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Thread: Philosophy of environmental ethics

  1. #1 Philosophy of environmental ethics 
    Life-Size Nanoputian Flick Montana's Avatar
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    I have, for longer than I would like, been engaged in philosophic debates with someone who teaches on my campus. After losing my temper to his claim that Velikovsky "turned out to be right all along" and his mentioning of Michael Behe as someone who is unfairly discredited, I thought it would calm our conversations if I got a more informed view of something which I do not particularly understand; philosophy.

    Today's debate was over whether or not it behooves us to think of the world in a mindset more in keeping with ancient cultures. To preface our conversation, he is what I consider a mystic. He believes in energies and chi and spiritual balance and whatnot. I steer clear of those things and I am interested purely in defining a scientific ethical responsibility to human treatment of our planet (which he claims does not and cannot exist).

    His argument was that our understanding of the Earth as a living organism (which I claim it is not) has atrophied over centuries of a mechanistic view of our planet. He believes we separate intrinsic and extrinsic value inappropriately. His example was that we apply intrinsic value to both a machine which washes dishes and our mother washing our dishes. Both jobs get done, that is the intrinsic value. Yet, we wouldn't kick our mother or throw her out to get a new one if she suddenly stopped washing our dishes. That is the extrinsic value. If we applied our sentiment that we have for our mother to our planet, rather than viewing it as an "It", we would take better care of ... as he says, "Her".

    I am of the opinion that ancient cultures were not truly enlightened and simply had a misinformed idea of how our planet worked (if they even understood the notion of an enclosed planetary system at all). I believe they were ignorant of the systems in which they lived and their ideology was kept in check only by their technological limitations in regards to impacting the planet. They did not have a better understanding of their planet and they did not behave in a way which was more conducive to a harmonious existence with nature, they merely could not do the level of damage we can today because they lacked the numbers and the technology. In point, I believe they held their mindset out of ignorance, not out of a powerful understanding of the connection to their planet.

    All that in consideration, is it possible for someone to believe the planet is a mechanism populated by interconnected biological systems and still feel some kind of deeper responsibility toward its protection than simply preserving resources for human consumption? Does one have to personify the planet in order to establish some kind of connection beyond viewing the Earth as material to be used?


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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    ....
    All that in consideration, is it possible for someone to believe the planet is a mechanism populated by interconnected biological systems and still feel some kind of deeper responsibility toward its protection than simply preserving resources for human consumption?
    Yes, it is possible to have an emotional attachment and a feeling of deeper responsibility towards your home.

    Does one have to personify the planet in order to establish some kind of connection beyond viewing the Earth as material to be used?
    No need to personify it in spite of what the Gaians think.

    Link to explain the term Gaian.
    Gaianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    ....
    All that in consideration, is it possible for someone to believe the planet is a mechanism populated by interconnected biological systems and still feel some kind of deeper responsibility toward its protection than simply preserving resources for human consumption?
    Yes, it is possible to have an emotional attachment and a feeling of deeper responsibility towards your home.

    Does one have to personify the planet in order to establish some kind of connection beyond viewing the Earth as material to be used?
    No need to personify it in spite of what the Gaians think.

    Link to explain the term Gaian.
    Gaianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Thanks for your response. He used the term "gaians" and I had to look it up as I was unfamiliar with the word.

    I am under the impression that most people here are scientific minded and would likely be as offended as I was when it is suggested that people with my mindset are incapable of understanding this deeper connection to the environment. I want to continue these "debates" we have, but I don't have a slew of Kant and Roszak quotes to pull out of my nether regions. I find it very hard to carry on a discussion with someone who redefines "life" to include an entire planet (geological processes and all) and thinks he can win a discussion simply by using terms someone else coined that I don't know. I think I need more practice in this whole philosophy thing.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    His argument was that our understanding of the Earth as a living organism (which I claim it is not) has atrophied over centuries of a mechanistic view of our planet. He believes we separate intrinsic and extrinsic value inappropriately. His example was that we apply intrinsic value to both a machine which washes dishes and our mother washing our dishes. Both jobs get done, that is the intrinsic value. Yet, we wouldn't kick our mother or throw her out to get a new one if she suddenly stopped washing our dishes. That is the extrinsic value. If we applied our sentiment that we have for our mother to our planet, rather than viewing it as an "It", we would take better care of ... as he says, "Her".
    His analogy was not that good, because we can buy a new dishwasher, but we don't have another earth to go to, so the utilitarian view still works if properly applied.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    His argument was that our understanding of the Earth as a living organism (which I claim it is not) has atrophied over centuries of a mechanistic view of our planet. He believes we separate intrinsic and extrinsic value inappropriately. His example was that we apply intrinsic value to both a machine which washes dishes and our mother washing our dishes. Both jobs get done, that is the intrinsic value. Yet, we wouldn't kick our mother or throw her out to get a new one if she suddenly stopped washing our dishes. That is the extrinsic value. If we applied our sentiment that we have for our mother to our planet, rather than viewing it as an "It", we would take better care of ... as he says, "Her".
    His analogy was not that good, because we can buy a new dishwasher, but we don't have another earth to go to, so the utilitarian view still works if properly applied.
    That's a good point. We only have one mother. Perhaps the rarity of something gives it some kind of value. With his mother v. dishwasher argument, we have a mother who likely provided us with a lifetime of value in other ways while the dishwasher is probably newer and served only that single purpose.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post

