Box 15, Item 1720: Papers and notes on environmental theory, ethics, preference and economics

Title

Box 15, Item 1720: Papers and notes on environmental theory, ethics, preference and economics

Subject

Typescripts and handwritten notes. Includes 2 draft copies of 'Is there a need for a new, an environmental, ethic?' by Sylvan, with handwritten emendations and annotations; and 2 letters.

Description

Letters redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions. Title in collection finding aid: Manilla Folder - Environmental Theory /1) Ethics 2) preference 3) economics - papers. and notes RS & VP + others

Creator

Source

The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 15, Item 1720

Contributor

This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.

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For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

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[75] leaves. 57.42 MB.

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Manuscript

Coverage

Australian National University Office - Second Bookcase - Third Shelf - Second Pile

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TABLE 2.

Populations of Australia at 2040 under

various assumptions as to population at
2000 and various growth rates.

Population in

Hypothesis as

Population in

millions at 2000

to growth rate

millions at 2040

more \
likely) •'
range /'

17-3

1.1% from 1970

26.8

17.8

1.2% from 1970

28.7

18.9

1.1% from 2000

29.2

18.9

1.2% from 2000

30.4

20.0

1.1% from 2000

30.9

20.0

1.2% from 2000

32.2

21.0

1.1% from 2000

32.5

21.0

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33.8

21.0

1.4% from 2000

36.6

22.0

1.7% from 2000

38.2

22.0

1.5% from 2000

39.6

22.4

1.87% from 2000

46.99

probable
range

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The following has been redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.
Letter, Dick Coutinho, Royal Vangorcum to Dr Richard Routley, Australian National University,
1974? re Routhley's manuscript on environmental ethics. (1 leaf)

u*^

•f-—

Is there a need for a new, an environmental, ethic?

§1.

It is increasingly said that civilization, Western

civilization at least, stands in need of a new ethic (and
derivatively of a new economics) setting out people's
relations to the natural environment, in Leopold's words

'an ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the
animals and plants which grow upon it'

([1], p.238).

It

is not of course that old and prevailing ethics do not deal

with man's relation to nature:

they do, and on the prevailing

view man is free to deal with nature as he pleases, i.e. his

relations with nature, insofar at least as they do not affect
others, are not subject to moral censure.

Thus assertions

such as 'Crusoe ought not to be mutilating those trees' are
significant and morally determinate but, inasmuch at least
as Crusoe's actions do not interfere with others, they are

false or do not hold - and trees are not, in a good sense,

It is to this, to the values and evaluations

moral objects.
*

of the prevailing ethics, that Leopold and others in fact

take exception.

Leopold regards as subject to moral crit­

icism, as wrong, behaviour that on prevailing views is morally
permissible.

But it is not, as Leopold seems to think, that

such behaviour is beyond the scope of the prevailing ethics

and that an extension of traditional morality is required to

cover such cases,to fill a moral void.

If Leopold is right

in his criticism of prevailing conduct what is required is

a change in the ethics, in attitudes, values and evaluations.
For as matters stand, as he himself explains, men do not feel
morally ashamed if they interfere with a wilderness, if they

maltreat the land, extract from it whatever it will yield,
and then move on; and such conduct is not taken to interfere

with and does not rouse the moral indignation of others.

'A

* A view occasionally tempered by the idea that trees house
spirits.

2

farmer who clears the woods off a 75% slope, turns his

cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall, rocks,
and soil into the community creek, is still (if other­
wise decent) a respected member of society.'

([1], p.245)

Under what we shall call an environmental ethic such trad­
itionally permissible conduct would be accounted morally
wrong, and the farmer subject to proper moral criticism.

Let us grant such evaluations for the purpose

What is not so clear is that a new ethic
is required even for such radical judgements.
For one thing

of the argument.

it is none too clear what is going to count as a new ethic,

much as it is often unclear whether a new development in

physics counts as a new physics or just as a modification
or extension of the old.

For, notoriously, ethics are not

clearly articulated or at all well worked out, so that the

application of identity criteria for ethics may remain
*
obscure.

Furthermore we tend to cluster a family of

ethical systems which do not differ on core or fundamental
principles together as the one ethic; e.g. the Christain

ethic, which is an umbrella notion covering a cluster of

differing and even competing systems.

In fact then there

are two other possibilities, apart from a new environmental
ethic, which might cater for the evaluations, namely that
of an extension or modification of the prevailing ethics

or that of the development of principles that are already
encompassed or latent within the prevailing ethic.

The

second possibility, that environmental evaluations can be
incorporated within (and ecological problems solved within)

the framework of prevailing Western ethics, is open because
there isn't a single ethical system uniquely assumed in

* To the consternation no doubt of Quineans.
But the fact
is that we can talk perfectly well about inchoate and
fragmentary systems the identity of which may be indeter­
minate .

3.

Western civilization:

on many issues, and especially on

controversial issues such as infanticide, women's rights

and drugs, there are competing sets of principles.

Talk

of a new ethic and prevailing ethics tends to suggest a

sort of monolithic structure, a uniformity, that prevailing

ethics, and even a single ethic, need not have.
Indeed Passmore (in [2]) has mapped out three

important traditions in Western ethical views concerning
man's relation to nature; a dominant tradition, the despotic

position, with man as despot (or tyrant), and two lesser
traditions, the stewardship position, with man as custodian,

and the co-operative position with man as perfector. Nor
are these the only traditions; primitivism is another, and
both romanticism and mysticism have influenced Western views.

The dominant Western view is simply inconsistent
with an environmental ethic; for according to it nature is

the dominion of man and he is free to deal with it as he

pleases (since - at least on the mainstream Stoic - Augustine

view - it exists only for his sake), whereas on an environ­
mental ethic man is not so free to do as he pleases.

But

it is not quite so obvious that an environmental ethic can
*
not be coupled with one of the lesser traditions.

Part of

the problem is that the lesser traditions are by no means

adequately characterised anywhere, especially when the
religious backdrop is removed, e.g. who is man steward for

and responsible to?

However both traditions are inconsistent

with an environmental ethic because they imply policies of

complete interference, whereas on an environmental ethic
some worthwhile parts of the earth's surface should be
preserved from substantial human interference, whether of

4.

the "improving" sort or not.

Both traditions would in

fact prefer to see the earth's land surfaces reshaped along
the lines of the tame and comfortable north-European small
farm and village landscape. According to the co-operative

position man's proper role is to develop, cultivate and
perfect nature - all nature eventually - by bringing out

its potentialities, the test of perfection being primarily
usefulness for human purposes; while on the stewardship

view man's role, like that of a farm manager, is to make
nature productive by his efforts though not by means that

will deliberately degrade its resources.

Although these

positions both depart from the dominant position in a way
which enables the incorporation of some evaluations of an

environmental ethic, e.g. some of those concerning the

irresponsible farmer, they do not go far enough:

for in

the present situation of expanding populations confined to
finite natural areas, they will lead to, and enjoin, the

perfecting, farming and utilizing of all natural areas.
Indeed these lesser traditions lead to, what a thorough­
going environmental ethic would reject, a principle of

total use, implying that every natural area should be culti­
vated or otherwise used
*

for human ends, "humanized".

As the important Western traditions exclude an
environmental ethic, it would appear that such an ethic,
not primitive, mystical or romantic, would be new alright.

The matter is not so straightforward; for the dominant ethic
has been substantially qualified by the rider that one is
not always entitled to do as one pleases where this physically
interferes with others.

Maybe some such proviso was implicit

all along (despite evidence to the contrary), and it was

* If 'use' is extended, somewhat illicitly, to include use
for preservation, this total use principle is rendered
inocuous at least as regards its actual effects. Note
that the total use principle is tied to the resource view
of nature.

simply assumed that doing what one pleased with natural

items would not affect others (the non-interference

assumption).

Be this as it may, the modified dominant

position appears, at least for many thinkers, to have

supplanted the dominant position; and the modified posi­

tion can undoubtedly go much further towards an environ­
mental ethic.

