Tag Archives: environmental ethics

The Indefensibility of Callicott's Subjectivist Environmental Ethic

Darren Domsky, York University

J. Baird Callicott has, over the past two decades, developed a bio-empathic environmental ethics grounded in the works of David Hume, Charles Darwin, and Aldo Leopold. Callicott’s moral metaphysic, inspired by Leopold’s Land Ethic, has its original basis in the Humean concept of moral sentiment, in which moral judgment is founded on internal sense or feeling, rather than reason. It is scientifically reinforced by Darwin, who claimed that altruistic moral sentiments were naturally selected for and made universal in human evolution, and subsequently expanded by Leopold to include as objects of those sentiments not just fellow humans but the entire biotic community.

Over the years, many interesting and perplexing problems have been raised with respect to this communitarian ethics. I show that although many of these criticisms can be shown to be harmless, some of them are much more serious. I argue that Callicott’s theory has three unavoidable flaws: that it is unacceptably immune to cognitive criticism because it is biologically determined; that it cannot successfully apply moral sentiments to the entire biotic community; and that it counterintuitively makes the existence of our ecosystem’s inherent value logically dependent on the contingent facts of our evolutionary history. Because of these flaws, I conclude that Callicott’s metaethical position is ultimately untenable.

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Democracy and Environmental Justice in Nigeria

Owens Wiwa (human rights activist)
April 22nd, 1997

Public lecture by human rights activist Owens Wiwa

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Do climate experts have special moral responsibilities?

Wendy Parker, Science Studies Program, University of California at San Diego
March 31st, 2006, 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Ellis 024

Climate change is often portrayed as an issue that hinges on difficult scientific and technical questions. Its ethical dimensions, by contrast, rarely take center stage. In this talk, I will first review some of the complex ethical questions related to climate change that philosophers have recently begun to discuss. My primary focus, however, will be on a set of related questions that have received very little attention. These questions concern the moral responsibilities of climate experts. Are climate experts morally required, in virtue of their special knowledge, to take part in debates over climate policy? When, if ever, are climate experts obligated to communicate the results of their research to the public? Might it actually be wrong for climate experts to adhere to traditional norms of scientific communication, such as those requiring full disclosure of caveats and uncertainties, when speaking in public settings? In addition to addressing questions like these, I will consider what other people, including scientists themselves, have said about the moral responsibilities of climate experts.


wendy_parkerWendy Parker received her Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. She spent the following academic year as a Congressional Science Fellow in the U.S. Senate, focusing on the issues of air pollution and climate change. Since then, she has held postdoctoral fellowships at Boston University and (currently) at the University of California, San Diego. She will join the faculty of the Philosophy Department at Ohio University this Fall.

Wendy’s research has primarily been concerned with the epistemology and methodology of computer simulation modeling. Her projects have addressed how computer simulations compare to traditional laboratory experiments, when computer simulation results should be trusted, and how computer simulation models help scientists to arrive at explanations of real-world phenomena. She is also interested in how science is used (and sometimes abused) in public policy debates. She has published papers on topics in philosophy of science, history of science, and atmospheric science.

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Varieties of Overconsumption

Elizabeth Willott, Arizona State University

May 10th, 2006, 8:00 to 9:30 pm
Bentley 140

elizabeth_willottAll of us know about overconsumption. We all do it in some form or another. But that suggests overconsumption is more than one problem. By analyzing the varieties of overconsumption and their causes, we (this work was done jointly with David Schmidtz) aim to make the concept clearer and so increase the likelihood that accurate diagnoses and solution, or at least alleviation, can occur.

Elizabeth Willott, on faculty at the University of Arizona, does interdisciplinary work in ecology and environmental ethics. She publishes in a range of professional journals and is editor of the anthology Environmental Ethics: What really matters, what really works (Oxford Univ Press, 2002; co-edited with David Schmidtz). She has twice been a Fulbright Senior Scholar in environmental science: to Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala (October 2004) and to Rhodes University in South Africa (Summer 2005). She is currently starting another book, on the interface of conservation biology and environmental ethics. She is currently teaching at Ohio University as a Glidden Visiting Professor.

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Lectures in Environmental Ethics Series #2: "Of Mosquitoes & Ethics"

Lectures in Environmental Ethics Series #2: “Of Mosquitoes & Ethics”
Elizabeth Willott, University of Arizona
November 1st, 2006, 8:00 to 9:30 pm
Bentley Hall 140

elizabeth_willottA lively look at little bugs that are not just annoying but can be one of our deadliest foes. Willott describes the problems that arise when we attempt to manage mosquitoes, then goes on to explore the interdisciplinary and ethical quandaries our efforts create.


Elizabeth Willott, on faculty at the University of Arizona, does interdisciplinary work in ecology and environmental ethics. She publishes in a range of professional journals and is editor of the anthology Environmental Ethics: What really matters, what really works (Oxford Univ Press, 2002; co-edited with David Schmidtz). She has twice been a Fulbright Senior Scholar in environmental science: to Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala (October 2004) and to Rhodes University in South Africa (Summer 2005). She is currently starting another book, on the interface of conservation biology and environmental ethics.

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