    That's a good point. We only have one mother. Perhaps the rarity of something gives it some kind of value. With his mother v. dishwasher argument, we have a mother who likely provided us with a lifetime of value in other ways while the dishwasher is probably newer and served only that single purpose.
    Well, also you are able to recognize that your mother has an identity, a purpose, and goals that are her own, and separate from her role of washing your dishes. And we too, also realize that the planet and other biological systems doesn't exist solely for our own benefit. I think it is difficult to be a good steward without recognizing this. I agree with you that ancient cultures werent necessarily more environmentally aware - they moved to a new location when the garbage started piling too high. The earth and its resources seemed infinite to them. Personally, I don't think we can improve our situation by going backwards. We don't need less technology, we need better technology.
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    I agree with you that ancient cultures werent necessarily more environmentally aware - they moved to a new location when the garbage started piling too high.
    I disagree because most cultures stayed put where they were while only a few became nomadic. Look at the Native American, they lived , for the most part, where they were for thousands of years never moving due to garbage build up but instead for more food. Most tribes have been where they were found, like the Navajo, for thousands of years and there was little garbage to be found anywhere. that's because they learned how to use everything without throwing much away and what was thrown away decomposed rather quickly.
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    I understand that there are very few places on the planet that have not undergone major changes in climate and ecology because of mans impact. And I speak not of the last hundred years, but of the time running from the last ice age till, say, two thousand years ago. That would make a mockery of Flick's friends arguments.

    I am taking a five minute break from work so cannot locate citations to support this - I am confident they are there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Thanks for your response. He used the term "gaians" and I had to look it up as I was unfamiliar with the word.
    The Gaian hypothesis is fairly easy to understand but not testable. It includes the idea the planet in toto is a superorganism and that we exist as only a part of it, kind of like white blood cells in a human body, and are just as unaware of the superorganism's purposes as the white blood cells are to the purposes of the human body they live in.

    You can arrive at the same basic position except for the personification if you regard the world as a complex system that can behave chaotically.
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    There is no idea so ridiculous that some philosopher at some time has not held it. -Marcus Tullius Cicero-

