The March Philosophy Book of the Month is Final Notice by Van Fleisher. Discuss Final Notice now.

The April Philosophy Book of the Month is The Unbound Soul by Richard L. Haight. Discuss The Unbound Soul Now

The May Philosophy Book of the Month is Misreading Judas by Robert Wahler.

On the "rights" of Nature

Discuss morality and ethics in this message board.
Featured Article: Philosophical Analysis of Abortion, The Right to Life, and Murder
Post Reply
User avatar
Consul
Posts: 2388
Joined: February 21st, 2014, 6:32 am
Location: Germany

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Consul » April 23rd, 2019, 7:49 pm

Consul wrote:
April 23rd, 2019, 7:36 pm
"With this, we can begin to reach some general normative prescriptions. Given the complexity of this “highly organized structure,” only a “fool would discard seemingly useless parts.” Preservation of life-forms in all their diversity is the first general rule that we ought to follow, because not even ecologists understand how this complex system operates.…" (p. 182)

(Desjardins, Joseph R. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2013.)
I doubt that Leopold expected the medical scientists to stop trying to eradicate deadly bacteria or viruses.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

Karpel Tunnel
Posts: 899
Joined: February 16th, 2018, 11:28 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Karpel Tunnel » April 24th, 2019, 1:22 am

GE Morton wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 6:35 pm
Consul wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 1:35 pm

There aren't only rights to get something, rights (not) to have (own) something, and rights (not) to do something, but also rights (not) to be something (e.g. the right to life and the right to health).
I'm not quite sure what you're claiming there, with "rights (not) to be something." I would agree that you have a right not to be forced by other moral agents to be something you don't wish to be (that would violate various of your liberty rights). But does this "right" you're claiming imply a duty upon others to provide you the means to become what you wish to be?

There is a right to life, of course, and a right to whatever state of health you've managed to maintain without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else. As with all other rights, those rights impose a constraint upon others not to take those things from you. And as with all other rights, they don't impose any duty upon anyone else to provide you with them.

Classically, a "right" imposes constraints upon others, but no duties. It constrains them from taking what is yours by right, or preventing you from taking an action you have a right to take. It does not oblige them to provide you with anything or assist or enable you to do anything.
And these rights are just as hallucinated as the rights of other life forms are hallucinated by rights of nature advocates. It is extending the hallucination to other life forms.

GE Morton
Posts: 1085
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 24th, 2019, 11:45 am

Karpel Tunnel wrote:
April 24th, 2019, 1:22 am

And these rights are just as hallucinated as the rights of other life forms are hallucinated by rights of nature advocates. It is extending the hallucination to other life forms.
I assume that by "hallucinated" you mean that rights are imaginary, or "unreal" in some sense. That parallels Jeremy Bentham's remark that natural rights are "nonsense on stilts."

It is amazing that a concept so central to Western liberalism can be so badly and widely misunderstood. There is nothing mysterious, arcane, contrived, or even remotely problematic about that concept. Rights are imputed properties --- as distinguished from natural properties --- attributed to persons of whom certain historical facts are true. We've invented many such properties and apply them routinely in common speech. E.g., we say that a man is "married" if he has performed whatever rituals define that property in a given culture. We say that he is a "doctor" if he has successfully completed medical school and been awarded that degree. Etc. Those "pseudo-properties" are merely a shorthand way of referring to those historical facts.

Rights are of the same class. To say that someone has a right (in classical usage) to something is simply to say that he acquired that thing righteously, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else. Which is a an historical fact, easily verified in most cases.

Whether someone has a right to something is not, in most cases, at all problematic. Nor is it a moral question. It is a straightforward factual one. Whether we ought to respect that right is the moral question. To say that someone has a right to something is a factual claim with moral implications.

Of course, ideologues hoping to appropriate the favorable connotations of the term "rights," have tried to re-define it to dispense with the factual basis for imputing that pseudo-property, so that they can apply it arbitrarily to whomever and whatever will advance their various causes. No doubt the proliferation of these "fiat rights" have contributed to your confusion over the term's meaning.

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2949
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Felix » April 24th, 2019, 6:15 pm

G.E. Morton: "Whether someone has a right to something is not, in most cases, at all problematic. Nor is it a moral question. It is a straightforward factual one."

This is not true of the subject you raised in your initial post, i.e., natural resources. Whether people have the right to own and do what they like with land and resources is indeed an ethical question.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

GE Morton
Posts: 1085
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 24th, 2019, 7:12 pm

Felix wrote:
April 24th, 2019, 6:15 pm
Whether people have the right to own and do what they like with land and resources is indeed an ethical question.
No one has a "right to do whatever they like" with land or anything else. Their rights to do what they like are always limited by others' rights. I have a right to my car, but that doesn't include a right to park it in your driveway. I have a right to my land, but no right to build a slaughterhouse on it next door to your house.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, "My right to swing my fist ends where the other fellow's nose begins."

