions
  • if we want to take action together it is really useful to have 'explanations for why it is a good thing' that we can agree on
  • you have to start with assumptions and definitions
types of environmental ethics

consequentialist=utilitarian: what action will have the most benefits and the least harm
deontological=rule based: certain rules such as the ten commandments are morally absolute
you don't have to understand all 8 of these, but notice that there are lots of different approaches


What are the assumptions being made in the political debate about global warming?
  • humans are the cause of global warming
    • still some scientific debate about that, though evidence is getting stronger
    • can human beings really disturb the climate balance of the whole globe?
    • assumption--we are ruining the environment, this is another example, or nature can take care of itself
  • wc can change what is happening
    • some people assume the future is inevitable
    • the future is not inevitable but will change depending on what we do
  • how?
    • government action, which we can influence by political participation
    • less emphasis on individual lifestyles
  • global warming needs to be stopped (a few people argue we can live with it): why?
    • because of how it affects humans
    • we see less emphasis on protecting the ecosystem for its own sake
angel oak, Johns Island
When people fought to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley or the Grand Canyon, they couldn't necessarily give an effective answer to the question: "Why?"
earth from space
How do you answer the people who oppose wilderness preservation? 
First look at why they oppose wilderness preservation:
Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer -Because wilderness benefits only a small elite group
-Because human needs should come first ahead of plants and animals

-Because conquering nature is what human beings are all about
-Because wilderness will inevitably give way to civilization
-In an ideal world technology would allow human beings to: "wipe out the jungles, turn deserts and swamps to arable land, terrace barren mountains, regulate rivers, eradicate all pests, control the weather, and make the whole land mass a fit habitation for man."  Eric Hoffer (Nash, p. 241)
 -Convert random nature into a carefully managed garden (and zoo)--nature does not always know best
 -Most people prefer landscapes that have been modified by human intervention--at least roads and trails, maybe even cable cars to allow more people to enjoy the mountain (promoting scenery and natural beauty, but not wilderness)

-if we cause problems we can use technology to fix them
eg. we don't have to worry about running out of oil because scientists and engineers will come up with a solution
environmentalists will argue that isn't always possible--we will have to change our lifestyle
helicopter in Grand Canyon
experience the Grand Canyon by helicopter
What assumptions are we making in this course?
What are the assumptions of the people who oppose wilderness preservation:
opposite view: new constitution in Ecuador says ecosystems have an unalienable right to exist and flourish

Do we really want to be purists about preserving wilderness?
or will we do best if we find a middle ground?

Should we save the California Condor?

If you do favor wilderness preservation, should you argue that preserving wilderness is in the best interests of human beings (utilitarian/consequentialist and anthropocentric arguments)?
native using herbs

Or should we think beyond human utility (non-anthropocentric and deontological/rule-based, such as (deep ecology) ?
cartoon--a doctor planet says to the
                earth "I'm afraid you have humans"

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
last updated 3/8/10
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