Biocentric Environmental Ethics

             Biocentric Environmental Ethics argues whether sentience is the correct standard for determining who or what has moral value, specifically in regards to trees, flowers, etc. The earliest forms of conservation and preservation were typically reinforced for anthropocentric reasoning. Early conservationists strived to preserve nature for the sake of human purposes, and preservationists wanted to preserve the wilderness for aesthetic and spiritual reasons. When plaintiffs began protecting the environment they were Imagefaced with the issue of standing to sue. The plaintiff is not the object and cannot personally be harmed, and thus it was substantially more difficult to reinforce rights for nature. Yet, deep ecologists argue that simply being alive should be enough for moral standing. In Paul W. Taylor’s essay, The Ethics of Respect for Nature, he claims that we protect the environment because our well being depends upon its well being. Instead, we should preserve nature because it is an end in itself. Nature, however, is unaware of the damage we do to it. For example, trees are not aware of itself being cut down or of its neighboring trees being cut down by the thousands. But the good of trees is still affected; this is not determined by sentience. The second concept of respect of nature is inherent worth. If something is member of earth’s community, the realization of its good is something intrinsically valuable. Taylor believes that our commitment to nature shapes us “to adopt the attitude of respect for nature, an attitude we believe all moral agents ought to have simply as moral agents, regardless of whether or not they also love nature” (204). He further believes in basic elements that make up our ethics of respect for nature. Our biocentric outlook on life allows us to see ourselves as part of the community, thus meaning that we are connected to everything and everything is connected to us. Taylor states that it is rational and intelligible for us to recognize our position in the organic system. Everything has a purpose and an individual meaning. We must not take for granted the existence of a single entity of nature. Every organism has a purpose, an instinct to thrive, continue to grow, undergo changes, and produce offspring. Humans, nonhumans, and plants all hold these instincts. The final element is denial of human superiority. Taylor does not understand why humans believe that their capabilities are superior to those of other organisms. We cannot make such rash judgments. Religion, as Taylor believes, set humans on a pedestal, by proclaiming that we have a soul, we are rational, and that we are placed higher on the food chain. But he looks upon this justification as arbitrary and irrational. We must see ourselves as part of the natural world, not a separate entity. In Taylor’s article, Competing Claims and Priority Principles, he discusses further the clash between human and nonhuman interests. He does not understand why we cannot coexist with animals and plants on our planet. Taylor describes priority principles to further understand the conflicts of human and nonhuman interests. First, he explains that humans have a right to protect ourselves against things that will harm us, otherwise known as the principle of self-defense. But humans exploit their power in regards to basic and nonbasic interests. Humans alter, damage, and exploit the natural environment to fit their needs, even if these needs are not essential to human survival. In the principal of minimum wrong, humans are unwilling to forego their nonbasic interests because of their lack of respect for nature. But in order to reverse or give back to nature, the principle of distributive justice seeks to fulfill interests of both nature and humans. Lastly, the principle of restitutive justice is to provide compensation back to the environment. Taylor essentially believes that humans must see themselves as having the same interests as plants and therefore act accordingly and respect the life all living things regardless of humanlike capabilities.

Question: Will our society ever reach a point where it is illegal to kill a plant? Is it actually possible to form such policies?

About dripley91

Senior at Fordham University. Environmental Policy Major and Sustainable Business Minor
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