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On the "rights" of Nature

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GE Morton
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On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 4th, 2019, 11:54 am

This week's issue of Science includes a "perspective" piece entitled "A rights revolution for nature."

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6434/1392

The authors, two ecologists and a law professor, all European, report with obvious favor upon bizarre legislation enacted in a few jurisdictions around the world establishing legal "rights" for such natural systems and entities as lakes and rivers, various wild plant and animal populations, and even entire ecosystems. Thus endowed with these "rights," advocates on their behalf may bring lawsuits seeking to enjoin any human activity that they claim infringes them, and presumably, seek damages for "injuries" already inflicted.

This "green" political strategy is not new. The earliest advocacy for it (of which I'm aware) was Christopher D. Stone's 1972 essay in the Southern California Law Review, "Should Trees Have Standing? --- Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects" (cited in the subject article).

https://iseethics.files.wordpress.com/2 ... anding.pdf

That such nonsense has gained enough plausibility and credibility to attract the notice of a respected journal like Science is evidence of the success of leftist ideologues over the last 50 years or so to re-define various key moral terms, such as "rights," "equality," "freedom,"and "justice" --- changing the denotations of those terms in the hope that their universally favorable connotations will carry over to the new meanings, even though the moral and factual impetus for those connotations has been eliminated.

Classically, to say that someone had a "right" to possess and use some tangible thing (a property right) or to do something (a liberty right) meant that the person had acquired that thing righteously, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else, or that his doing that act would inflict no loss or injury on anyone else. I.e., that his act or property claim was innocent, and thus morally permissible and defensible. Per the Newspeak definition adopted by leftist ideologues, to say that someone has a "right" to something means he needs it, or wants it, or that it is required in order to live the "good life" as envisioned by the ideologue. The moral character of the claimant's actions are not considered or deemed relevant.

"Equality" in the classical liberal tradition meant that all persons in a society had equal moral status; that the same moral duties and constraints applied equally to all, and any laws enacted must apply equally to all. It was a rejection of the formal class system of medieval Europe. Per the Newspeak definition, it means material equality --- that all persons have equal claims upon "society's resources" (defined to include all the goods produced by members of the society or otherwise available within it), and equal opportunities to attain one's goals and secure personal fulfillment. Again, no consideration is given to the morality of the agent's goals or to the actions necessary to secure them.

"Freedom" meant political freedom: freedom from interference in one's choices and actions by other moral agents, and especially the government, provided those choices and actions violated no one else's rights or inflicted any loss or injury upon anyone else. Per the Newspeak definition it means "freedom from want" --- freedom from illness, hunger, poverty, or any other risks or lacks or obstacles that might threaten one's pursuit of happiness. The leftist contends that the world --- i.e., "society" -- owes everyone, not only a living, but a satisfying life.

Justice, as classically conceived (and according to most dictionaries) meant "securing to each person what he or she is due" --- what he or she deserves by virtue his/her actions and the merits thereof. Justice is served when the the guilty man is convicted and the innocent man acquitted; when the man who does something noble or beneficial, or produces something useful and valuable, receives praise and rewards, and the evildoer receives condemnation and punishment. Lefties have re-defined this word to eliminate the "merit" element. Per this spurious definition, what one is due or deserves is determined, not by the merit of an agent's acts, but by his mere membership in various categories: "Everyone deserves health care (or housing, incomes, food, education, etc.) because they are human," or, "because they are members of society." No mention of merit. They've coined the neologism "social justice" to denote this morally vacuous concept.

The "rights of Nature" thesis relies upon these Newspeak definitions and other linguistic legerdemain. Some quotes from the article:

"A movement to recognize nature as a rights holder argues that existing laws regulate, rather than stop, the destruction of the natural world (2). Instead of incrementally reforming such laws, a growing number of jurisdictions around the world have recognized rights of nature."

One cannot "recognize" something that does not yet exist, and whose existence cannot be demonstrated via some objective method or evidence. What these jurisdictions have done is invented --- from thin air --- a new class of rights-holders, based on the Newspeak definition of "rights."

"Rights-of-nature advocates posit that environmental devastation is a moral wrong that ought to be stopped. This claim is not grounded in scientific evidence but is no less valid than the assertion that harming humans is a moral wrong."

