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05 October 2010

A Relational Ethics for People and the Environment?

I'm taking a class in environmental ethics at the moment, and so have been thinking a lot about the implications of our ethical systems on our interaction with the environment.  So far the debate has largely revolved around whether Nature has intrinsic value or if its value should be calculated in terms of utility - however broadly that concept may be interpreted.  We're moving into a section on virtue ethics, but I see little hope of resolving the issue there.

The problem, I think, is that there's too much focus on qualities of discrete entities.  Does x have intrinsic value?  Does x suffer?  Is x useful to us - aesthetically, functionally, or otherwise?  I would like to know if anyone has tried composing something like a relational ethic.  That is, instead of focusing on the intrinsic or extrinsic properties of an entity, we focus on the qualities of our relationship to that entity and to other entities that take part in the relationship.  So instead of arguing that x has some quality that grants it moral considerability, we could argue that our relationship to x ought to be such that we both benefit from it.

I'm not sure if that makes sense - it's only a very vague impression in my mind.  If someone is aware of where these kinds of ideas might be more developed, please let me know.  I'm wondering in particular, what would a Deleuzian environmental ethic look like?  What would a Whiteheadian environmental ethic look like?

1 comment:

Jason said...

I was doing a google search for just this sort of ethic. I am beginning research in this area for a part of my dissertation. I'll let you know if I come across something.

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