Rosalind Hursthouse

Environmental Virtue Ethics (EVE)


1.       The green belief: fairly radical change in way we engage with nature is imperative

2.       EVE concerned to defend green belief in virtue ethics terms rather than utilitarian and deontology terms

3.       Two strategies

          a.       Old, familiar virtues applied to new relations with nature

          b.       New virtues concerned with our relations to nature


4.       (Passmore and virtually all enviros agree) Ecological disasters brought on us by

          a.       Greed

          b.       Self-indulgence

          c.       Short-sightedness

                    i.        Some of our actions have just been plain short-sighted as fare as our own interests

5.       (Passmore) Solution lies in

          a.       Prudence or practical wisdom (thoughtful action)


6.       Short-sightedness defense of green belief

          a.       Some of our actions have just been plain short-sighted as far as our own interests

          b.       Examples

                    i.        No one welcomes air pollution in their city

                    ii.       Contaminated shell-fish

                    iii.      Being made sick by local water

          c.       Typical response that “government should do something about it” w/o raising taxes or prohibiting us from doing any of the things we are used to doing

          d.       Just short-sightedness all over again.

          e.       No quick fix; can’t turn around pollution w/o forgoing a number of practices/activities we in developed nations think of as enjoyments that are part of ordinary pleasant life.

                    i.        For example?


7.       Greedy and self-indulgent to want to enjoy ordinary things?

          a.       Harder to defend, but yes

          b.       Convincing others and ourselves of truth of green belief involves getting us to see this

8.       Very small # of people now see their previous enjoyment of small ordinary things as greedy and self-indulgent and have changed their practices. Stopped:

          a.       Eating meat

          b.       Wearing fur coats

          c.       Buying new mahogany furniture

          d.       Owning several cars


9.       This change in moral self-assessment not come about merely by seeing these practices as short-sighted but for moral grounds

          a.       E.g., concern for animals we consume (not just health concerns) explain vegetarian phenomenon


10.     Virtue ethics critique of meat eating

          a.       Involves vices of greed and self-indulgence

          b.       Also cruelty and lack of virtue of compassion

                    i.        No need to appeal to animal rights

          c.       Few deny great deal of an suffering in producing cheap meat

          d.       Once dispel the ignorance that need meat for human health

          e.       See that animal suffering is gratuitous and our practices are cruel

          f.       Fact that meat eaters themselves don’t inflict cruelty on chickens, sheep, cows, and pigs may mean they are not cruel

          g.       But if know about the practices, and continue to eat meat, can’t be called compassionate

                    i.        Like a person can’t be called just if enjoy fruits of slave labor (even if not a slave owner)


11.     Vices can aggravate each other

          a.       Pride and vanity make us unwilling to acknowledge our greed, self-indulgence and short-sightedness, and lack of compassion

          b.       Dishonesty (in form of self-deception) allows us to blind ourselves to relevant facts and arguments, find excuses for not changing

                    i.        E.g., pretending global warming isn’t happening

          c.       Cowardice makes us unwilling to go out on a limb and risk contempt of our peers by propounding unpopular view

                    i.        E.g., shouldn’t eat meat, drive SUVs, own second homes?


12.     Much of env. problematic practices stem from these familiar vices and env. problems and might be largely solved if we could “release many humans from grip of these vices”

          a.       Just as human problems (man’s inhumanity to man”) would be solved if get many people to be truly compassionate, benevolent, unselfish, honest, un-materialistic, long-sighted, just, patient.


13.     One other old/familiar virtue needed for change in env. practices: Humility

14.     Humility

          a.       Not obsequiousness, false modesty, wimpishness

          b.       But “proper humility” as opposed to vice of arrogance

15.     Arrogance

          a.       Undue assumption of dignity, authority, power or knowledge


16.     Main theme of env. ethics that we abandon our arrogance toward nature

          a.       Darwinism does not show that we are to be dignified as the top species, as many think

                    i.        “We speak of dinosaurs as failures; there will be time enough for that judgment when we have lasted even one tenth as long”

          b.       Our rationality, rather than being mark of our superiority, may turn out to be a poor strategy in evolutionary terms

          c.       Our rationality gives us no special authority

          d.       We do not have “dominion” over rest of nature

                    i.        Aristotle’s claim that plants exist for sake of animals and all other animals exist for sake of humans is false

          e.       Use w/o restraint a fantasy: We can make use of animals and plants and inanimate things, but old idea that we can do so w/o restraint and that bountiful nature would take care of our depredations has been proved to be a fantasy

          f.       Discovered that our power over nature is much more limited than we supposed when we first got modern science going (as we learned out understanding of the biosphere is in its infancy)

                    i.        True?