It is certainly not valid. Harming humans is morally wrong because humans are moral agents. Moral properties and judgments apply only to the acts of moral agents, and natural phenomena and processes are not moral agents. In his Theory of Justice Rawls (p. 102) acknowledges that the "natural distribution [of talents] is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts." What is true of the natural distribution of talents is equally true of all other natural phenomena. Nature and its products and processes are neither moral nor immoral; they are outside the scope of moral scrutiny and judgments. Nature is what it is.

So what is a moral agent? There are many definitions, but all assume at least the following: A moral agent is a creature capable of choosing his actions, of grasping moral principles (principles and criteria for determining the rightness or wrongness of an action) and evaluating his own and others' actions in light of them. Moral agency assumes sentience and free will.

Those capabilities are possessed by no natural processes or products other than humans and, perhaps, to some degree, a few other animals. They are clearly not possessed by rivers, plants, or ecosystems, any more than they are possessed by volcanos, planetary orbits, hurricanes, or atomic nuclei. A hurricane cannot decide whether or not to come ashore in New Orleans; a mosquito cannot contemplate whether it would be moral to bite you. The absurdities to which this thesis leads are endless. Does the HIV virus have a "right" to infect you? Does an asteroid have a "right" to slam into the Earth, extinguishing all life? Would we violate that "right" by trying to destroy or divert it?

"Neither human rights nor nature rights can be demonstrated through a scientific process, but we can make inferences about what justice requires on the basis of what we know to be necessary for the flourishing of humans or of nature."

Correct; human rights cannot be demonstrated through a scientific process. When the term is properly understood they can, however, be demonstrated through an empirical process, unlike "nature rights." Nor can we "make inferences about what justice requires on the basis of what we know to be necessary for the flourishing" of human life. Unless, of course, we've adopted the Newspeak definition of "justice" mentioned above. Real justice has nothing to do with flourishing; it has to do with "just deserts" --- rewards or penalties proportionate to the merits of an agent's actions.

"The rights-of-nature movement is similar to the animal rights movement in that it seeks to promote the rights of nonhuman life (4). However, animal rights, like human rights, traditionally prioritize the individual. According to Regan (5), all individual living beings have inherent value and, therefore, rights by virtue of being alive. "

"Inherent value" is a vacuous concept. Propositions which assert it, of anything, are non-cognitive, i.e., they have no determinable truth values. The only value anything can meaningfully be said to have is the value assigned to it by some moral agent. Different values will be assigned by different agents to the same things; they are relative to agents. Any given thing can have as many values as there are agents who take some interest in it. Hence values cannot serve as the basis for moral principles, if one expects those principles to hold universally and to be rationally defensible. Moral theories that rely on that concept inherit its inanity.

"According to Raz, a person or other entity has a right if and only if they are capable of having rights, and some aspect of their interest or well-being is “a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty."

True enough. But . . .

"Some interests of nature that have been argued to be sufficient to produce rights include existence, habitat, and fulfilling ecological roles."

More linguistic foolishness. The requirements and prerequisites of natural processes are not "interests." Only sentient creatures have interests. A dandelion seed may need water, soil nutrients, and sunlight to germinate and grow, but it has no "interest" in doing that.

"Interest:
n.
1.
a. A state of curiosity or concern about or attention to something: an interest in sports.
b. Something, such as a quality, subject, or activity, that evokes this mental state: counts the theater among his interests."

https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/searc ... q=interest

There is no evidence that dandelions, viruses, forests, rivers, etc., are curious or concerned about or pay attention to anything, or that they possess any other mental state (which would be amazing, since they lack nervous systems). "Greenies" (and, apparently, some journal editors) need to learn the meanings of common words, and ditch the silly Newspeak.

"The granting of legal rights to nonhumans is not in itself revolutionary or even unusual. Although moral considerations often influence the development of legal rights (and vice versa), legal rights need not have a moral basis. The law can give rights to all kinds of entities if it finds reason to do so."

True enough. Legal rights are arbitrary, and possess no moral significance unless they enforce natural or common rights, which do have a sound moral basis.

"Corporations, trade unions, and states are all nonhuman entities that have rights and duties under the law. They have rights to litigate if they are injured and duties not to violate the rights of others. The legal system has no difficulty adjudicating nonhuman rights."

Well, no. The rights of corporations, trade unions, States, and other groups of humans are not "nonhuman rights." To claim that a group of humans is "nonhuman" is asinine. Groups of humans have all the rights their members bring with them into the group. A corporation's rights are the rights of its members, nothing more or less.

