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The Moral Status of the Non-

Human World
Baxter and Taylor
The Environment and Moral Standing

 An even more controversial expansion of

the concept of moral standing attempts to
extend it to biological (a rare fungi) or non-
living features (a wild mountain stream) of
the natural world, or even to the
interconnected whole of nature.
 As always we want to ask both if such
things have moral standing, and if they do,
what are our obligations to them.
4 Perspectives on Moral Standing

 As we've now seen, the question of the

limits of the moral community (of where
DMS ends) has been answered in a
variety of (increasingly expansive) ways:
1. Anthropocentrism: All and only human beings have
2. Sentientism: Singer: all sentient creatures have DMS;
3. Biocentrism: All living things, because they are living,
have DMS;
4. Ecocentrism: because of their integral, functional
character, ecosystems have DMS.
Ethics and the Environment
 If something like an environmental
ethics is possible, either biocentrism or
ecocentrism has to be true.
 An Environmental Ethic must include
(ala Regan):
1. A commitment to the DMS of non-human
2. The assumption that consciousness is not
a necessary condition for DMS.
Baxter, "People or Penguins"
 Baxter begins by suggesting what he thinks
is an appropriate general framework for
addressing questions that have broad
social significance, like that of the moral
status of the environment:
○ Spheres of freedom: freedom from interference where
such freedom does not interfere with freedom of others.
○ Waste is a bad thing.
○ Humans should be viewed as ends, not means.
○ As part of respect owed to each human being, each
individual should be given the opportunity and incentive
to improve their situation.
DDT and Penguins
 The case of DDT gives Baxter on
opportunity to apply his framework.
 Baxter makes it clear that the negative
impact of DDT in Penguins (interrupting
reproduction and thus threatening
population) does not necessarily imply that
we should stop using DDT.
 Why? The only appropriate criteria are
oriented toward "people, not penguins"
 Baxter offers an example of an anthropocentric
approach to environmental ethics.
 For Baxter, this is the only tenable starting point:
○ Most people think and act like this.
○ Doesn't necessarily imply mass destruction of nature.
 Humans act as surrogates for non-human life.
○ Only starting point that provides workable solutions. Only
humans vote so only humans count in social decision making.
○ Contrary position theoretically untenable—how can animals
be ends and how can they express their preferences?
○ Nature has no normative dimension. Normativity restricted to
humans. Any normative implications make necessary
reference to human desire. What is clean air? What is
polluted air? These questions are only meaningful in a
particular human context.
What are we left with?
 A set of trade-offs, where we seek to
maximize in a rationally appropriate way,
the benefits produced by our expenditure
of resources.
 Pollution control is just one, not necessarily
the most important, expenditure.
 What we should be seeking is not pure air
or water, but optimally polluted air and
Taylor, "Ethics of Respect"
 Taylor defends a biocentric environmental
 Taylor argues for the view that all living
things have inherent value, and so are
deserving of equal moral respect.
 He grounds his view in the idea of
"Respect for Nature", which is an extension
of the Kantian principle of Respect for
Biocentrism, not Ecocentrism
 Taylor clarifies his position by distinguishing it from
an ecocentric view.
 The 'balance of nature' does not lead us to any
moral principles. Rather, the good or well-being of
all individual living things is of primary concern (so
it is not anthropocentric either).
 There may be duties which require us to protect
ecological systems (which thus have for Taylor
Indirect Moral Standing), but these are only
indirect duties to the individual living things that
inhabit the ecological system.
We Need a New Attitude.
 Taylor argues that a biocentric ethic
can be justified only when we take on a
new kind of moral attitude.
 This is the attitude that all living things,
and not only humans, have a good of
their own (that is, not relative to our
good) and that they have inherent
A Biocentric Outlook on Nature
 Underlying this attitude is a biocentric ecological
outlook, the key idea of which is the
interdependence of living things.
1. Humans are merely members of the biotic community.
2. All ecosystems are built up of a web of interconnected and
interdependent organisms.
3. Each individual living thing is "conceived of as a
teleological center of life" -- i.e., with its own goals, its own
"biological function."
4. Humans are not in any way superior to other living things.