For example, the farmer's polluting of a

community stream may be ruled immoral on the grounds that
it physically interferes with others who use or would use

the stream.

Likewise business enterprises which destroy

the natural environment for no satisfactory returns or which

cause pollution deleterious to the health of future humans,
can be criticised on the sort of welfare basis (e.g. that
of [3]) that blends with the modified position; and so on.

The position may even serve to restrict the sort of family

size one is entitled to have since in a finite situation
excessive population levels will interfere with future people.

Nontheless neither the modified dominant position nor its
Western variants, obtained by combining it with the lesser

traditions, is adequate as an environmental ethic, as I shall
A new ethic is wanted.
e
As we noticed (an) ethic is ambiguous, as between

try to show.
§2.

a specific ethical system, a specific ethic, and a more generic
notion, a super ethic, under which specific ethics cluster.
*
An ethical system S is, near enough, a propositional system

(i.e. a structured set of propositions) or theory which

includes (like individuals of a theory) a set of values

and (like postulates of a theory) a set of general evalu­
ative judgements concerning conduct, typically of what is
obligatory, permissible and wrong, of what are rights^what

* A meta-ethic is, as usual, a theory about ethics, super
ethics, their features and fundamental notions.

6.

is valued, and so forth.

A general or lawlike proposition

of a system is a principle; and certainly if systems S| and
S2 contain different principles then they are different

systems.

It follows that any environmental ethic differs

from the important traditional ethics outlined.

Moreover

if environmental ethics differ from Western ethical systems
on some core principle embedded in Western systems, then

these systems differ from the Western super ethic (assuming,
what seems to be so, that it can be uniquely characterised)

- in which case if an environmental ethic is needed then a
new ethic is wanted.

It suffices then to locate a core

principle and to provide environmental counter examples to

it.
It is commonly assumed that there are, what amount
to, core principles of Western ethical systems, principles

that will accordingly belong to the super ethic.

The fair-

ness principle inscribed in the Golden Rule provides one
example.

Directly relevant here, as a good stab at a core

principle, is the commonly formulated liberal principle of

4- A'/Z

the modified dominance position:.

A recent formulation
*

runs

as follows ([3], p.58):
'The liberal philosophy of the Western world holds
that one should be able to do what he wishesproviding (1)
that he does not harm others and (2) that he is not likely
to harm himself irreparably.'
Let us call this principle basic (human) chauvinism -because

under it humans, or people, come first and everything else a
bad last - though sometimes the principle is hailed as a

freedom principle because it gives permission to perform a
wide range of actions (including actions which mess up the

environment and natural things) providing they do not harm

* A related principle is that (modified)
can operate within similar limits.

t

X
/< > /Cy

,

.... r -r-

free enterprise

'i-

others.

In fact it tends to cunningly shift the onus of

proof to others.

It is worth remarking that harming others

in the restriction is narrower than a restriction to the
(usual) interests of others; it is not enough that it is in

my interests, because I detest you, that you stop breathing;

you are free to breathe, for the time being anyway, because
it does not harm me.

There remains a problem however as to

exactly what counts as harm or interference.

Moreover the

width of the principle is so far obscure because 'other' may
be filled out in significantly different ways:

it makes a

difference to the extent, and privilege, of the chauvinism

whether 'other' expands to 'other human' - which is too

restrictive - or to 'other person' or to 'other sentient
-hv

being'; and it makes a difference to the adequacy of the
principle, and inversely to its economic applicability, to
which class of others it is intended to apply, whether to

future as well as to present others, whether to remote future

others or only to non-discountable future others, and whether
to possible others.

The latter would make the principle

completely unworkable, and it is generally assumed that it

applies at most to present and future others,

7/v

It is taken for granted in designing counter examples
to basic chauvinist principles, that a semantical analysis
of permissibility and obligation statements stretches out

over ideal situations (which may be incomplete or even incon­
sistent) , so that what is permissible holds in some ideal
situation, what is obligatory in every ideal situation, and

what is wrong is excluded in every ideal situation.

But the

main point to grasp for the counter examples that follow, is
that ethical principles if correct are universal and are

assessed over the class of ideal situations.
(i)

The last man (or person)
surviving the collapse of the world system lays
about him, eliminating, as far as he can, every

The last man example.

living thing, animal or plant (but painlessly if
you like, as at the best abattoirs) .

What he does

is quite permissible according to basic chauvinism,
but on environmental grounds what he does is wrong.

Moreover one does not have to be committed to esot­
eric

values

to regard Mr. Last Man as behaving

badly (the reason being perhaps that radical thinking

and values have shifted in an environmental direction

in advance of corresponding shifts in the formulation
of fundamental evaluative principles).

(ii)

The last people example.

The last man example can

be broadened to the last people example.

We can

assume that they know they are the last people, e.g.
because they are aware that radiation effects have
blocked any chance of reproduction.

One considers

the last people in order to rule out the possibility

that what these people do harms or somehow physically
interferes with later people.

Otherwise one could as

well consider science fiction cases where people
arrive at a new planet and destroy its ecosystems,
whether with good intentions such as perfecting the

planet for their ends and making it more fruitful
or, forgetting the lesser traditions, just for the

hell of it.
Let us assume that the last people are

very numerous.

They humanely exterminate every wild

9.

animal and they eliminate the fish of the seas, they

put all arable land under intensive cultivation, and
all remaining forests disappear in favour of quarries
or plantations, and so on.

They may give various

familiar reasons for this, e.g. they believe it is

the way to salvation or to perfection, or they are

simply satisfying reasonable needs, or even that it
is needed to keep the last people employed or occupied
so that they do not worry too much about their impending

extinctions.

On an environmental ethic the last

people have behaved badly; they have simplified and

largely destroyed all the natural ecosystems, and
with their demise the world will soon be an ugly and

largely wrecked place.

But this conduct may conform

with the basic chauvinist principle, and as well with

the principles enjoined by the lesser traditions.
Indeed the main point of elaborating this example is

because, as the last man example reveals, basic chauv­
inism may conflict with stewardship or co-operation

principles.

The conflict may be removed it seems by

conjoining a further proviso to the basic principle,

to the effect (3) that he does not wilfully destroy
natural resources.

But as the last people do not

destroy resources wilfully, but perhaps "for the
best of reasons", the variant is still environmentally
inadequate.

(iii)

The great entrepreneur example.

The last man example

can be adjusted so as to not fall foul of clause (3).

The last man is an industrialist; he runs a giant

complex of automated factories and farms which he

10.

proceeds to extend.

He produces automobiles among

other things, from renewable and recyclable resources

of course, only he dumps and recycles these shortly

after manufacture and sale to a dummy buyer instead
of putting them on the road for a short time as we
do.

Of course he has the best of reasons for his

activity, e.g. he is increasing gross world product,
or he is improving output to fulfil some plan, and

he will be increasing his own and general welfare

since he much prefers increased output and product­
ivity.

The entrepreneur's behaviour is on the Western

ethic quite permissible; indeed his conduct is commonly

thought to be quite fine and may even meet Pareto

optimality requirements given prevailing notions of

being "better off".
Just as we can extend the last man example

to a class of last people, so we can extend this

example to the industrial society example:
looks rather like

Civ)

the society

ours.

The vanishing species example. Consider the blue
whale, a mixed good on the economic picture. The

blue whale is on the verge of extinction because of
his qualities as a private good, as a source of valuable oil and meat. The catching and marketing of blue
whales does not harm the whalers; it does not harm or

physically interfere with others in any good sense,
though it may upset them and they may be prepared to
compensate the whalers if they desist; nor need whale
hunting be wilful destruction.

(Slightly different

examples which eliminate the hunting aspect of the

11.

blue whale example are provided by cases where a
species is eliminated or threatened through destruc­
tion of its habitat by man's activity or the activ­
ities of animals he has introduced, e.g. many plains-

dwelling Australian marsupials and the Arabian oryx.)

The behaviour of the whalers in eliminating this
magnificent species of whale is accordingly quite
permissible - at least according to basic chauvinism.
But on an environmental ethic it is not.