"Rights of nature may offer benefits lacking in other types of legal protection for the environment. For example, human rights to a healthy environment would not protect species whose existence may conflict with human activities. Conservation laws such as the Endangered Species Act can protect species but do not give them a right to exist. This protection can therefore be removed at the whim of the legislature (10). If instead species rights were recognized, species or their representatives could seek restitution when harmed even when they are not explicitly protected by regulations and when their needs conflict with human needs."

The irony there is jarring, a paradigm example of doublethink. The authors complain that the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act can "be removed at the whim of the legislature" --- while they propose creation of fiat "rights" at the whim of a legislature. It should be obvious that a "right" created by a legislature can be repealed by one just as easily. The only rights that offer "benefits lacking in other types of legal protection" are those acknowledged to have a moral basis that transcends legislatures, and which are not subject to repeal by them, e.g, natural rights and (in the US) constitutional rights. That is why they offer those benefits.

The authors go on to mention several questions forced by their proposal: How is the rights-bearer to be defined? What rights will it have? How may the rights bearer claim its rights? In answer to the first they suggest that "A solution may be to identify ecologically informed criteria through which natural entities become rights holders, similar to the process by which companies can become legal persons through incorporation."

Well, the process by which a group can become a legal person through incorporation is very straightforward --- the actual, right-holding persons who constitute that group agree among themselves to create a corporation and proceed to prepare and submit the necessary paperwork. Since "nature" is not a voluntary association of sentient entities capable of choosing to work cooperatively toward a common goal or entering into an agreement, how any process for its becoming a rights-holder could be "similar" to that for corporations is extremely puzzling. As mentioned, corporations have rights only because the humans who consitute them have rights. For example, they have rights to speak and promote their views because all of their stockholders have those rights, which they may exercise individually or collectively, through a spokesman.

Well, enough.

Of course, none of this criticism is meant to disparage concern for environmental health. But the rights at risk are those of the humans who depend upon it, not contrived and fatuous "rights" of natural phenomena.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Intellectual_Savnot » April 16th, 2019, 1:04 pm

I think this is highly agreeable until we reach the argument that:
We must preserve and respect nature (if we are being responsible humans)
This binding to responsibility could create a virtual right held by nature to be respected
Even though there are currently no rights held by nature, we are bound by responsibility to act as if natural bodies and entities have rights
At that point, why not just give them the rights as to make more coherent the rationale of our actions?

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 17th, 2019, 10:07 am

Intellectual_Savnot wrote:
April 16th, 2019, 1:04 pm

We must preserve and respect nature (if we are being responsible humans)
Only to the extent natural phenomena are necessary or beneficial to human welfare. We have responsibilities to moral agents, not to "nature."
Even though there are currently no rights held by nature, we are bound by responsibility to act as if natural bodies and entities have rights
Not at all. The fact that humans have rights is sufficient reason to protect certain natural processes.
At that point, why not just give them the rights as to make more coherent the rationale of our actions?
Well, first, we cannot "give" anyone (or anything) rights --- at least, not rights with any moral significance. We can give legal rights, of course, but those are arbitrary and morally vacuous. Moreover, they usually lead to violations of real rights. Secondly, it makes the rationale for environmental laws less coherent, by substituting a fictitious right for the real, human rights threatened by environmental degradation.

Finally, that move further erodes the meaning and coherence of the concept of "rights."

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by h_k_s » April 17th, 2019, 3:45 pm

Saving the Earth is a notion that has been around for a long time.

It followed after the Industrial Age and the raping of the land phase of industrialization, especially coal mining and oil drilling.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 20th, 2019, 11:14 am

h_k_s wrote:
April 17th, 2019, 3:45 pm
Saving the Earth is a notion that has been around for a long time.
The Earth does not need saving. It endured for billions of years before the appearance of humans, and will likely endure long after our demise. During that time it has withstood cataclysms more severe than any humans could inflict upon it.

But the question is not whether concern for the environment is warranted (it is). It is whether nonsensical notions contrived in pursuit of a nonsensical ideology are helpful in protecting it.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by h_k_s » April 22nd, 2019, 2:45 am

GE Morton wrote:
April 20th, 2019, 11:14 am
h_k_s wrote:
April 17th, 2019, 3:45 pm
Saving the Earth is a notion that has been around for a long time.
The Earth does not need saving. It endured for billions of years before the appearance of humans, and will likely endure long after our demise. During that time it has withstood cataclysms more severe than any humans could inflict upon it.

