Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online (REP Online): Environmental ethics

Theories of ethics try to answer the question, ‘How ought we to live?’. An environmental ethic refers to our natural surroundings in giving the answer. It may claim that all natural things and systems are of value in their own right and worthy of moral respect. A weaker position is the biocentric one, arguing that living things merit moral consideration. An ethic which restricts the possession of moral value to human persons can still be environmental. Such a view may depict the existence of certain natural values as necessary for the flourishing of present and future generations of human beings. Moral respect for animals has been discussed since the time of the pre-Socratic philosophers, while the significance to our wellbeing of the natural environment has been pondered since the time of Kant and Rousseau. The relation of the natural to the built environment, and the importance of place, is a central feature of the philosophy of Heidegger. Under the impact of increasing species loss and land clearance, the work on environmental ethics since the 1970s has focused largely on one specific aspect of the environment – nature in the wild.

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