However the

free-market mechanism will not cease allocating
whalers to commercial uses, as a satisfactory environ­

mental economics would; instead the market model will
grind inexorably
*

along the private demand curve until

the blue whale population is no longer viable - if
’r <

that point has not already been passed.

7/7 /
(U•



In sum'
class of permissible actions that
/rebound on the environment is more narrowly circumscribed

on an environmental ethic than it is in the Western super
ethic.

But aren't environmentalists going too far in claim­

ing that these people, those of the examples and respected
industrialists, fishermen and farmers are behaving, when
engaging in environmentally degrading activities of the

sort described, in a morally impermissible way?

these people do is

No, what

to a greater or lesser extent evil,

and hence in serious cases morally impermissible.

For example,

insofar as the killing or forced displacement of primitive
peoples who stand in the way of an industrial development is
morally indefensible and impermissible, so also is the

slaughter of the last remaining blue whales for private

profit.

But how to reformulate basic chauvinism as a

* For the tragedy-of-the-commons type reasons well explained
in [3] .

13.
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capable of choice is at liberty to do (i.e. is under no oblig­

ation to abstain from) any action which is not one coercing or
restraining or designed to injure other persons'.

But this

sufficient condition for a human natural right depends on accepting

the very human chauvinist principle an environmental ethic rejects,

since if a person has a natural right he has a right; so too the

definition of a natural right adopted by classical theorists and
accepted with minor qualifications by Hart presupposes the same

defective principle.

Accordingly an environmental ethic would

have to amend the classical notion of a natural right, a far from
straight forward matter now that human rights with respect to

animals and the natural environment are, like those with respect

to slaves not all that long ago, undergoing major re-evaluation.
An environmental ethic

14.

morally, through obligations
practically anything at all.

The species bias of certain ethical and economic positions
which aim to make principles of conduct or reasonable economic

behaviour calculable is easily brought out.

These positions typ­

ically employ a single criterion p, such as preference or happi­

ness, as a summum banum; characteristically each individual of

some base class, almost always humans, but perhaps including future
humans, is supposed to have an ordinal p ranking of the states in

question (e.g. of affairs, of the economy); then some principle is
supplied to determine a collective p ranking of these states in

terms of individual p rankings, and what is best or ought to be

done is determined either directly, as in act-utilitarianism under
the Greatest Happiness principle, or indirectly, as in rule­

utilitarianism, in terms of some optimization principle applied to
the collective ranking.

The species bias is transparent from the

selection of the base class.

And even if the base class is extended

to embrace persons, or even some animals (at the cost, like that of

including remotely future humans, of losing testability), the
positions are open to familiar criticism; namely that the whole of
the base class may be prejudiced in a way which leads to unjust
principles.

For example if every member of the base class detests

dingoes, on the basis of mistaken data as to dingoes' behaviour,
ive
then by the Pareto ranking test the collect/ranking will rank states
where dingoes are exterminated very highly, from which it will

generally be concluded that dingoes ought to be exterminated (the
evaluation of most Australian farmers anyway).

Likewise it would

just be a happy accident, it seems, if collective demand (hori­

zontally summed from individual demand) for a state of the economy
with blue whales as a mixed good, were to succeed in outweighing

J

15.

private whaling demands; for if no one in the base class happened
to know that blue whales exist or cared a jot that they do then
"rational" economic decision-making would do nothing to prevent

their extinction.

Whether the blue whale survives should not have

to depend on what humans know or what they see on television.
Human interests and preferences are far too parochial to provide

a satisfactory basis for deciding on what is environmentally

desirable.
These ethical and economic theories are not alone in

their species chauvinism; much the same applies to most going
meta-ethical theories which, unlike intuitionistic theories,

try to offer some rationale for their basic principles.

For

instance, on social contract positions obligations are a matter
of mutual agreements between individuals of the base class; on

a social justice picture rights and obligations spring from the
application of symmetrical fairness principles to members of the

base class, usually a rather special class of persons, while on
a Kantian position.which has some vogue-obligations somehow

arise from respect for members of the base class, persons.
In each case if members of the base class happen to be ill-

disposed to items outside the base class then that is too bad
for them; that is (rough) justice.

R. Routley

Australian National University

REFERENCES

[1]

A. Leopold,

A Sand Country Almenac with other essays

on Conservation,
[2]

J. Passmore,

New York (196 6) .

Ecological Problems and Western Traditions

(unpublished).
[3]

P.W. Barkley and D.W. Seckier, Economic Growth and
Environmental Decay. The Solution becomes the Problem,
New York (1972).

[4]

S. and R. Godlovitch and J. Harris (editors),

Men and Morals.
hon-humans,
[5]

Animals,

An enquiry into the maltreatment of
London (1971).

H.L.A. Hart,
‘Are there any natural rights?',
reprinted in A. Quinton (editor), Political Philosophy,
Oxford (1967).

The following has been redacted from access file (PDF) due to copyright restrictions.
Letter, S. I. Benn, Acting Head of Department of Philosophy to Dr. R. Rosenkrantz, Department
of Philosophy, University of South Caroline, 6 Sep 1973 re fellowship at the Research School of
Social Sciences, supervised by Richard Routley. (3 pages)

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Is there a need for a new, an environmental, ethic?

§1.

It is increasingly said that civilization, Western

civilization at least, stands in need of a new ethic (and

derivatively of a new economics) setting out people's
relations to the natural environment, in Leopold’s words

’an ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the
animals and plants which grow upon it'

([1], p.238).

It

is not of course that old and prevailing ethics do not deal

with man's relation to nature:

they do, and on the prevailing

view man is free to deal with nature as he pleases, i.e. his
relations with nature, insofar at least as they do not affect
others, are not subject to moral censure.
such as

Thus assertions

Crusoe ought not to be mutilating those trees' are

significant and morally determinate but, inasmuch at least
as Crusoe's actions do not interfere with others, they are

false or do not hold - and trees are not, in a good sense,
It is to this, to the values and evaluations

moral oojects.
*

of the prevailing ethics, that Leopold and others in fact
take exception.

Leopold regards as subject to moral crit­

icism, as wrong, behaviour that on prevailing views is morally

permissible.

But it is not, as Leopold seems to think, that

such behaviour is beyond the scope of the prevailing ethics
and that an extension of traditional morality is required to

cover such cases,to fill a moral void.

If Leopold is right

in his criticism of prevailing conduct what is required is
a change in the ethics, in attitudes, values and evaluations.

For as matters stand, as he himself explains, men do not feel

morally ashamed if they interfere with a wilderness, if they
maltreat the land, extract from it whatever it will yield,
and then move on; and such conduct is not taken to interfere

with and does not rouse the moral indignation of others.

'A

* A view occasionally tempered by the idea that trees house
* spirits.

2.

fanner who clears the woods off a 75% slope, turns his
cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall, rocks,
and soil into the community creek, is still (if other­
wise decent) a respected member of society.'

([1], p.245)

Under what we shall call an environmental ethic such trad­
itionally permissible conduct would be accounted morally
wrong, and the fanner subject to proper moral criticism.

Let us grant such evaluations for the purpose

of the argument.

What is not so clear is that a new ethic

is required even for such radical judgements.

For one thing

it is none too clear what is going to count as a new ethic,
much as it is often unclear whether a new development in
physics counts as a new physics or just as a modification
or extension of the old.

For, notoriously, ethics are not

clearly articulated or at all well worked out, so that the
application of identity criteria for ethics may remain
*
obscure.

Furthermore we tend to cluster a family of

ethical systems which do not differ on core or fundamental

principles together as the one ethic; e.g. the Christain

ethic, which is an umbrella notion covering a cluster of
differing and even competing systems.

In fact then there

are two other possibilities, apart from a new environmental
ethic, which might cater for the evaluations, namely that

of an extension or modification of the prevailing ethics
or that of the development of principles that are already

encompassed or latent within the prevailing ethic.