But the question is not whether concern for the environment is warranted (it is). It is whether nonsensical notions contrived in pursuit of a nonsensical ideology are helpful in protecting it.
The philosophical political answer to your query about "is it helpful" depends on whether the ants and termites (and people) that inhabit this planet of ours can make a difference at all.

I like Earth-cleanup projects.

I also like animal rescue projects.

And I like food and shelter projects for the homeless.

Most people test-out as being one of the three above as the highest priority. I have done all three:

- cat rescue

- litter cleanup

- blanket passouts to the homeless on the streets.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Consul » April 22nd, 2019, 1:35 pm

GE Morton wrote:
April 4th, 2019, 11:54 am
Classically, to say that someone had a "right" to possess and use some tangible thing (a property right) or to do something (a liberty right) meant that the person had acquired that thing righteously, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else, or that his doing that act would inflict no loss or injury on anyone else. I.e., that his act or property claim was innocent, and thus morally permissible and defensible. Per the Newspeak definition adopted by leftist ideologues, to say that someone has a "right" to something means he needs it, or wants it, or that it is required in order to live the "good life" as envisioned by the ideologue. The moral character of the claimant's actions are not considered or deemed relevant.
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).
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Consul » April 22nd, 2019, 1:52 pm

Background information—Environmental Ethics:

* https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethi ... ronmental/

* https://www.iep.utm.edu/envi-eth/

Also worth mentioning:

"Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) is the single most influential figure in the development of an ecocentric environmental ethics. The science of ecology developed during his lifetime, and he was the first person to call for a radical rethinking of ethics in light of this new science. He made the effort to integrate ecology and ethics his life’s work. Leopold was an eloquent and prolific writer, and the collection of essays published posthumously as A Sand County Almanac (1949) is a classic text of the environmental movement. The definitive essay of this book, 'The Land Ethic', is the first systematic presentation of an ecocentric ethics."

(Desjardins, Joseph R. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2013. p. 179)

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for). The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land." (pp. 203-4)

"The 'key-log' which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. 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." (pp. 224-5)

(Leopold, Aldo. "The Land Ethic." In A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, 201-226. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949.)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » 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.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by h_k_s » April 22nd, 2019, 6:45 pm

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.
For a "right" to be valid and real it must be enforced. Therefore it requires an enforcer. This is about power.

You can imagine rights existing such as "natural rights" but these are no more than a belief in a certain morality about decency.

Unless a governor, president, supreme court, police force, armed force, or you yourself alone can accomplish enforcing a given right, then that right does not really exist.

This shortens the list of valid and true rights considerably.

Ergo you have the right to be smart and you have the right to be stupid.

Everything else is artificial.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 22nd, 2019, 6:54 pm

Consul wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 1:52 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."
Well, that thesis (as suggested in the OP) leads to endless absurdities. Do we behave immorally by disrupting the smallpox "biotic community"? When we try to control pine beetles in national forests? When we replant a grassland in wheat or corn to feed people?

No biotic community is stable. They are dynamic, evolving systems, which are unstable by definition.

Leopold's thesis is an aesthetic one, not an ethical one. Ethics (moral rightness and wrongness) applies only to the acts of moral agents that affect other moral agents. Human actions that alter natural processes may be wise or foolish, or aesthetically desirable or undesirable, but they raise no moral issues (unless they also, or consequentially, adversely affect moral agents).

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by GE Morton » April 22nd, 2019, 7:26 pm

h_k_s wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 6:45 pm

For a "right" to be valid and real it must be enforced. Therefore it requires an enforcer. This is about power.
A claim often advanced, but question-begging. Unless we have some prior notion of who has rights to what, and how they come about, we have no idea what laws to pass or enforce. Laws without an independent moral basis are morally arbitrary. Slavery would not have been abolished had there been no independent basis, widely acknowledged, for the right to liberty. The abolitionist movement demanded that right be enforced.

