Case-Based Environmental Ethics

1751 Words8 Pages
Case-Based Environmental Ethics

Cases have been widely used in medical ethics and law. In both fields, numerous books and articles about cases have appeared, including book-length catalogs of cases. I argue that pluralistic casuistry provides an adequate approach to environmental ethics. It retains the strengths while avoiding the weaknesses of the other approaches. Importantly, it resolves some broader theoretical issues and provides a clear, explicit methodology for education and praxis.

Cases have been widely used in medical ethics and law. In both fields, numerous books and articles about cases have appeared, including book-length catalogs of cases. What I propose to do in this paper is to discuss whether environmental ethics should be case-based as in law and medicine.

The relationship of cases to theory has received intense scholarly debate. At issue is which takes priority. A similar situation exists in the sciences, as well as in most other disciplines. There are the so-called "pure" or "research" scientists, and also the "applied" or "practical" scientist. Field biologists, conservation biologists, restoration ecologists, landscape engineers, sylvantologists, and so on, are applied scientists. Which takes priority: theory or application? What I want to discuss is whether environmental ethics, like medicine and law, would benefit from case-based methodology.

The long-term aim is to develop an approach to ethics that will help resolve contemporary issues regarding animals and the environment. In their classical formulations and as recently revised by animal and environmental ethicists, mainstream Kantian, utilitarian, and virtue theories have failed adequately to include either animals or the environment, or both. The result has been theoretical fragmentation and intractability, which in turn have contributed, at the practical level, to both public and private indecision, disagreement, and conflict. Immensely important are the practical issues; for instance, at the public level: the biologically unacceptable and perhaps cataclysmic current rate of species extinctions, the development or preservation of the few remaining wilderness areas, the global limitations on the sustainable distribution of the current standard of living in the developed nations, and the nonsustainability and abusiveness of today's technologically intense crop and animal farming. For individuals in their private lives, the choices include, for example: what foods to eat, what clothing to wear, modes of transportation, labor-intensive work and housing, controlling reproduction, and the distribution of basic and luxury goods. What is needed is an ethical approach that will peacefully resolve these and other quandaries, either by producing consensus or by explaining the rational and moral basis for the continuing disagreement.

More about Case-Based Environmental Ethics

Open Document