17.     Traditional EE uses above to establish intrinsic value of nature

          a.       EVE says it works just as well as a convincing condemnation of our arrogance and a call to (unfashionable) virtue of humility


18.     EVE strategy here: Old virtues and vices applied to env. behavior and we get a new understanding of what is involved in these virtues/vices

          a.       Prudence, practical wisdom, compassion, proper humility

          b.       Greed, self-indulgence, short-sightedness, cruelty, pride, vanity, dishonesty, arrogance


19.     Ethical character trait (e.g., honesty) is

          a.       Far more than a mere disposition/tendency to act in certain ways (honest ways)

          b.       Acts for certain reasons (not simply because honesty is best policy)

          c.       Involves feelings/emotions

          d.       Dispositions to certain emotional reactions, finding certain things enjoyable and others painful/distressing

          e.       Intellectual, perceptual capacity to recognize when we are about to be dishonest

          f.       Practical wisdom (ability to reason correctly about what is to be done)

          g.       All above unified in a way a human can be

          h.       Preliminary versions of this way of being are found in children and need cultivation



20.     Wonder at nature involves

          a.       Aesthetic appreciation of it

          b.       Sense of gratitude toward it (for its beauty and abundance)

          c.       Openness

          d.       Delight

          e.       “How wonderful” or “awesome!

21.     Wonder helps proper humility avoid being crushing or dispiriting

          a.       Humans and all our works are insignificant and fleeting part of great unfolding of nature is ameliorated by joyous thought we are part of something glorious

22.     Correct orientation of the emotion of wonder is a kind of virtue

                    i.        Like being rightly disposed with respect to emotion of fear is a virtue (namely courage)

          b.       Being disposed to feel wonder the right way, toward right objects for right reasons, to right degree, on right occasions in right manner


23.     Some objects proper objects of emotion of wonder and some not

          a.       Nature and its works are

24.     Getting this emotion in harmony with reason really matters morally

          a.       If we think and feel not

                    i.        That nature is wondrous, but that Disneyland is

                    ii.       That other animals are not, but we are

                    iii.      That seas are not, but swimming pools on 20th floor of luxury hotels are

          b.       Act accordingly, then we will act wrongly

          c.       Just as when we fear pain to ourselves and not others, or are angered by justified criticism and not getting our own way, but not angered at injustice to our fellow humans, we act wrongly

25.     Wonder not only concerned with nature

          a.       Might be aimed properly at art or the great works of philosophy

          b.       Or more problematically, at New York City and its sky scrapers (an not also to nature)

ANOTHER NEW VIRTUE: “Respect for nature” or “Being rightly oriented to nature”


26.     Paul Taylor recommended respect for nature as an “ultimate moral attitude”

          a.     Details on Taylor's views

          b.     More details on Taylor's views

27.     If see it as a virtue, avoid three problems with Taylor’s account

28.     One: Not easy to adopting such a fundamental attitude (as respect for nature) and we want actions and emotions consistent with the attitude

          a.       Thinking of respect for nature as virtue accounts for the difficulty in developing such attitude and disposition to act in accordance

29.     Two: Taylor relies on concept of “inherent worth” (=IW) which is highly problematic

                    i.        E.g., degrees or not? Humans same IW or not?

          b.       From virtue ethics perspective, positing controversial notion of IW is not necessary

          c.       This can be built into a virtue.

          d.       All that matters is that we are accept as reasons for actions the attempt not to harm other living things

                    i.        Tell children who rip at bushes, flowers, “don’t do that you’ll harm or kill it”

          e.       Don’t need anything (spooky) to underlie these practices

          f.       If Hursthouse is right, then similar ascriptions of inherent worth to humans would also not be needed to ground an ethic of proper treatment of humans

                    i.        Why not drive your parents car? You’ll harm or kill someone.


