Applying Traditional Ethical Positions to Environmental Problems and Policy

In section 2, entitled Influential Ethical Ideas and Theories, VanDeVeer makes the distinction between two egoisms. The first is Psychological Egoism, which states that “every human act is motivated by a desire to promote one’s self-interest” (VanDeVeer 16). The second type is Ethical egoism, which states that, “each person ought to act in such a manner as to promote (or maximize) her of his self-interest” (16). It is believed that all acts not under psychological egoism are altruistic acts, otherwise known as acts made for the well being of others. However, VanDeVeer does not believe that this is true. We act in such a way to promote our ethical self-interest and reinforce what we believe is the right thing to do. If we perform and act that does not directly benefit us that does not mean it was performed under ethical egoism because the person performing the act received some sort of gratification and reinforcement of their level of morality.  VanDeVeer discusses major types of ethical theories to understand why and how people decide to make certain decisions. The first of Social Darwinism, which states that “we do not have the view that one ought to maximize one’s own self-interest but something close to it, certainly an endorsement of the view that it is fitting to be indifferent to the interests of other humans beings—and presumably the rest of the biosphere as well—except, of course, in so far as being indifferent does not adversely affect one’s own well-being” (17). ImageThis concept of survival of the fittest is not a realistic approach to ethics. It allows the fact that we can simply kill off or owe no duty to those who are weaker than us. It does not represent a logical correlation between nature and us. The second concept of ethical reasoning relates to religion. Many base their ethical behavior on what they believe God instructs and that God’s reasoning sets the basis for all our moral decisions. However, using religion as a basis for moral decision-making is unreasonable. Not everyone believes in some sort of God and there are too many religions to decide which are more just than others. There cannot be unanimity of moral decision making if we are going to base the reasoning off of some divine power. The third concept of ethical reasoning is based on Jeremy Bentham’s theory of Utilitarianism. Bentham stated that we should base our decision-making on doing what will bring the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. VanDeVeer points out a flaw in utilitarianism by stating “a utilitarian might insist that motives may be related to judgments of moral character but that they play no direct role in the assessment of actions. This is simply not true, whether we believe it or not, our personal moral conscious will play a role in our decision making. The fourth concept of ethical reasoning is the economic theory. The economic theory believes that the end goal of decisions should be to increase the overall wealth of individuals. The economic theory heavily follows a planetary management worldview. As VanDeVeer states “in cost-benefit analysis, “cost” and “benefit” refer, ultimately, in studies by standard economists, to what harms or helps humans alone” (28). The fifth and final concept of ethical reasoning is Kant’s Categorical Imperative which states to “act only on those maxims of one’s actions that one can, as a rational being, will to be (or endorse as) a universal law, that is, obeyed by all moral agents” (33). Kant’s theory is not necessarily realistic because ethics does not follow a universal law. What might seem right to one person may not seem as right to the next. Not all laws are designed in the best interest of all parties involved, and therefore, if one was to follow such a law one party would be worse off than the other. When relating ethical reasoning to environmental issues, there is not one ethical theory to satisfy all areas. People are going to interpret environmental ethics in many various ways. True environmental ethics will only be achieved if the majority worldview is earth wisdom and if there is some universal set of environmental laws. 

Question: What form of ethical reasoning is the most detrimental to the growth of environmental ethics? 


About dripley91

Senior at Fordham University. Environmental Policy Major and Sustainable Business Minor
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One Response to Applying Traditional Ethical Positions to Environmental Problems and Policy

  1. Pingback: Angry Bear » More Thinking on Ethics : How about Ethics and Economics

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