The

second possibility, that environmental evaluations can be

incorporated within (and ecological problems solved within)

the framework of prevailing Western ethics, is open because

there isn't a single ethical system uniquely assumed in

* To the consternation no doubt of Quineans. But the fact
is that we can talk perfectly well about inchoate and
fragmentary systems the identity of which may be indeter­
minate .

3.

Western civilization: on many issues, and especially on
controversial issues such as infanticide, women's rights

and drugs, there are competing sets of principles.

Talk

of a new ethic and prevailing ethics tends to suggest a
sort of monolithic structure, a uniformity, that prevailing

ethics, and even a single ethic, need not have.
Indeed Passmore (in [2]) has mapped out three

important traditions in Western ethical views concerning
man's relation to nature? a dominant tradition, the despotic
position, with man as despot (or tyrant^ and two lesser
traditions, the stewardship position, with man as custodian, ■

and tne co-operative position with man as perfector. Nor
are these the only traditions; primitivism is another, and

both romanticism and mysticism have influenced Western views.
The dominant Western view is simply inconsistent
with an environmental ethic; for according to it nature is

the dominion of man and he is free to deal with it as he
pleases (since - at least on the mainstream Stoic - Augustine

view - it exists only for his sake), whereas on an environ­
mental ethic man is not so free to do as he pleases,
it is not quite so obvious that an environmental ethic can­
not be coupled with one of the lesser traditions. Part of
the problem is that the lesser traditions are by no means
adequately characterised anywhere, especially when the
religious backdrop is removed, e.g. who is man steward for

and responsible to?

However both traditions are inconsistent

with an environmental ethic because they imply policies of

complete interference, whereas on an environmental ethic

some worthwhile parts of the earth's surface should be
preserved *
rom substantial human interference, whether of

4.

the "improving" sort or not.

Both traditions would in

fact prefer to see the earth's land surfaces reshaped along

the lines of the tame and comfortable north-European small
farm and village landscape. According to the co-operative
position man's proper role is to develop, cultivate and
perfect nature - all nature eventually - by bringing out

its potentialities, the test of perfection being primarily
usefulness for human purposes; while on the stewardship

view man's role, like that of a farm manager, is to make
nature productive by his efforts though not by means that
will deliberately degrade its resources.

Although these

positions both depart from the dominant position in a way
which enables the incorporation of some evaluations of an
environmental ethic, e.g. some of those concerning the

irresponsible farmer, they do not go far enough:

for in

the present situation of expanding populations confined to
finite natural areas, they will lead to, and enjoin, the

perfecting, farming and utilizing of all natural areas.
Indeed these lesser traditions lead to, what a thorough­
going environmental ethic would reject, a principle of

total use, implying that every natural area should be culti­
vated or otherwise used
*

for human ends, "humanized".

As the important Western traditions exclude an
environmental ethic, it would appear that such an ethic,
not primitive, mystical or romantic, would be new alright,

h//

The matter is not so straightforward; for the dominant ethic
has been substantially qualified by the rider that one is

not always entitled to do as one pleases where this physically
interferes with others.

Maybe some such proviso was implicit

all along (despite evidence to the contrary), and it was

* If 'use' is extended, somewhat illicitly, to include use
for preservation, this total use principle is rendered
inocuous at least as regards its actual effects. Note
that the total use principle is tied to the resource view
of nature.

simply assumed that doing what one pleased with natural

items would not affect others (the non-interference
assumption).

Be this as it may, the modified dominant

position appears, at least for many thinkers, to have
supplanted the dominant position; and the modified posi
tion can undoubtedly go much further towards an environ­

mental ethic.

For example, the farmer's polluting of a

community stream may be ruled immoral on the grounds that
it physically interferes with others who use or would use
the stream. Likewise business enterprises which destroy
the natural environment for no satisfactory returns or which

cause pollution deleterious to the health of future humans,
can be criticised on the sort of welfare basis (e.g. that

of(j[3]) that blends with the modified position; and so on.
The position may even serve to restrict the sort of family
size one is entitled to have since in a finite situation
excessive population levels will interfere with future people.

Nonetheless neither the modified dominant position nor its
Western variants, obtained by combining it with the lesser
traditions, is adequate as an environmental ethic, as I shall

try to show.

A new ethic is wanted.

§2.
As we noticed (an) ethic is ambiguous, as between
a specific ethical system, a specific ethic, and a more generic
notion, a super ethic, under which specific ethics cluster.
*
An ethical system S is, near enough, a propositional system

(i.e. a structured set of propositions) or theory which
includes (like individuals of a theory) a set of values
and (like postulates of a theory) a set of general evalu­
ative judgements concerning conduct, typically of what is

obligatory, permissible and wrong, of what are rightsr what

* A meta-ethic is, as usual, a theory about ethics, super

ethics, their features and fundamental notions.

6.

is valued, and so forth.

A general or lawlike proposition

of a system is a principle; and certainly if systems Sj and
S2 contain different principles then they are different
systems.

It follows that any environmental ethic differs

from the important traditional ethics outlined.

Moreover

if environmental ethics differ from Western ethical systems
on some core principle embedded in Western systems, then
these systems differ from the Western super ethic (assuming,

what seems to be so, that it can be uniquely characterised)

- in which case if an environmental ethic is needed then a
new ethic is wanted.
It suffices then to locate a core
principle and to provide environmental counter examples to

it.
It is commonly assumed that there are, what amount
to, core principles of Western ethical systems, principles
that will accordingly belong to the super ethic. The fair­
ness principle inscribed in the Golden Rule provides one

example. Directly relevant here, as a good stab at a core
principle, is the commonly formulated liberal principle of

the modified dominance position.

A recent formulation
*

runs

as follows ([3], p.58):

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The liberal philosophy of the Western world holds
that one should be able to do what he wishes, providing (1)
that he does not harm others and (2) that he is not likely
to harm himself irreparably.'
Let us call this principle basic (human) chauvinism - because

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under it humans, or people, come first and everything else a

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bad last - though sometimes the principle is hailed as a
freedom principle because it gives permission to perform a

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7.

others.

In fact it tends to cunningly shift the onus of

proof to others.

It is worth remarking that harming others

in the restriction is narrower than a restriction to the
(usual) interests of others; it is not enough that it is in

£my interests, because I detest you?, that you stop breathing «
I-

you are free to breathe , for the time being anyway, because
it does not harm me
There remains a problem however as to
exactly what counts as harm or interference

Moreover the

width of the principle is so far obscure because ’other' may
be filled out in significantly different ways: it makes a
difference to the extent, and privilege, of the chauvinism



t.

whether 'other' expands to 'other human' - which is too
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restrictive - <or to 'other person' or to 'other sentient

being'; and it makes a difference to the adequacy of the
principle, and inversely to its economic applicability, to

which class of others it is intended to apply, whether to

future as well as to present others, whether to remote future
others or only to non-discountable future others, and whether

to possible others,

The latter would make the principle

completely unworkable, and it is generally assumed that it
applies at most to present and future others.

It is taken for granted in designing counter examples
to basic chauvinist principles, that a semantical analysis
of permissibility and obligation statements stretches out
over ideal situations (which may be incomplete or even incon­
sistent) , so that what is permissible holds in some ideal

situation, what is obligatory in every ideal situation, and

what is wrong is excluded in every ideal situation.

But the

main point to grasp for the counter examples that follow, is

that ethical principles if correct are universal and are

8.

assessed over the class of ideal situations.
The last man example.

(1)

The last man (or person)

surviving the collapse of the world system lays
. .
--------.................................... I

about him, eliminating, as far as he can, every
living thing, animal or plant (but painlessly i
you like, as at the best abattoirs) . What he does

is quite permissible according to basic chauvinism,
) but on environmental grounds what he does is wrong.
Moreover one does not have to be committed to eso
values to regard Mr. Last Man as behaving
I badly (the reason being perhaps that radical thinking
‘r- l C-a values have shifted in an environ-nt.l direction

h-



eric

'°f -^responding shifts in the formulation

fundamental evaluative principles).

The last people example.