GE Morton
Posts: 1085
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 24th, 2019, 10:02 pm

Felix wrote:
April 23rd, 2019, 6:36 pm
(quoting Aldo Leopold) "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

G.E. Morton: Well, that thesis (as suggested in the OP) leads to endless absurdities.
Only if you don't apply common sense to it. I presume he is talking about the broader planetary biosphere.
Perhaps. In that case the thesis is hopelessly vague, and what actions are permissible is indeterminable.
Actually the reverse is true: no biotic community is unstable because biological order (homeostasis) is required for communities to form and evolve.
"Homeostasis" applies to organisms, which have specific mechanisms for maintaining certain variables within an optimum range. It doesn't apply, except metaphorically, to ecosystems, which are complex adaptive systems and constantly changing. Homeostatic systems resist change; CAS's adapt to them.
G.E. Morton: Ethics (moral rightness and wrongness) applies only to the acts of moral agents that affect other moral agents.
I think that such a radically anthropocentric conception of ethics is a symptom of pathology - whatever the corrolary for sociopath is... speciopath?
I agree that ethics has historically covered a lot more ground than my statement above asserts, covering virtually all human behavior. It is largely for that reason that nothing approaching a consensus has ever been achieved in that field. If the subject is to be rationally analyzable the subject matter has to be clearly defined and have some obvious unity.

Also bear in mind that my statement does not preclude concern for the environment --- but we should care for it, not because it has "rights," but because it is in our interest to do so. Similarly, certain actions we take affecting the environment may well be immoral, not because it has moral standing in its own right, but because those impacts will affect humans (and some animals, who are "moral patients") adversely.

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2949
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Felix » April 25th, 2019, 4:16 pm

GE Morton: "I have a right to my land, but no right to build a slaughterhouse on it next door to your house."

Only if you don't happen to live in one of the few countries on earth where "might makes right." The point is, "the right to my land," is not a natural right, and its validity is questionable. In the case of individuals, it generally does not pose a problem, however, it's a different story when individuals band together to form corporations or organizations that wield economic and/or political power. Then it can become a case of the foxes not just guarding the hen house properties but actually owning them.

The natural land rights movement is an attempt to counter the environmental destruction that can result from such political corruption. You may say it is a poorly conceived and clumsy approach to the issue, and I can agree, but it is well intentioned.

"ecosystems, which are complex adaptive systems and constantly changing. Homeostatic systems resist change; CAS's adapt to them."

However complex a system, there are limits to its adaptability. As you're probably aware, some scientists have proposed that the Earth itself is a meta-organism, e.g., the Gaia hypothesis. At any rate, the current rate of species extinctions rivals any seen in the historical record.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

GE Morton
Posts: 1085
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 26th, 2019, 8:32 pm

Felix wrote:
April 25th, 2019, 4:16 pm

The point is, "the right to my land," is not a natural right, and its validity is questionable.
Correct; it is not a natural right. It is a "common right" (as are most property rights). The validity of any common rights claim can be questioned, because whether it is valid depends on certain facts, and the facts are not always clear (hence "quiet title" lawsuits).
In the case of individuals, it generally does not pose problem, however, it's a different story when individuals band together to form corporations or organizations that wield economic and/or political power. Then it can become a case of the foxes not just guarding the hen house properties but actually owning them.
Well, corporations are (or can be) owners of property, not mere guardians employed by the owner. As such they have all the prerogatives of ownership held by any other property owner.
However complex a system, there are limits to its adaptability. As you're probably aware, some scientists have proposed that the Earth itself is a meta-organism, e.g., the Gaia hypothesis. At any rate, the current rate of species extinctions rivals any seen in the historical record.
Those scientists are indulging in idolatry and superstition, not science. The Earth is not an organism per any scientific definition.

https://biologydictionary.net/organism/

You have to be skeptical of recent claims of extinction rates. They are based on models, which rely on numerous unverifiable, and even outlandish, assumptions. In fact, only about 800 species are known to have become extinct since AD 1500, out of approx. 1.9 million species known and characterized.

https://e360.yale.edu/features/global_e ... _so_wildly

See also:

https://reason.com/2019/04/26/leaked-u- ... xtinction/

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2949
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Felix » April 29th, 2019, 5:07 am

"In fact, only about 800 species are known to have become extinct since AD 1500, out of approx. 1.9 million species known and characterized."