A right is "real" if the rights claim satisfies its truth condition, whether it is enforced or not. In general, "P has a right to x (or a right to do x)" is true IFF P inflicts no loss or injury on anyone else by acquiring or possessing or doing x.
You can imagine rights existing such as "natural rights" but these are no more than a belief in a certain morality about decency.
A "natural right" is simply a right to something you naturally possess, e.g., your life, your body, whatever talents or capacities you brought with you into the world. As with all other rights, you have a right to them because your acquisition and possession of them imposes no loss or injury on anyone else. I.e., you acquired them righteously.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by h_k_s » April 22nd, 2019, 8:04 pm

GE Morton wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 7:26 pm
h_k_s wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 6:45 pm

For a "right" to be valid and real it must be enforced. Therefore it requires an enforcer. This is about power.
A claim often advanced, but question-begging. Unless we have some prior notion of who has rights to what, and how they come about, we have no idea what laws to pass or enforce. Laws without an independent moral basis are morally arbitrary. Slavery would not have been abolished had there been no independent basis, widely acknowledged, for the right to liberty. The abolitionist movement demanded that right be enforced.

A right is "real" if the rights claim satisfies its truth condition, whether it is enforced or not. In general, "P has a right to x (or a right to do x)" is true IFF P inflicts no loss or injury on anyone else by acquiring or possessing or doing x.
You can imagine rights existing such as "natural rights" but these are no more than a belief in a certain morality about decency.
A "natural right" is simply a right to something you naturally possess, e.g., your life, your body, whatever talents or capacities you brought with you into the world. As with all other rights, you have a right to them because your acquisition and possession of them imposes no loss or injury on anyone else. I.e., you acquired them righteously.
I applaud your idealism and your eloquent writing. I enjoyed reading your comments.

I think you are a lot like Plato himself. Plato was very idealistic. And many of his philosophical imaginings are based on idealism.

You also seem to have a lot in common with John Locke and the early British Empiricists.

I myself on the other hand see things more like Aristotle. We tend to be much more pragmatic and much less idealistic.

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Felix » 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.
G.E. Morton: No biotic community is stable. They are dynamic, evolving systems, which are unstable by definition.
Actually the reverse is true: no biotic community is unstable because biological order (homeostasis) is required for communities to form and evolve.
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?
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: On the "rights" of Nature

Post by Consul » April 23rd, 2019, 7:36 pm

GE Morton wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 6:54 pm
Consul wrote:
April 22nd, 2019, 1:52 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."
Well, that thesis (as suggested in the OP) leads to endless absurdities. Do we behave immorally by disrupting the smallpox "biotic community"? When we try to control pine beetles in national forests? When we replant a grassland in wheat or corn to feed people?

No biotic community is stable. They are dynamic, evolving systems, which are unstable by definition.
You're misinterpreting him. He doesn't reject all forms of human intervention in or manipulation of ecosystems, but only those forms of it which destroy nature's equilibrium.

"A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity."

(Leopold, Aldo. "The Land Ethic." In A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, 201-226. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949. p. 221)

"His suggestion seems to be that we should extend moral consideration—“biotic rights”—to birds, soils, waters, plants, and animals.
However, Leopold never abandons his belief that these natural objects can and should be used as “resources” that can be managed for human benefit. As a result, it would be difficult to read Leopold as a defender of animal and plant rights, in the style of Singer, Regan, or Stone. It is difficult to reconcile granting moral rights to animals with being willing to treat them as resources. Leopold’s own long-standing practice of hunting also suggests that he cannot be placed in the animal rights camp.
This apparent inconsistency is resolved when we view the land ethic holistically. It is the “land community” that is granted moral standing. Individual members of that community can still be treated as resources as long as the community itself is respected. The “ecological conscience” teaches that humans are but members of the biotic community, “biotic citizens,” rather than conquerors of nature. Ecology shifts the focus of moral consideration away from individuals and to biotic wholes."
(p. 181)

"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.
Because this complex structure has developed through millions of years of evolution, human interference with it ought always to be humble and constrained. Any change in the system requires that many other elements adjust themselves to it. When this occurs slowly, as it does through evolution, the system is self-regulating. When change is introduced abruptly and violently, as it typically is through human intervention, the potential for disaster is genuine. Thus we should tread lightly on the ecosystem. It is also wise to assume that native plants and animals are best suited for a particular locale. We can speculate that Leopold would support the decision to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone, but would conclude that introducing non-native species is courting disaster."
(p. 182)

(Desjardins, Joseph R. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. 5th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2013.)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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