The last man example can

be broadened to the last people example. We can
assume that they know they are the last people, e.g.
because they are aware that radiation effects have
blocked any chance of reproduction. One const ers
the last people in order to rule out the posslbt 1 y
that what these people do harms or somehow physically
interferes with later people.

Otherwise one could as

well consider science fiction cases where people
arrive at a new planet and destroy its ecosystems
whether with good intentions such as perfecting the
planet for their ends and making it more fruit.u
or, forgetting the lesser traditions, just for the
hell of it.
Let us assume that the last people are
very numerous. They humanely exterminate every wild

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animal and they eliminate the fish of the seas, they
put all arable land under intensive cultivation, and

all remaining forests disappear in favour of quarries
or plantations, and so on. They may give various
V, familiar reasons for this, e.g. they believe it is

the way to salvation or to perfection, or they are
simply satisfying reasonable needs, or even that it
is needed to keep the last people employed or occupied
so that they do not worry too much about their impending
extinctions.

On an environmental ethic the last

people have behaved badly; they have simplified and
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largely destroyed all the natural ecosystems, and
with their demise the world will soon bean ugly and
largely wrecked place. But this conduct may conform
witlCthe^basic chauvinist principle, and as well with

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the principles enjoined by the lesser traditions.
Indeed the main point of elaborating this example is

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because, as the last man example reveals, basic chauv­

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principles. The conflict may be removed it seems by
conjoining a further proviso to the basic principle, b’J
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the last people do not
natural resources.
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destroy resources wilfully, but perhaps "for the
the variant is still environmentallW^,^
best of reasons",

inadequate.
The great entrepreneur example. The last man example
can be adjusted so as to not fall foul of clause (3) .

The last man is an industrialist; he runs a giant,

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10.

proceeds to extend.

He produces automobiles among

other things, from renewable and recyclable resources

of course, only he dumps and recycles these shortly
after manufacture and sale to a dummy buyer instead

of putting them on the road for a short time as we
do.
A

Of coarse he has the best of reasons for his

activity, e.g. he is increasing gross world product,

or he is improving output to fulfil some plan, and
he will be increasing his own and general welfare
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The entrepreneur's behaviour is on the Western

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thought to be quite fine and may even meet Pareto

optimality requirements given prevailing notions of
being "better off".
Just as we can extend the last man example
to a class of last people, so we can extend this

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example to the industrial society example:
looks rather like ours.
(iv)

The vanishing species example.

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the society

Consider the blue

whale, a mixed good on the economic picture.

The

J—

'

blue whale is on the verge of extinction because of

X

his qualities as a private good, as a source of valu-

able oil and meat.

The catching and marketing of blue

whales does not harm the whalers; it does not harm or

physically interfere with others in any good sense,

7

though it may upset them and they may be prepared to

compensate the whalers if they desist; nor need whale

hunting be wilful destruction.

(Slightly different

examples which eliminate the hunting aspect rf the

"C
V
'•S

M

'n

11.

blue whale example are provided by cases where a
species is eliminated or threatened through destruc—
tion of its habitat by man's activity or the activ­

ities of animals he has introduced, e.g. many plainsdwelling Australian marsupials and the Arabian oryx.)

The behaviour of the whalers in eliminating this
magnificent species of whale is accordingly quite
permissible — at least according to basic chauvinism.

L-iUl

il~
Wk

&

But on an environmental ethic it is not.

However the

free-market mechanism will not cease allocating
whalers to commercial uses, as a satisfactory environ
mental economics would; instead the market model will

HL

ui

7?I

grind inexorably
*
along the private demand curve until
the blue whale population is no longer viable - if

a

n

a 2^ o>^.‘

I, fisKis

that point has not already been passed.

In sum, the class of permissible actions that
Ola

rebound on the environment is more narrowly circumscribed
on an environmental ethic than it is in the Western super
ethic. But aren't environmentalists going too far in claim­
ing that these people, those of the examples and respected
industrialists, fishermen and farmers are behaving, when

engaging in environmentally degrading activities of the

sort described, in a morally impermissible way? No, what
these people do is
to a greater or lesser extent evil,
and hence in serious cases morally impermissible.

For example,

insofar as the killing or forced displacement of primitive
peoples who stand in the way of an industrial development is

morally indefensible and impermissible, so also is the
slaughter of the last remaining blue whales for private
profit.

But how to reformulate basic chauvinism as a

* For the tragedy-of-the-commons type reasons well explained
in [ 3 ] .

0

n ‘s
■UjK

,

i

111
„lth

... „„ r .=...

.J-

extending (2) to rnclu
.,question were they placed in
would be so affected by the action in
It may be preferand (3) to exclude speciej&de.
the environment
in vieW of the way the freedom
“J
ab le,
imply to scrap it altogether, and mate
proof, s of rights and permissible conduct, as in a b
classes
theory sometimes forces changes
§3
a radical change in a
rejects the Reference
in the meta-theory; e.g. a logic which
a modification of the
Theory in a
Reference Theory and
usual -ta-tdef-eh^also^aeee
Jat simllt pheno^nCseens to occur in the case of a neta-

A somewhat s nxl

P

ethlc.

Quite apart from

ethl°de’“ several environmentally important notions, such as
introducing several
meta—
n 4.4™ arowth and preservation, for mec»
conservation, pollut^COTp^e-examinatlon

I

ethical analysis, an ,< of such characteristic(actions) as natural
and modified analyses
3 of obligation and
round of right, and of the relations
right■
may well require re-assessment of
permissibility to rights; it
notions as value and right, espectraditional analyses of such
on chauvinist assumptions; and it
ially where these are based
of the more prominent meta-ethical
forces the rejection of many
illustrated by a very brief exam­
positions. These points are
then by a sketch of the
ination of accounts of nature^ right an
speciess bias of some major positions.
*
positions.
to defeating conditions
Hart (in [5]) accepts, subject
doctrine of natural rights
here irrelevant, the classical
which are
'anv adult human ■.•
to
which,
among
other
things,
according

are developed by those protesting about
points are oevei p
especially the essay s
Some of these
ltreatment of animals; see especial y
human ma
collected in [4] .

9

/z

O

/<
A, °uf

13.

a

i, g>OT' ° >f

1

capable of choice is at liberty to do (i.e. is under no oblig­
ation to abstain from) any action which is not one coercing or

restraining or designed to injure other persons'.
But this
sufficient condition for a human natural right depends on accepting
the very human chauvinist principle an environmental ethic rejects,
since if a person has a natural right he has a right; so too the
definition of a natural right adopted by classical theorists and

accepted with minor qualifications by Hart presupposes the same
defective principle. Accordingly an environmental ethic would
have to amend the classical notion of a natural right, a far from

straight forward matter now that human rights with respect to

animals and the natural environment are, like those with respect
.. to slaves not all that long ago, undergoing major re-evaluation.
An environmental ethic does not commit one to the view
that natural objects such as trees^have rights (though such a view

is occasionally held, e.g. by partheists.

since artefacts are not alive).

But p^/theism is false

For moral prohibitions forbidding

certairTactions with respect to an object do not award that object
a correlative right. That it would be wrong to mutilate a given
tree or piece of property does not entail that the tree or piece of

property has a correlative right not to be mutilated (without
seriously stretching the notion of a right). Environmental views

can stick with mainstream theses according to which rights are
coupled with corresponding responsibilities and so with bearing
obligations, and with corresponding interests and concern; i.e.,
has a right also has responsibilities and thereat least , whatever____________
'J
fore obligations, and whatever has a right has interests, Thus
although any person may have a right by no means every living thing
can (significantly) have rights, and arguably most sentient objects

other than persons cannot have rights.
r \fhO<
*

But persons can relate

AT
***.

A-

*/Z



A '^s" fa

. ... 8(^

14.

morally, through obligations, prohibitions and so forth, to

practically anything at all.

The species bias of certain ethical and economic positions
which aim to make principles of conduct or reasonable economic
behaviour calculable is easily brought out.