That statement is just plain dumb since knowledge of biodiversity and speciation was very poor prior to the mid 18h century and there are more than 2 million known invertebrate and insect species alone. Habitats are being destroyed at a rapid pace and there is nothing controversial about the idea that species quickly decline and eventually vanish as their habitat does, we are seeing it happen.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

GE Morton
Posts: 1085
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 29th, 2019, 10:35 am

Felix wrote:
April 29th, 2019, 5:07 am

That statement is just plain dumb since knowledge of biodiversity and speciation was very poor prior to the mid 18h century and there are more than 2 million known invertebrate and insect species alone.
As the cited article points out, those estimates vary wildly. Currently the estimate that seems to be most favored is the Mora estimate, which proposes that there are 8.7 million eukaryote species on the planet (+/- 1.3 million). Of those, only 1.3 million have been entered in central databases, and another 700,000 or so have been described but not entered into the databases. So there are not 2 million known insects. (As of 2011).

https://www.nature.com/news/2011/110823 ... 1.498.html

Pre-18th century knowledge of biodiversity is irrelevant with respect to knowledge of extinctions. A plant or animal described historically which does not exist today can be counted as extinct. And only about 800 species known to exist or to have existed since 1500 are now known to be extinct.

User avatar
Felix
Posts: 2949
Joined: February 9th, 2009, 5:45 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Felix » April 29th, 2019, 4:44 pm

"So there are not 2 million known insects."

I said invertebrate and insect species, but at any rate, it is higher order species such as vertebrates that go first.

"Pre-18th century knowledge of biodiversity is irrelevant with respect to knowledge of extinctions."

A ridiculous statement.... The greater the knowledge of a species and it's defining features, the greater the ability to recognize and record it. A statistic is only as accurate as the data it is based on. And a species has to be officially declared "extinct," which scientists are very reluctant to do.

Here's a graph of several dozen species that have not been seen for decades but have not been counted as extinct: https://bit.ly/2ULNtk1

It's from this article: https://bit.ly/2vtPVle

Furthermore, environmental disruption has to hit a critical point for there to be mass extinctions of species, which we are quickly approaching.

"Rate of change is a key variable in nature's ability to adapt. The current rate of change in CO2 levels has no known precedent. Oceans don't respond instantly to a CO2 build-up, so the full effects of acidification take decades to centuries to develop. This means we will have irretrievably committed the Earth to the acidification process long before its effects become anywhere near as obvious as those of mass bleaching today. If we continue business-as-usual CO2 emissions, ocean pH will eventually drop to a point at which a host of other chemical changes such as anoxia (an absence of oxygen) are expected. If this happens, the state of the oceans at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago will become a reality and the Earth will enter the sixth mass extinction." - John Veron, acclaimed marine biologist.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Karpel Tunnel
Posts: 899
Joined: February 16th, 2018, 11:28 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Karpel Tunnel » April 30th, 2019, 2:18 am

GE Morton wrote:
April 24th, 2019, 11:45 am
Karpel Tunnel wrote:
April 24th, 2019, 1:22 am

And these rights are just as hallucinated as the rights of other life forms are hallucinated by rights of nature advocates. It is extending the hallucination to other life forms.
I assume that by "hallucinated" you mean that rights are imaginary, or "unreal" in some sense. That parallels Jeremy Bentham's remark that natural rights are "nonsense on stilts."

It is amazing that a concept so central to Western liberalism can be so badly and widely misunderstood. There is nothing mysterious, arcane, contrived, or even remotely problematic about that concept. Rights are imputed properties --- as distinguished from natural properties --- attributed to persons of whom certain historical facts are true. We've invented many such properties and apply them routinely in common speech. E.g., we say that a man is "married" if he has performed whatever rituals define that property in a given culture. We say that he is a "doctor" if he has successfully completed medical school and been awarded that degree. Etc. Those "pseudo-properties" are merely a shorthand way of referring to those historical facts.

Rights are of the same class. To say that someone has a right (in classical usage) to something is simply to say that he acquired that thing righteously, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else. Which is a an historical fact, easily verified in most cases.

Whether someone has a right to something is not, in most cases, at all problematic. Nor is it a moral question. It is a straightforward factual one. Whether we ought to respect that right is the moral question. To say that someone has a right to something is a factual claim with moral implications.

