Jamieson on Ecocentrism

(Holism, Callicott, Leopold’s Land Ethic)

pp. 149-153


1.       Ecocentrists criticism of sentiocentrism and biocentrism for engaging in “moral extensionism”

          a.       Things get in the moral arena in virtue of sharing properties that gives humans moral considerability (sentience, life)

          b.       Instead of assuming that humans are morally important and then extending moral concern to whatever is sufficiently like humans, ecocentrists start with the assumption that the earth is morally important and see what follows from that

2.       Rejects individualism of sentiocentrism/biocentrism and gives moral primacy to ecological wholes of which we are a part

          a.       Ecological wholes = biotic communities, ecosystems, “the land”, nature, the earth, natural processes (speciation, fire, glaciation)

          b.       Ecological wholes are what has primary moral standing, moral considerability

3.       Leopold’s land ethic is an example of ecocentrism: “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”

4.       Jamieson claims ecocentrism has attractive features, “but most philosophers reject it.”

          a.       Worry: Ecocentrism might be the most widely held environmental ethic; It is probably the most widely held environmental ethic by philosophers specializing in environmental philosophy and by people working in conservation, though philosophers in general probably reject it


5.       To know what ecocentrism morally demands of us need to know the nature of the biotic community or ecosystem that has primary moral importance 

6.       Jamieson’s criticisms of the key concept of ecocentrism: “Ecosystems”

          a.       Ecosystems = assemblages of organisms together with their (abiotic) environment 

7.       Ecosystems are not real, but merely ways of looking at things

          a.       Ecosystems, like the average Australian (or constellations of stars, as opposed to stars themselves) don’t exist as anything more than collections of individual members

8.       Can’t tell where one ecosystem ends and another begins (spatially or temporally)

          a.       Temporal ambiguity: In ecological succession, grasslands turn into shrubs and small trees which turn into forests

                    i.        What are we to say of the in between states?

          b.       Spacial ambiguity: Little ecosystem growing on north side of the rock in my garden, my garden is an ecosystem, my valley is one

                    i.        What is relation between these ecosystems

9.       Do ecosystems have interests that ought to be respected?

          a.       How are we to think about one ecosystem turning into another?

                    i.        As the interests of the first ecosystem being compromised and the interests of second ecosystem being promoted?

10.     If ecosystems don’t protect their own interests, why should we?

          a.       At least animals and plants strive to defend their own interests


11.     Are the worries here less problematic than Jamieson suggests?

          a.       Bad for the forest ecosystem to remove the predators, let prey like deer overpopulate and eat all the vegetation including the saplings

          b.       Sometimes it makes sense to protect the integrity and stability of ecosystems

          c.       A different sort of ecocentrism–one that favors letting natural processes unfold on their own w/o human interference also makes sense (Jamieson includes this value in his discussion of naturalness)


12.     Regan’s environmental fascism objection to ecocentrism

          a.       Subordinates the rights of individuals to biotic concerns

          b.       Permissible to kill humans to save wildflowers

          c.       Callicott (in early article he now restricts the reprinting of) said:

                    i.        “The preciousness of individual deer, as of any other specimen, is inversely proportional to the population of the species”

                    ii.       Suggests any individual member of an endangered species is worth vastly more than a human being

          d.       Callicott’s reply: Land ethic is supplement to not a replacement of human ethics


13.     *Ecocentrism can’t explain the value of abiotic things that are not part of ecosystems or biotic communities

          a.       Value of rainbows, canyons, rock formations, clouds, caves

14.     Extending moral concern to abiotic entities (a move beyond ecocentrism) seems crazy

          a.       Idea of rocks having rights drives many to dismiss radical environmental thought

15.     Seems like Jamieson would object (philosophically, anyway, perhaps not politically) to rights for nature (ecological wholes)


16.     Jamieson thinks we need to give up the idea of extending moral considerability even further and use language of valuing to protect these other things we care about and want to protect


17.     Jamieson’s environmental ethic

          a.       Extends moral considerability only to sentient beings

          b.       Insentient biotic nature (trees, forests) and abiotic nature (mountains, oceans) gets protected by acknowledging we value them in other ways than “thinking of them as morally considerable” (intrinsic value sense ii)

          c.       We value them intrinsically (sense I) as end value (“ultimate value”)

          d.       Also protect them by noting their prudential value, their aesthetic value, their wildness/naturalness value

Study questions on Jamieson on Ecocentrism

18.       What are some of Jamieson’s objections to the concept of “ecosystem” and to the idea that they have moral standing and we morally ought to protect their interests?

19.       What of moral concern to many environmentalists does ecocentrism leave out?

20.       Does Jamieson think it makes sense to extend moral considerability (moral standing and perhaps even rights) to abiotic entities? How does Jamieson think we should protect such entities?

21.       What is Jamieson’s own environmental ethics? What view of moral standing does he take? Does he limit what he values to what has moral standing?