These positions typ­

ically employ a single criterion p, such as preference or happi­

ness, as a summum bgnum; characteristically each individual of

soine base class, almost always humans, but perhaps including future
humans, is supposed to have an ordinal p ranking of the states in

question (e.g. of affairs, of the economy); then some principle is
supplied to determine a collective p ranking of these states in

terms of individual p rankings, and what is best or ought to be

done is determined either directly, as in act-utilitarianism under
the Greatest Happiness principle, or indirectly, as in rule­

utilitarianism, in terms of some optimization principle applied to

The species bias is transparent from the

the collective ranking.

selection of the base class.

And even if the base class is extended

to embrace persons, or even some animals (at the cost, like that of

including remotely future humans, of losing testability), the
positions are open to familiar criticism; namely that the whole of

the base class may be prejudiced in a way which leads to unjust
principles.

For example if every member of the base class detests

dingoes, on the basis of mistaken data as to dingoes’ behaviour,
ive
then by the Pareto ranking test the collect/ranking will rank states
where dingoes are exterminated very highly, from which it will

generally be concluded that dingoes ought to be exterminated (the
evaluation of most Australian farmers anyway).

Likewise it would

just be a happy accident, it seems, if collective demand (hori­

zontally summed from individual demand) for a state of the economy

with blue whales as a mixed good, were to succeed in outweighing

*

b'v
d(k^

V10'"

hU

•x'5

5
15.

oP ,



private whaling demands; for if no one in the base class happened
to kr^ow that blue whales exist or cared a jot that they do then
"rational" economic decision-making would do nothing to prevent
their extinction.

Whether the blue whale survives should not have

to depend on what humans know or what they see on television.
Human interests and preferences are far too parochial to provide
a satisfactory basis for deciding on what is environmentally

desirable.

These ethical and economic theories are not alone in

their species chauvinism; much the same applies to most going
meta-ethical theories which, unlike intuitionistic theories,
try to offer some rationale for their basic principles.

For

instance, on social contract positions obligations are a matter
of mutual agreements between individuals of .the base class; on
a social justice picture rights and obligations spring from the

application of symmetrical fairness principles to members of the
base class, usually a rather special class of persons, while on

a Kantian position which has some vogue obligations somehow
arise from respect for members of the base class, persons.
In each case if members of the base class happen to be ill-

disposed to items outside the base class then that is too bad

for them: that is

R. Routley

(rough) justice.

Australian National University

REFERENCES

[1]

A. Leopold,

A Sand Country Almenac with other essays

on Conservation,

New York (1966) .

[2]

J. Passmore, Ecological Problems and Western Traditions
(unpublished).

[3]

P.W. Barkley and D.W. Seckier,

Environmental Decay.
New York (1972).
[4]

The Solution becomes the Problem,

S. and R. Godlovitch and J. Harris (editors),

Men and Morals.
hon-humans,

[5]

Economic Growth and

H.L.A. Hart,

An enquiry into the maltreatment of

London (1971) .
'Are there any natural rights?',

reprinted in A. Quinton (editor),

Oxford (1967).

Animals,

Political Philosophy,

The species bias of certain ethical and economic positions which aim to make principles of
conduct or reasonable economic behaviour calculable is easily brought out. These positions
typically employ a single criterion p, such as preference or happiness, as a summum bonum;
characteristically each individual of some base class, almost always humans, but perhaps including
future humans, is supposed to have an ordinal p ranking of the states in question (e.g. of affairs, Of
the economy); then some principle is supplied to determine a collective p ranking of these states in
terms of individual prankings, and what is best or ought to be done is determined either directly, as
in act-utilitarianism under the Greatest Happiness principle, or indirectly, as in rule-utilitarianism,
in terms of some optimization principle applied to the collective ranking. The species bias is
transparent from the selection of the base class. And even if the base class is extended to embrace
persons, or even some animals (at the cost, like that of including remotely future humans, of losing

testability), the positions are open to familiar criticism, namely that-the whole of the base class may
be prejudiced in a way which leads to unjust principles. For example if every member of the base
class detests dingoes, on the basis of mistaken data as to dingoes’ behaviour, then by the Pareto
ranking test the collective ranking will rank states where dingoes are exterminated very highly,
from which it will generally be concluded that dingoes ought to be exterminated (the evaluation of
most Australian farmers anyway). Likewise it would just be a happy accident, it seems, if collective
demand (horizontally summed from individual demand) for a state of the economy with blue
whales as a mixed good, were to succeed in outweighing private whaling demands; for if no one in
the base class happened to know that blue whales exist or cared a jot that they do then
“rational” economic decision-making would do nothing to prevent their extinction. Whether the
blue whale survives should not have to depend on what humans know or what they see on televi­
sion. Human interests and preferences are far too parochial to provide a satisfactory basis for
deciding on what is environmentally desirable.
These ethical and economic theories are not aione in their species chauvinism; much the
same applies to most going meta-ethical theories which, unlike intuitionistic theories, try to offer
some rationale for their basic principles. For instance, on social contract positions obligations are a
matter of mutual agreements between individuals of the base class; on a social justice picture rights
and obligations spring from the application of symmetrical fairness principles to members of the
base class, usually a rather special class of persons, while on a Kantian position which has some
vigue obligations somehow arise from respect for members of the base class, persons. In each case
if members of the base class happen to be ill-disposed to items outside the base class then that is
too bad for them: that is (rough) justice.

/
REFERENCES
1. A. Leopold, A Sand Country Almanac with other essays on Conservation. New York (1966).
2. J. Passmore, Ecological Problems and Western Traditions (unpublished).
3. P.W.Barkley and D.W.Seckier, Economic Growth and Environmental Decay. The Solution becomes the
Problem, New York (1972).
4. S. and R.Godlovitch and J. Harris (editors), Animals, Men and Morals. An enquiry into the maltreatment
of non-humans, London (1971).
5. H.L.A.Hart, ‘Are there any natural rights?’, reprinted in A.Quinton (editor), Political Philosophy, Oxford
(1967).

§ 3. A radical change in a teory sometimes forces changes in the meta-theory; e.g. a logic which
rejects the Reference Theory in a thoroughgoing way requires a modification of the usual metatheory which also accepts the Reference Theory and indeed which is tailored to cater only for
logics which do conform. A somewhat similar phenomena seems to occur in the case of a
meta-ethic adequate for an environmental ethic. Quite apart from introducing several environmen­
tally important notions, such as conservation, pollution, growth and preservation,for meta-ethical
analysis, an environmental ethic compels re-examination and modified analyses of such
characteristic actions as natural right, ground of right, and of the relations of obligation and permissibility to rights; it may well require re-assessment of traditional analyses of such notions as
XT
value and right, especially where these are based on chauvinist assumptions; and it forces the rejec­
tion of many of the more prominent meta-ethical positions. These points are illustrated by a very
brief examination of accounts of natural right and then by a sketch of the species bias of some *
6
major positions.7
A
Hart (in [5]) accepts, subject to defeating conditions which are here irrelevant, the classical
doctrine of natural rights according to which, among other things, ‘any adult human . . . capable of
choice is at liberty to do (i.e. is under no obligation to abstain from) any action which is not one
coercing or restraining or designed to injure other persons’. But this sufficient condition for a
human natural right depends on accepting the very human chauvinist principle an environmental
ethic rejects, since if a person has a natural right he has a right; so too the definition of a natural
right adopted by classical theorists and accepted with minor qualifications by Hart presupposes *
the same defective principle. Accordingly an environmental ethic would have to amend the
classical notion of a natural right, a farzfrom straight forward matter now that human rights with'
respect to animals and the natural environment are, like those with respect to slaves not all that
long ago, undergoing major re-evaluation.
An environmental ethic does not commit one to the view that natural objects such as trees
have rights (though such a view is occasionally held, e.g. by pantheists. But pantheism is false since
artefacts are not alive). For moral prohibitions forbidding certain actions with respect to an object
do not award that object a correlative right. That it would be wrong to mutilate a given tree or
piece of property does not entail that the tree or piece of property has a correlative right not to be
mutilated (without seriously stretching the notion of a right). Environmental views can stick with
mainstream theses according to which rights are coupled with corresponding responsibilities and
so with bearing obligations, and with corresponding interests and concern; i.e., at least, whatever
has a right also has responsibilities and therefore obligations, and whatever has a right has in­
terests. Thus although any person may have a right by no means every living thing can
(significantly) have rights, and arguably most sentient objects other than persons cannot have
rights. But persons can relate morally, through obligations, prohibitions and so forth, to practically
anything at all.
H Some of these points are developed by those protesting about human maltreatment of animals; see especially the essays
collected in [4]

