New Philosophy

Environmental Philosophy

What has been Arne Naess’ philosophical influence?

Naess’ (1912–) broadest influence has probably been from his overall sense that there are spiritual, if not religious, values in our proper connection with natural environments. People should respect and care for such environments as an elevated activity. Many contemporary environmentalists, theoretical and practical, share Naess’ intuition that human beings benefit from contact with nature and animals in deeply nourishing ways that cannot be duplicated by commercial forms of entertainment, or even human interaction. Acknowledgment of such benefits has led virtue ethicists such as Thomas E. Hill Jr. (1951–) to claim that how we treat non-human beings both reveals our own character and partly constitutes it.

In contemporary environmental debates, another way of stating the deep–shallow ecological distinction is via instrumental and intrinsic values. A being has intrinsic value if it is good in and of itself, whereas its value is instrumental if its good is what it is good for. This theoretical point is important ethically in thought going back to Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), which distinguishes between categorical or absolute imperatives and hypothetical or instrumental ones. But whereas Kant thought that the only thing with intrinsic value is the good will of a rational creature (a human being), some environmentalists have extended intrinsic value to all living beings.

A caricature of Peter Singer, who has been criticized for saying that healthy adult animals are more valuable than severely impaired human infants (BigStock Photos).

This is a web preview of the "The Handy Philosophy Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App