Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics

Aowsphers Enoirunmcnf Vol. 13, pp. IbUY- IMR Perpnon Press Ltd. 1979.Printed in Great Britain. BOOK REVIEWS Environmenta E&ii, Vol. I, No. 1, Sprin...

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Aowsphers Enoirunmcnf Vol. 13, pp. IbUY- IMR Perpnon Press Ltd. 1979.Printed in Great Britain.



Environmenta E&ii, Vol. I, No. 1, Spring 1979, The John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies, Inc. and University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M. 97131. Subscription rates: Libraries and Institutions, S20.00; Individuals, $15.00, published quarterly. Our ealightened age frequently produces great and sweeping principles that are utterly nonsensical. One of these is the condemnation of prejudice. Although I have not yet quite attained the status of a living fossil, I am anachronistic in enough things to admit without fear to possessing a large number of prejudices. The evil of prejudice is not in its possession but in its ~~ppii~tion. Those who most denounce prejudice (and who are most prejudiced against people who have prejudices) are still not immune to the usually pleasant sensation associated with surprise. Yet surprise is the sensation we feel when something departs from our expectations - i.e., from our prejudices. The evil begins when we refuse to accept the possibility that anyone or anything can differ from our stereotypes. Some of my own prejudices are fairly deeply held -I have found little reason to suspend my prejudicial dislike for murderers - while others merely state the norms of experience - e.g., that atmospheric modellers are incapable of writing short papers. On that score, I am certainly looking forward to a pleasant surprise one of these days, but it does not appear to be on the immediate horizon. Still another prejudice, recently renewed, is that semanticists, whose field is supposed to be the communi~tion of meaning, write in such a way that their meaning is very hard to understand. Finally, coming near to the actual subject of this review, philosophers tend to be discursive, opaque, and humorless. A few weeks ago I noted an announcement of the initiation of a new journal, called Enuironmentul Ethics. Since this is a strong interest of mine, I wrote for the initial issue. For better or worse, the field is obviously dominated by philosophers, and in that light the first issue contained no surprises whatever. Those wishing a quick updating on the status of an environmental ethic will not get it here. This inaugural issue contains three major articles, three “discussion papers”, by which are meant di~ussions/rebuttais of papers published elsewhere, and two book reviews. I am insufficiently acquainted in the field to judge the authority of the work by the lineup of authors, but the issues tackled are substantive ones, and the articles display a degree of assurance, together with a fairly impressive number of appropriate citations of the classics, etc., to make one feel that the scholarly apparatus is here in good repair. What might be questioned, however, is the extent to which the tools being used are appropriate to the problems. To what extent, for example, is it necessary to go through lengthy manipulations in symbolic logic in order to discuss ethical questions? To ask the same question another way, to what extent are metamathematicai displays integral to the subjects being discussed, and to what extent are they a contemporary manifestation of academic snobbery? In point of fact, the authors contributing to this first issue are undertaking some needed exercises. however easy it may be to parody this approach. (Back in the late 1930’s,the great

radio commedian Fred Alien “interviewed” one Professor von Schmaltzendingel, who professed to have just completed building a new “atom-smasher”. At the conclusion, Fred asked what the possible use of this work might be. After a bit of thought, the Professor replied, “Veil, someday somebody might come in and vant half an atom!“) However, a better contrast would be between St. Paul and St. Thomas Aquinas. Paul, working from only the most general principles, answered only the specific ethical questions addressed to him. Thomas, on the other hand, essentially drew up a list of all conceivable actions, and applied the Greek principles of logic to deducing a coherent set of rules as to what was and was not ethical, together with a methodology for approaching any problems he had missed in the assembly of his original laundry list. Analogously, to the extent that any decisions made to date in environmental matters have involved ethicai considerations, they have been handled almost entirely on an ad hoc basis. Frankly, the results have not been inspiring, perhaps demonstrating that we lack the divine inspiration available to St. Paul. For example, probably more energy has been expended in defense of the harp seal, which is neither endangered nor demonstrably related to critical ecosystems, than of the cetaceans, which are clearly endangered. Elforts have been made to suppress the hunting of grazing species in areas of serious over-population, especially deer and elk, while there has been almost no outcry to preserve the predators that normally control their populations. It is difficult to sustain any public interest in the almost certain carbon dioxide problem, and it has proven extraordinarily simple to mount a crusade against the fluorocarbons, a quite unproven menace. But will this new publication actually lead to the framing of a coherent environmental ethic? I doubt it, any more than the publication of Atmospheric Environment has resulted unilaterally in the solution of ail scientific problems of environmental pollution. But this is a matter of distinction between what is necessary and what is sufficient. A better question would be whether, in the absence of the particular social forces that have led to the founding of this new journal, the problems of environmental ethics could ever be solved or even addressed. Atmospheric Environment has, after all, taken its present form over more than 20 years of publication under various names. It is certainly not unreasonable to give this new publication, breaking new ground, a few issues to hit its stride, establish its initial stable of authors, and find its particular place in the whole assortment of environmental publications. The bottom line (to coin a phrase), of course, is whether readers of Atmospheric Environment should immediately subscribe to Environmental Ethics. It is my feeling that at least the corporate subscribers should do so, and should detail someone to monitor the publication. The field itself is important, and the existence of a sizable body of readers, however passive, encourages further work in the field. After all, someday you might need an ethical decision, and it is certainly preferable that it be supported by rigorous logic as well as solid scientific fact.