30.     Three: Taylor’s respect for nature is really only respect for individual living things

          a.       But abiotic/inanimate nature (the moon, the seas, atmosphere) can also be mistreated

          b.       There is appropriate and inappropriate behavior toward the planet’s geology as well as its biology

                    i.        E.g., blowing up the moon to prevent high tides is horrifying

                    ii.       E.g., destroying spider webs or sea shells inappropriate

          c.       Respect for nature as a virtue (set of reasons for action and feeling inculcated in moral education) need make no sharp distinction between animate and inanimate nature


31.     Hursthouse thinks the appeal to “intrinsic value” of natural entities does not help (p. 167)

          a.       Grounding our multiple reasons for acting appropriately toward nature in the intrinsic value of those entities tell us nothing more

          b.       Be content with these multiple reasons for acting certain ways towards nature

          c.       Virtue ethicists seem content to stop the reason giving at places that other (environmental) ethicists are not happy stopping at


32.     Objection that virtue ethics does not tell us much about what we do other than the obvious prohibitions on wanton, gratuitous, selfish, maternalistic and short-sited consumption harm and despoliation

          a.       Reply: Other env. ethics do no better


33.     EVE will recommend that with env. Problems we act as the virtuous person would act

          a.       But we have few exemplars of what an environmentally virtuous person would act like

          b.       Certainly can’t look to env. philosophers who lead lives of standard Western materialistic comfort, drive to shop at supermarkets, but new clothes, listen to opera on CD players, dine in restaurants, write books/articles on computers, jet to international conferences, teach students in large land-occupying buildings

                    i.        Not that they are hypocritical, but that sincerely holding to ethical beliefs is far short of being virtuous, including practical wisdom about how to act in particular circumstances

          c.       Can’t look to native peoples, because what is virtuous depends on context; humans are socially and historically situated beings and what a 20th century city-dweller’s virtue is not going to manifest itself in same ways as native peoples.


34.     Pessimistic possibility that nothing we do can get us out of our mess virtuously

          a.       Growth may go against virtue of being rightly oriented to nature

          b.       But justice (another virtue) might require growth to lift up the poor



35.     Concerned with what sort of people humans should be and what we should do, but that’s not problematic


36.     Thomas Hill’s appeal to virtue is inappropriately human-centered

          a.       Hill’s argument

          b.       Neither utilitarianism nor deontology can explain why wantonly destroying a living thing such as a tree is wrong      

                    i.        Because trees neither have feelings nor rights

          c.       Hill explains its wrongness in virtue ethics terms: it shows arrogance and lack of proper humility

          d.       Explains what is wrong with lack of humility regarding nature is that it has a dangerous tendency to lead person to treat other people disrespectfully

37.     This parallel’s Kant’s inadequate explanation of why it is wrong to be cruel to animals, namely that it will make one cruel to people

          a.       Kant’s account wrong because (1) not clear people cruel to animals more likely to be cruel to people and (2) missed the point: animals suffering matters for its own sake and inflicting it pointlessly is cruel and deplorable whether or not it makes one cruel to people

38.     Hill’s account misses point that killing a tree matters and it is arrogant to wantonly destroy living things whether or not this is likely to make me act arrogantly toward humans (a dubious empirical claim, in any case)

39.     Virtue ethics needn’t explain why virtues are good and vices bad in terms of their affects on (other?) people (in way Hill does).


40.     True virtue ethics holds that virtues benefit their possessor

          a.       Virtues necessary and, with luck, sufficient for “eudaimonia” = living well as a human being

          b.       Does this mean that human well-being is only thing that really matters morally?

          c.       That human well-being is the top value, ranked above any other in a human chauvinistic way?


41.     Top value for virtue ethics is acting virtuously (rather than human well-being, which can come from acting virtuously)

42.     No guarantee that acting virtuously will lead to human well-being

          a.       If live under sway of evil tyrants, then eudaimonia may not be possible (act contrary to virtue or be tortured)


43.     Whatever blocks virtue, blocks eudaimonia (living well as a human being)

44.     If we are born into a world whose societies so predicated on despoiling nature that their very existence depends on continuing to despoil nature

          a.       Might be able to live in accordance with virtue of being rightly oriented toward nature if you leave society

          b.       But then will have cut myself off from exercise of most other virtues

          c.       So eudaimonia is beyond grasp.

45.     It is possible that we have made such a mess of things that we may not be able to live well as part of nature for many generations.


46.     Optimistic hope that the coming generation will embody these virtues and help us see how we should live rightly with nature.