    I hadn't realized it before, but this guy is like, huge like Plato and stuff; Cicero - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Well, also you are able to recognize that your mother has an identity, a purpose, and goals that are her own, and separate from her role of washing your dishes. And we too, also realize that the planet and other biological systems doesn't exist solely for our own benefit. I think it is difficult to be a good steward without recognizing this.
    This is the nail on the head in regards to the argument they were offering. Their suggestion was to either start to or relearn how to see the planet as a goal oriented life form in order to treat it like our mother rather than the dishwasher. I think that is basically lying to ourselves and I don't see the benfit.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I understand that there are very few places on the planet that have not undergone major changes in climate and ecology because of mans impact. And I speak not of the last hundred years, but of the time running from the last ice age till, say, two thousand years ago.
    Megafaunal extinctions followed human movement. Perhaps prehistoric hunter gatherers held a more personified ideology of the planet, but they underestimated the mechanics of how it worked.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Well, also you are able to recognize that your mother has an identity, a purpose, and goals that are her own, and separate from her role of washing your dishes. And we too, also realize that the planet and other biological systems doesn't exist solely for our own benefit. I think it is difficult to be a good steward without recognizing this.
    This is the nail on the head in regards to the argument they were offering. Their suggestion was to either start to or relearn how to see the planet as a goal oriented life form in order to treat it like our mother rather than the dishwasher. I think that is basically lying to ourselves and I don't see the benfit.
    Well, I wouldn't go so far as to personify the planet or view it as a conscious entity, but valuing something, admiring it, and caring what happens aside from how you are able to exploit it for your own survival, doesnt seem like a bad thing. I admit, I don't really know how to support this view logically, however. I don't know why I like praying mantises and waterfalls and baby foxes and polar bears and lightening bugs etc. I just do. The world is a more interesting place with these things in it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Well, also you are able to recognize that your mother has an identity, a purpose, and goals that are her own, and separate from her role of washing your dishes. And we too, also realize that the planet and other biological systems doesn't exist solely for our own benefit. I think it is difficult to be a good steward without recognizing this.
    This is the nail on the head in regards to the argument they were offering. Their suggestion was to either start to or relearn how to see the planet as a goal oriented life form in order to treat it like our mother rather than the dishwasher. I think that is basically lying to ourselves and I don't see the benfit.
    Well, I wouldn't go so far as to personify the planet or view it as a conscious entity, but valuing something, admiring it, and caring what happens aside from how you are able to exploit it for your own survival, doesnt seem like a bad thing. I admit, I don't really know how to support this view logically, however. I don't know why I like praying mantises and waterfalls and baby foxes and polar bears and lightening bugs etc. I just do. The world is a more interesting place with these things in it.
    You're in the same boat as me, then. Does a respect for life imply a personified view of nature as a requirement? I say no. I don't view the world itself as life form, but I apply a value to environmental health that goes beyond the preservation of resources. There must be some explanation in between.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Flick Montana View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Well, also you are able to recognize that your mother has an identity, a purpose, and goals that are her own, and separate from her role of washing your dishes. And we too, also realize that the planet and other biological systems doesn't exist solely for our own benefit. I think it is difficult to be a good steward without recognizing this.
    This is the nail on the head in regards to the argument they were offering. Their suggestion was to either start to or relearn how to see the planet as a goal oriented life form in order to treat it like our mother rather than the dishwasher. I think that is basically lying to ourselves and I don't see the benfit.
    Well, I wouldn't go so far as to personify the planet or view it as a conscious entity, but valuing something, admiring it, and caring what happens aside from how you are able to exploit it for your own survival, doesnt seem like a bad thing. I admit, I don't really know how to support this view logically, however. I don't know why I like praying mantises and waterfalls and baby foxes and polar bears and lightening bugs etc. I just do. The world is a more interesting place with these things in it.
    You're in the same boat as me, then. Does a respect for life imply a personified view of nature as a requirement? I say no. I don't view the world itself as life form, but I apply a value to environmental health that goes beyond the preservation of resources. There must be some explanation in between.
    I often wonder why I care what happens after I'm dead. I won't be there to even find out, and yet I do. Maybe biologically it stems from care for offspring, but humans are able as well to extend that concern to other human beings, even animals and inanimate objects. When I think of the sun engulfing the planet and everything being destroyed, it does depress me somewhat, even though I'll be dead and everyone I know, too. Even thinking of great works of art disappearing is kind of sad. So my guess is your friend personifies the planet because otherwise he has trouble making logical sense of why he should care about the fate of an inanimate thing that cannot suffer, long after he has ceased to exist.
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    I might add, though, that I have heard people make the argument that consciousness depends on information and complexity, and there is no reason to assume that our brains are the only arrangement of atoms that are capable of it. I'm not sure how I feel about that view.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    I often wonder why I care what happens after I'm dead. I won't be there to even find out, and yet I do. Maybe biologically it stems from care for offspring, but humans are able as well to extend that concern to other human beings, even animals and inanimate objects. When I think of the sun engulfing the planet and everything being destroyed, it does depress me somewhat, even though I'll be dead and everyone I know, too. Even thinking of great works of art disappearing is kind of sad. So my guess is your friend personifies the planet because otherwise he has trouble making logical sense of why he should care about the fate of an inanimate thing that cannot suffer, long after he has ceased to exist.
    What I have proposed to him, which he rejects outright, is that his search for purpose and meaning is itself a meaningless search. He believes there is some goal-oriented process to life while I maintain it is an event of cause and effect. Fundamentally, we don't see eye to eye. I think there is some kind of biological imperative to humans developing the sense stewardship of the planet. The motive to preserve our environment stems from an instinct for self-preservation. We both agree that many people are losing that instinct and that is a detrimental thing, but we disagree on how to reacquire it.