/§ 2. As we noticed (an) ethic is ambiguous, as between a specific ethical system, a specific ethic,
and a more generic notion, a super ethic, under which specific ethics cluster.4 An ethical system S

3 If ‘use’ is extended, somewhat illicitly, to include use for preservation, this total use principle is rendered inocuous at least
as regards its actual effects. Note that the total use principle is tied to the resource view of nature
4 A meta-ethic is, as usual, a theory about ethics, super ethics, their features and fundamental notions

is, near enough, a propositional system (i.e. a structured set of propositions) or theory which in­
cludes (like individuals of a theory) a set of values and (like postulates of a theory) a set of general
evaluative judgements concerning conduct, typically of what is obligatory, permissible and wrong,
of what are rights, what is valued, and so forth. A general or lawlike proposition of a system is a
principle; and certainly if systems Sj and S2contain different principles, then they are different
systems. It follows that any environmental ethic differs from the important traditional ethics outlin­
ed. Moreover if environmental ethics differ from Western ethical systems on some core principle
embedded in Western systems, then these systems differ from the Western super ethic (assuming,
what seems to be so, that it can be uniquely characterised) — in which case if an environmental
ethic is needed then a new ethic is wanted. It suffices then to locate a core principle and to provide
environmental counter examples to it.
It is commonly assumed that there are. what amount to, core principles of Western ethical
systems, principles that will accordingly belong to the super ethic. The fairness principle inscribed
in the Golden Rule provides one example. Directly relevant here, as a good stab at a core principle,
is the commonly formulated liberal principle of the modified dominance position. A recent for­

mulation5 runs as follows ( [31, p. 58):
’The liberal philosophy of the Western world holds that one should be able to do what he
wishes, providing (1) that he does not harm others and (2) that he is not likely to harm himself
irreparably.’
Let us call this principle basic (human) chauvinism - because under it humans, or people,
come first and everything else a bad last - though sometimes the principle is hailed as a freedom
principle because it gives permission to perform a wide range of actions (including actions which
mess up the environment and natural things) providing they do not harm others. In fact it tends to
cunningly shift the onus of proof to others. It is worth remarking that harming others in the restric­
tion is narrower than a restriction to the (usual) interests of others; it is not enough that it is in my
interests, because I detest you, that you stop breathing; you are free to breathe, for the time being t
anywav, because it does not harm me. There remains a problem however as to exactly what counts
as harm or interference. Moreover the width of the principle is so far obscure because ‘other’ may
be filled out in significantly different ways: it makes a difference to the extent, and privilege, of the
chauvinism whethe^ ‘other’ expands to ‘other human’ - which is too restrictive - or to ‘other’person’ or to ‘other’seritient being’; and it makes a difference to the adequacy of the principle, and in­
versely to its economic applicability, to which class of others it is intended to apply, whether to
future as well as to present others, whether to remote future others or only to non-discountable
future others, and whether to possible others. The latter would make the principle completely un­
workable, and it is generally assumed that it applies at most to present and future others.

It is taken for granted in designing counter examples to basic chauvinist principles, that a
semantical analysis of permissibility and obligation statements stretches out over ideal situations *
(which may be incomplete or even inconsistent), so that what is permissible holds in some ideal
situation, what is obligatory in every ideal situation, and what is wrong is excluded in every ideal
situation. But the main point to grasp for the counter examples that follow, is that ethical principles
if correct are universal and are assessed over the class of ideal situations.
(i)
The last man example. The last man (or person) surviving the collapse of the world system
lays about him, eliminating, as far as he can, every living thing, animal or plant (but painlessly if
you like, as at the best abattoirs). What he does is quite permissible according to basic chauvinism,
but on environmental grounds what he does is wrong. Moreover one does not have to be commit­
ted to esoteric values to regard Mr. Last Man as behaving badly (the reason being perhaps that ra­
dical thinking and values have shifted in an environmental direction in advance of corresponding
shifts in the formulation of fundamental evaluative principles).
(ii) The last people example. The last man example can be broadened to the last people example.
We can assume that they know they are the last people, e.g. because they are aware that radiation
effects have blocked any chance of reproduction. One considers the last people in order to rule out
the possibility that what these people do harms or somehow physically interferes with later people.
Otherwise one could as well consider science fiction cases where peonle arrive at a new planet and
5 A related principle is that (modified) free enterprise can operate v. ithin similar limits

destroy its ecosystems, whether with good intentions such as perfecting the planet for their ends
and making it more fruitful or, forgetting the lesser traditions, just for the hell of it.

Let us assume that the last people are very numerous. They humanely exterminate every wild
animal and they eliminate the fish of the seas, they put all arable land under intensive cultivation,
and all remaining forests disappear in favour of quarries or plantations, and so on. They may give
various familiar reasons for this, e.g. they believe it is the way to salvation or to perfection, or they
are simply satisfying reasonable needs, or even that it is needed to keep the last people employed or
occupied so that they do not worry too much about their impending extinctions. On an en­
vironmental ethic the last people have behaved badly; they have simplified and largely destroyed
all the natural ecosystems, and with their demise the world will soon be an ugly and largely wreck­
ed place. But this conduct may conform with the basic chauvinist principle, and as well with the
principles enjoined by the lesser traditions. Indeed the main point of elaborating this example is
because, as the last man example reveals, basic chauvinism may conflict with stewardship or co­
operation principles. The conflict may be removed it seems by conjoining a further proviso to the
basic principle, to the effect (3) that he does not wilfully destroy natural resources. But as the last
people do not destroy resources wilfully, but perhaps “for the best of reasons”, the variant is still
environmentally inadequate.
(iii) The great entrepreneur example. The last man example can be adjusted so as to not fall foul
of clause (3). The last man is an industrialist; he runs a giant complex of automated factories and
farms which he proceeds to extend. He produces automobiles among other things, from renewable
and recyclable resources of course, only he dumps and recycles these shortly after manufacture
and sale to a dummy buyer instead of putting them on the road for a short time as we do. Of
course he has the best of reasons for his activity, e.g. he is increasing gross world product, or he is
improving output to fulfil some plan, and he will be increasing his own and general welfare since he
much prefers increased output and productivity. The entrepreneur’s behaviour is on the Western
ethic quite permissible; indeed his conduct is commonly thought to be quite fine and may even
meet Pareto optimality requirements given prevailing notions of being “better off’.
Just as we can extend the last man example to a class of last people, so we can extend this ex­
ample to the Industrial society example: the society looks rather like ours.
(iv) The vanishing species example. Consider the blue whale, a mixed good on the economic pic­
ture. The blue whale is on the verge of extinction because of his qualities as a private good, as a
source of valuable oil and meat. The catching and marketing of blue whales does not harm the
whalers; it does not harm or physically interfere with others in any good sense, though it may up­
set them and they may be prepared to compensate the whalers if they desist; nor need whale hun­
ting be wilful destruction. (Slightly different examples which eliminate the hunting aspect of the
blue whale example are provided by cases where a species is eliminated or threatened through
destruction of its habitat by man’s activity or the activities of animals he has introduced, e.g. many
plains-dwelling Australian marsupials and the Arabian oryx.) The behaviour of the whalers in
eliminating this magnificent species of whale is accordingly quite permissible-at least according to
basic chauvinism. But on an environmental ethic it is not. However the free-market mechanism will
not cease allocating whalep to commercial uses, as a satisfactory environmental economics
would; instead the market model will grind inexorably 6 along the private demand curve until the
blue whale population is no longer viable-if that point has not already been passed.
In sum, the class of permissible actions that rebound on the environment is more narrowly
circumscribed on an environmental ethic than it is in the Western super ethic. But aren’t en­
vironmentalists going too far in claiming that these people, those of the examples and respected in­
dustrialists, fishermen and farmers are behaving, when engaging in environmentally degrading ac­
tivities of the sort described, in a morally impermissible way? No, what these people do is to a
greater or lesser extent evil, and hence in serious cases morally impermissible. For example, insofar
as the killing or forced displacement of primitive peoples who stand in the way of an industrial
development is morally indefensible and impermissible, so also is the slaughter of the last remain­
ing blue whales for private profit. But how to reformulate basic chauvinism as a satisfactory

