Holmes Rolston

Converging versus Reconstituting Env Ethics


1.      Norton’s definition of anthropocentrism:

         a.      “Only humans are the locus of intrinsic value and that the value of all other objects derives from their contribution to human values”

         b.      Issues

                   i.       Why isn’t the experienced pleasure of an animal also a locus of intrinsic value?

                   ii.      Isn’t the instrumental value of water to an animal or to a tree a type of value that exists apart from its contribution to human values?

                   iii.     Sometimes people argue for “anthropocentrism” by pointing out that any judgment about value we arrive at is a human judgment of value (obviously, necessarily)

                            (1)    Does this prove that all value is reducible to what contributes to human benefit? (No)


2.      Rolston’s definition of nonanthropocentrism (from Norton?)

         a.      “There are intrinsic values in nature (either with individuals or collectives) which constrain human entitlements and interests . .

         b.      “Natural things can and ought to count morally for what they are in themselves”

3.      Notice that a. suggests intrinsic value might exist apart from conscious valuers

         a.      Two senses of intrinsic value

                   i.       Value that exists separate from valuers (“objective value”)

                   ii.      Valuing (by a valuer) something for its own sake rather than for its instrumental value

         b.      The last man argument” for objective intrinsic value

         c.      Many find objective intrinsic value controversial and argue for a notion of intrinsic value that involves valuers valuing something for its own sake

         d.      Nonanthropocentrism using this 2nd sense of intrinsic value would be the view that: We should value nature for its own sake (rather than nature having intrinsic values on its own)


4.      Definition of convergence thesis (=CT)

         a.      Note difference between an empirical and a logical version

5.      CT empirical: “Environmentalists are evolving toward a consensus in policy even though they remain divided regarding basic values”

         a.      Issues

                   i.       The way CT is put here, it’s not the logical claim that anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric values logically entail the same policies

                            (1)    Rational argument needed to establish this

                   ii.      Rather, it’s an empirical claim that environmentalists with these different values in fact are getting closer and closer to agreeing on policy

                            (1)    Empirically testable claim

                   iii.     Convergence, not = agreement: Not that there is agreement on policy, but it is headed that way

         b.      Rolston says that in the real world anthropocentrists and nonanthropocentrists do in fact disagree, in part because in the real world anthropocentrists are not enlightened as Norton wants them to be

6.      CT logical: “The convergence hypothesis asserts that if one takes the full range of human values –present and future– into account one will choose a set of policies that can be accepted by a ‘reasonable’ non-anthropocentrism”

         a.      Issues

                   i.       Truth of the “logical” convergence thesis (idea that both value orientations lead to same policy prescriptions) depends (in part) on one’s conception of human flourishing

                   ii.      Specifically, how central to human well-being/flourishing is a wild natural world? Is simple living compatible/necessary for human flourishing?

                   iii.     Could humans flourish on a human constructed, life-sustaining spaceship (with arts, sciences, economic opportunities)? Or would their lives be significantly impoverished w/o earth? (Are humans “earthlings” with a sense of place crucial to their identity and flourishing?)


7.      Is anthropocentrism selfish?

         a.      No in sense that its not egoism, its not an individual human’s good that all other goods reduced too

                   i.       Worrying about future generation’s access to energy source and stable climate is not selfish (but it’s a concern for humans)

                   ii.      Worrying about pollution because it disproportionately harms the old, infirm, poor, minorities is not selfish, though its worrying about humans

         b.      Yes in the sense it is a group/species selfishness

                   i.       For something to be valuable it has to someway benefit humans

                   ii.      “What is in it for us?”

         c.      Force-fitting every possible conservation good into something good for humans “goes sour” “rings hollow”

                   i.       Like arguing that good for people of the world can be reduced to what is good for Americans

                   ii.      Or arguing what is good for America is what is good for me and my family



9.      Head injury research on primates at University of Pennsylvania

                   i.       Deliberately inflicting massive head injuries

         b.      Long term likely to be benefits to humans from this research

         c.      Nonanthropocentrists will focus on the decades of intense animal suffering and likely believe it outweighs any human benefits

         d.      Anthropocentrists like Norton can’t say their suffering counts at all (at least not for its own sake)

         e.      Divergence, not convergence in this case

10.    Tiger sanctuary in Nepal

         a.      Bengal tiger and other species extremely endangered reside there

         b.      Millions of people desperately poor live nearby

         c.      Nepalese Army responsible for preventing poaching, grazing, cutting grasses, pilfering timber, or permanent habitation

         d.      Rolston says give priority to tigers over people inside that park

         e.      Nonanthropocentric intrinsic value of tigers is part of his reason

         f.       “Doubts there are enough anthropocentric benefits to justify keeping tens of thousands of person’s hungry in order to save the tiger”

11.    Wolves: Why isn’t a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature quite possible w/o wolves on the landscape?

         a.      The anthropocentrist argument for preserving wolves rings hollow

                   i.       Protect them because w/o wolves my grandchildren will never shiver in their sleeping bags when the wolves howl?

                   ii.      Don’t protect wolves for wolves own sake, but because grandchildren have a “birthright to stand in their awe”

                   iii.     Wolves not valuable for own sake but of great value for the tingle they provide?