Of course, ideologues hoping to appropriate the favorable connotations of the term "rights," have tried to re-define it to dispense with the factual basis for imputing that pseudo-property, so that they can apply it arbitrarily to whomever and whatever will advance their various causes. No doubt the proliferation of these "fiat rights" have contributed to your confusion over the term's meaning.
I was not confused. I understand how the term is useful. But once we grant that it is something we impute and is not like other kinds of properties, we are free to impute it on non-humans as well. And we do. And we do this often because we consider other living entities similar to us in certain ways, at the minimum that they are organic creatures, and often because they are so similar to us we don't want them to suffer. I take giving them rights as something very similar to what we do with children, sometimes even foetuses, brain damaged people, even people in comas, and also people who do not even exist yet - as in protecting future generations and giving them in this way certain rights.

we have the ability to do this. We do do this. Many find it useful

You mention marriage. Perhaps this bundle of imputed properties will in the future be considered not useful and it will fade out. Perhaps others will fade in. Since this granting of 'state' and 'properties' can be a right and it is under our control to impute it, we can impute on those who do not impute, as we already do with certain humans. As a side note, many mammals actually to act very much with ideas of fairness, so it would not in least be odd to impute rights to them, if the counterargument is they must be moral agents. But since we already as a species grant rights to humans who are not, some only currently, moral agents, I don't see this as a necessary criterion. And since we can and do grant rights where we have decided we want to and it is based only on our power to imagine certain properties, I see no reason for us to limit our granting rights. I don't grant someone else the right to live because they make moral choices. I grant them that because I value them and in the abstract want them to thrive or have the chance to. I certainly feel this way about everything from ecosystems to individual trees to mammals and more.

Karpel Tunnel
Posts: 899
Joined: February 16th, 2018, 11:28 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Karpel Tunnel » April 30th, 2019, 6:22 am

People with Alzheimer's in worse cases also cannot be considered moral agents.

GE Morton
Posts: 1085
Joined: February 1st, 2017, 1:06 am

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 30th, 2019, 9:12 pm

Karpel Tunnel wrote:
April 30th, 2019, 2:18 am
But once we grant that it is something we impute and is not like other kinds of properties, we are free to impute it on non-humans as well.
Not without destroying the meaning, and thus the utility, of the word. May we apply the term "doctor" to anything we like, or sensibly claim that two pair-bonded coyotes or Canada geese are "married"? Those properties are applied when specific historical events have occurred; they are simply markers, tokens, of those events. Applying them when those events have not occurred, and cannot occur, renders those terms meaningless. When and to whom they are imputed is not discretionary.
And we do this often because we consider other living entities similar to us in certain ways, at the minimum that they are organic creatures, and often because they are so similar to us we don't want them to suffer.
We don't need to distort the meanings of words in order to prevent animals from suffering.
I take giving them rights as something very similar to what we do with children, sometimes even foetuses, brain damaged people, even people in comas, and also people who do not even exist yet - as in protecting future generations and giving them in this way certain rights.
Children, comatose persons, etc., already have rights; we don't need to "give" them any more. Whether fetuses have them depends, of course, on whether they are "persons," i.e., moral agents. Which is, of course, the key issue in the abortion controversy.

We can't "give" anyone real rights; whether someone has one of those depends upon historical facts which we have no power to change. We can give them legal rights, but those have no moral significance per se.
As a side note, many mammals actually to act very much with ideas of fairness, so it would not in least be odd to impute rights to them, if the counterargument is they must be moral agents.
Whether an animal --- or even a human --- acts with a sense of fairness (or appears to do so) is not determinative of whether it has a right; only the relevant historical facts are determinative.

I agree with many moral philosophers who hold that at least some animals have moral status; they are "moral subjects" or "moral patients." Those are creatures to whom moral agents have some duties, but who have no duties to us (because they cannot grasp the concept of a moral duty). It is not too much of a stretch to impute rights to moral subjects. E.g., a lioness who has taken a gazelle without inflicting harm on a moral agent satisfies the truth condition for imputing a property right to her over the gazelle (and of course she will defend her kill against jackals and other would-be thieves).
And since we can and do grant rights where we have decided we want to and it is based only on our power to imagine certain properties, I see no reason for us to limit our granting rights.
Well, you seem not to have grasped the points earlier made. Any rights we "grant" and which are "based only on our power to imagine certain properties" are not rights as classically understood, and have no moral significance.

To say that P has a right to x is to say that a certain historical relationship exists between P and x. If that relationship does not exist then the claim is false. The attribution of a right is not an honorific, bestowed out of sentiment or because we value the creature to whom we're imputing the right. Our values have nothing to do with whether someone has a right.

User avatar
Isaac3
New Trial Member
Posts: 3
Joined: May 1st, 2019, 3:32 pm

Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Isaac3 » May 1st, 2019, 4:25 pm

You keep mentioning the "historical facts" which determine if a right can be correctly imputed, but then you say that the facts in question are whether the act (or to obtaining of property) occured without "harming" another moral agent. The occurrence of "harm" to a moral agent is not something to which the status of "fact" can be assigned in the way you are doing. It is at best a widely agreed upon subjective judgement, at times, not even widely agreed on.

If you are to base your determination of a right on subjective judgement, then you cannot, without contradiction, argue that the term loses some objective meaning when used in the new form you criticise. It never had any objective meaning in the first place as it hinges entirely on the subjective judgement of a "harm" having been caused or not.

Post Reply