6 For the tragedy-of-the-commons type reasons well explained in [3]
freedom principle is a more difficult matter. A tentative, but none too adequate beginning might be
made by extending (2) to include harm to or interference with others who would be so affected by
the action in question were they placed in the environment and (3) to exclude specieside. It may be
preferable, in view of the way the freedom principle sets the onus of proof, simply to scrap it
altogether, and instead to specify classes of rights and permissible conduct, as in a bill of rights.

CJ\^<.

& ’

§ 1. It is increasingly said that civilization, Western civilization at least, stands in need of a new
ethic (and derivatively of a new economics) setting out people’s relations to the natural environ­
ment, in Leopold’s words ‘an ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and
plants which grow upon it’ ([1], p. 238). It is not of course that old and prevaling ethics do not deal
with man’s relation to nature: they do, and on the prevailing view man is free to deal with nature as
he pleases, i.e. his relations with nature, insofar at least as they do not affect others, are not subject
to moral censure. Thus assertions such as ‘Crusoe ought not to be mutilating those trees’ are
significant and morally determinate but, inasmuch at least as Crusoe’s actions do not interfere with
others, they are false or do not hold - and trees are not, in a good sense, moral objects.1 It is to
this, to the values and evaluations of the prevailing ethics, that Leopold and others in fact take ex­
ception. Leopold regards as subject to moral criticism, as wrong, behaviour that on prevailing
views is morally permissible. But it is not, as Leopold seems to think, that such behaviour is
beyond the scope of the prevailing ethics and that an extension of traditional morality is required
to cover such cases, to fill a moral void. If Leopold is right in his criticism of prevailing conduct
what is required is a change in the ethics, in attitudes, values and evaluations. For as matters stand,
as he himself explains, men do not feel morally ashamed if they interfere with a wilderness, if they
maltreat the land, extract from it whatever it will yield, and then move on; and such conduct is not
taken to interfere with and does not rouse the moral indignation of others. ‘A farmer who clears the
woods off a 75% slope,turns his cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall,rocks, andsoil into
the community creek, is still (if otherwise decent) a respected member of society.’ ([1]), p.245)

Under what we shall call an environmental ethic such traditionally permissible conduct would be
accounted morally wrong, and the farmer subject to proper moral criticism.
Let us grant such evaluations for the purpose of the argument. What is not so clear is that a
new ethic is required even for such radical judgements. For one thing it is none too clear what is
going to count as a new ethic, much as it is often unclear whether a new development in physics
counts as a new physics or just as a modification or extension of the old. For, notoriosly, ethics are
not clearly articulated or at all well worked out, so that the application of identity criteria for ethics
may remain obscure.2 Furthermore we tend to cluster a family of ethical systems which do not
differ on core or fundamental principles together as the one ethic; e.g. the Christain ethic, which is
an umbrella notion covering a cluster of differing and even competing systems. In fact then there
are two other possibilities, apart from a new environmental ethic, which might cater for the
evaluations, namely that of an extension of modification of the prevailing ethics or that of the
development of principles that are already encompassed or latent within the prevailing ethic. The
second possibility, that environmental evaluations can be incorporated within (and ecological
problems solved within) the framework of prevailing Western ethics, is open because there isn’t a
1 A view occasionally tempered by the idea that trees house spirits

- To the consternation modoubt of Quineans. But the fact is that we can talk perfectly well about inchoate and fragmentary
systems the identity of which may be indeterminate

205

single ethical system uniquely assumed in Western civilization: on many issues, and especially on
controversial issues such as infanticide, women’s rights and drugs, there are competing sets of prin­
ciples. Talk of a new ethic and prevailing ethics tends to suggest a sort of monolithic structure, a
uniformity, that prevailing ethics, and even a single ethic, need not have.
Indeed Passmore (in [2]) has mapped out three important traditions in Western ethical views
concerning man’s relation to nature; a dominant tradition, the despotic position, with man as
despot (or tyrant), and two lesser traditions, the stewardship position, with man as custodian, and
the co-operative position with man as perfector. Nor are these the only traditions; primitivism is
another, and both romanticism and mysticism have influenced Western views.
The dominant Western view is simply inconsistent with an environmental ethic; for according
to it nature is the dominion of man and he is free to deal with it as he pleases (since - at least on the
mainstream Stoic - Augustine view - it exists only for his sake), whereas on an environmental
ethic man is not so free to do as he pleases. But it is not quite so obvious that an environmental
ethic cannot be coupled with one of the lesser traditions. Part of the problem is that the lesser
traditions are by no means adequately characterised anywhere, especially when the religious
backdrop is removed, e.g. who is man steward for and responsible to? However both traditions are
inconsistent with an environmental ethic because they imply policies of complete interference,
whereas on an environmental ethic some worthwhile parts of the earth's surface should be preserv­
ed from substantial human interference, whether of the “improving” sort or not. Both traditions
would in fact prefer to see the earth’s land surfaces reshaped along the lines of the tame and com­
fortable north-European small farm and village landscape. According to the co-operative position
man's proper role is todevelop, cultivate and perfect nature - all nature eventually - by bringing
out its potentialities, the test of perfection being primarily usefulness for human purposes; while on
the stewardship view man’s role, like that of a farm manager, is to make nature productive by his
efforts though not by means that wiil deliberately degrade its resources. Although these positions
both depart from the dominant position in a way which enables the incorporation of some
evaluations of an environmental ethic, e.g. some of those concerning the irresponsible farmer, they
do not go far enough: for in the present situation of expanding populations confined to finite
natural areas, they will lead to, and enjoin, the perfecting, farming and utilizing of all natural areas.
Indeed these lesser traditions lead to, what a thoroughgoing environmental ethic would reject, a
principle of total use,implying that every natural area should be cultivated or otherwise used3 for

human ends, “humanized”.
As the important Western traditions exclude an environmental ethic, it would appear that
such an ethic, not primitive, mystical or romantic, would be new alright. The matter is not so
straightforward; for the dominant ethic has been substantially qualified by the rider that one is not
always entitled to do as one pleases where this physically interferes with others. Maybe some such
proviso was implicit all along (despite evidence to the contrary), and it was simply assumed that
doing what one pleased with natural items would not affect others (the non-interference assump­
tion). Be this as it may, the modified dominant position appears, at least for many thinkers, to have
supplanted the dominant position; and the modified position can undoubtedly go much further
towards an environmental ethic. For example, the farmer’s polluting of a community stream may
be ruled immoral on the grounds that it physically interferes with others who use or would use the
stream. Likewise business enterprises which destroy the natural environment for no satisfactory
returns or which cause pollution deleterious to the health of future humans, can be criticised on the
sort of welfare basis (e.g. that of [3]) that blends with the modified position; and so on. The posi­
tion may even serve to restrict the sort of family size one is entitled to have since in a finite situa­
tion excessive population levels will interfere with future people. Nontheless neither the modified
dominant position nor its Western variants, obtained by combining it with the lesser traditions, is
adequate as an environmental ethic, as I shall try to show. A new ethic is wanted.

Citation

Richard Routley, “Box 15, Item 1720: Papers and notes on environmental theory, ethics, preference and economics,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed February 23, 2024, https://antipodean-antinuclearism.org/items/show/79.

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