12.    Delhi Sands fly (a listed endangered species) standing in the way of building a hospital and blocking an industrial development with 20,000 jobs

         a.      Endangered fly creates controversy. The Delhi Sands flower-loving fly is the only fly on the U.S. endangered species list. In order to protect its rare habitat of inland dunes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is requiring officials in Southern California to move the footprint of a new hospital (at an alleged cost of $4 million) and to rethink a planned massive industrial development (that is supposed to create 20,000 jobs over 5 years). Critics are charactering the issue as "jobs versus flies" and casting aspersions at the fly and its habitat. The reporter describes the fly as "a creature that spends most of its life underground, living as a fat, clumsy, enigmatic maggot." Says a State Senator, "I'm for people, not for flies." The habitat, says another official, is "a bunch of dirt and weeds. I can't take a citizen out there without them becoming outraged." Some claim that the FWS was considering slowing interstate traffic through the dunes to a crawl during the fly's summer mating season, "lest at fly become a glop on an unsuspecting motorist's windshield." The entomologist responsible for getting the fly listed as endangered in 1993 says the fly "is spectacular . . . If you see one flying around you don't soon forget it." The fly is an inch long and is able to hover like a hummingbird above flowers using a long straw for a mouth to extract nectar. The geology and biology professor who wrote the recovery plan for the fly says "It's a fly you can love. It's beautiful. Nothing is too wonderful to be true in the world of insects." Females of the species telescope their bodies three inches into the sand to deposit a clutch of eggs. The Delhi Sands is the largest remaining sand dune system in the Los Angeles basin, a unique environment that supports not only the fly but also rare and precious flowers, pocket mice and butterflies. This case raises the issue of species egalitarianism and illustrates the argument strategies of both Endangered Species Act opponents and proponents. See William Booth, "Developers Wish Rare Fly Would Buzz Off," Washington Post (4/4/97) A1


13.    LESSONS

14.    Here (in Fly case) nonanthropocentrism is more politically persuasive than anthropocentrism

         a.      “I doubt that entwined destinies with odd flies (people’s birth-right to hear these needle mouth flies buzz) is going to be as politically persuasive as the respect for unique species with a clever form of life defending a good of its own”

         b.      California state senator: “I’m for people, not for flies”

15.    Nonanthropocentrism more politically persuasive than Norton’s enlightened anthropocentrism (birthright for grandchildren to hear wolves howl)

16.    Many species “are of little or no use to us” and given this divergence we will need nonanthropocentric convictions to save such species

         a.      Rolston: “I don’t lament that fact; Am quite pleased that this is so”

17.    Anthropocentrism is arrogant

         a.      “One species arrogantly claiming that none of the other millions of species is of any account except as resources in our larder”

18.    Motives matter and even if anthropocentrists and nonanthropocentrists converge on policy their rationales for the policy are important

         a.      Susan cares for he aging mother because she loves her

         b.      Sally cares for her so she is not cut out of the will

         c.      Admire Susan’s behavior; depressed by Sally’s


         d.      John saves the whales because he respects and admires their skills

         e.      Jack saves the whales because he runs the tour boat that makes money taking John and others out to see them

         f.       Behaviors converge, but more impressed with John’s motives


19.    In a way, Rolston agrees with the convergence thesis

         a.      Nature (creativity, planetary biodiversity) is essential to human flourishing

                   i.       Gaining “authentic happiness” without “these ecological goods . . . is a logical, empirical, and psychological impossibility” p. 117

         b.      So true human good (a sufficiently enlightened and environmental conception of human flourishing) requires the flourishing of natural world

         c.      But the reason/motive to protect nature should not be only as a means to human flourishing

Questions on Rolston’s Converging vs Reconstituting Env Ethics

1.      Is the pleasure of an animal an intrinsic value? Is it anthropocentric?

2.      Is the instrumental value of water to a plant an anthropocentric value?

3.      Does the fact that we can only think (and value) from the human perspective mean that all value is anthropocentric (=is valuable only in so far as it is instrumental to human welfare?)

4.      Explain the difference between “objective intrinsic value” and valuing something for its own sake.

5.      What is the “last man argument” for objective intrinsic value?

6.      What is the “convergence thesis?” (=CT) Explain the difference between the logical and empirical versions of CT. Do you accept either version? Why or why not?

7.      Is wild nature necessary for human flourishing?

8.      Is anthropocentrism selfish? Explain reasons for either answer.

9.      Describe some of Rolston’s proposed counterexample to the CT and explain why he thinks they are counterexamples. Do you agree?

10.    Can you think of examples where an nonanthropocentric defense is more politically persuasive than ananthropocentric defense of env policies?

11.    Do motives matter morally? If so, what implications does this have for the CT?

12.    What sorts of reasons does Rolston give for agreeing with the convergence thesis? Is he an anthropocentrist?