    He thinks we need to imagine the world as a living being, while I argue that is a fallacy and we can address the issue with a deeper understanding of the connections between the different systems in place on Earth and why we need to better maintain them. He says that my approach leads to seeing the world as resources and only maintaining it insofar as it better serves humanity, but I don't think one can act to TRULY better serve humanity without acting in the best interests of the planet. We are all interconnected, not by some spiritual energy that flows through all things, but by a very real series of interconnected mechanisms.

    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    I might add, though, that I have heard people make the argument that consciousness depends on information and complexity, and there is no reason to assume that our brains are the only arrangement of atoms that are capable of it. I'm not sure how I feel about that view.
    That's true. We have to allow for the possibility that ALL things, even those of wildly different biological or chemical makeups than our own, have some kind of consciousness. However, I fail to see why attributing that consciousness to them without evidence is a valid approach to our way of thinking. That's taking open-mindedness to an unreasonable point, to me. We have to set limits on these things or we lose our definition and categorization of them. Since we rely on organization such as that to study our universe, I think it would be detrimental to redefine or abandon those principles in order to take some spiritual view of the planet.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Flick, humans work in metaphors. Some metaphors are more real to one person than to another. Indeed he sees the Earth as an entity as a metaphor. You see it as a simile. It may not be worth fighting over unless you are both trying to get PhDs in English language.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Flick, humans work in metaphors. Some metaphors are more real to one person than to another. Indeed he sees the Earth as an entity as a metaphor. You see it as a simile. It may not be worth fighting over unless you are both trying to get PhDs in English language.
    I completely agree. I don't think the two viewpoints should be in conflict because we both want the same thing; humans living in a healthy environment. Our issues arise because I believe he spreads misinformation in an attempt to discredit a scientific approach because he thinks it is a harmful ideology. It disrupts his view that the Earth is alive when science breaks down its entirety into interconnected mechanisms. He argues that one can apply that view to a person (for instance, going to the doctor and getting a medical diagnosis for an illness you would want your doctor to scientifically analyze the systems that make up your body), but one should also see something greater than the components of that system. Something which science cannot explain. This is where he inserts spirituality and energies, etc. I think THAT mentality is detrimental to scientifically addressing the woes of a progressing human species (depression, environmental impact, food and water supply, etc).

    If it can be demonstrated to me that viewing the Earth as a life form somehow allows for a better harmony between humans and the rest of the planet, I might concede my argument. Otherwise, I find it unnecessary and a step backwards in terms of human thought.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    I understand and largely share your strong reservations about his attack on the work of science and the introduction of fuzzy hippy thinking. However,
    If it can be demonstrated to me that viewing the Earth as a life form somehow allows for a better harmony between humans and the rest of the planet, I might concede my argument

    If it takes the viewpoint to bring people like your friend on board, is that not a price worth paying. You then show him that it may be worthwhile that he ignore some of the findings of evil science in order to obtain the same end, because that view will bring on board people like you.

    Win-win by turning a bit of a blind eye to what each party sees as a failing in the other's argument. (It's the traditional way of responding to the question "does my bum look big in this"1.)


    1. My standard response is generally ill advised: "Your bum would look big in anything."
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    If it takes the viewpoint to bring people like your friend on board, is that not a price worth paying.
    That's a good question. I would perhaps say "yes", to a point. I do sometimes feel that people like him cause more harm to the movement of environmental responsibility than they do good. Not all environmentalists believe we need to sacrifice lifestyles and jobs and progress to protect the environment, yet people like him are a part of the reason we are so often generalized in that way. It might be a failing of mine to view his mindset as detrimental, though. I am aware of that.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    You then show him that it may be worthwhile that he ignore some of the findings of evil science in order to obtain the same end, because that view will bring on board people like you.
    That is a goal. I want to illicit compromise. Of course, I know that means being open to it myself, which is actually much more difficult than fighting to convince someone else of the error of their ways.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Win-win by turning a bit of a blind eye to what each party sees as a failing in the other's argument. (It's the traditional way of responding to the question "does my bum look big in this"1.)


    1. My standard response is generally ill advised: "Your bum would look big in anything."
    I've always been very bad at letting bygones be bygones. While I don't need everyone to believe what I believe in order to get along (thanks to being married to a highly religious family), I do require that people do not spread misinformation or use fallacies to degrade my stance.

    EDIT: I have a great deal of respect for someone who is willing and able to say, "I don't know".
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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