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Anup Gampa rated it really liked it Dec 25, Richard rated it really liked it Feb 02, Catherine McCormack rated it really liked it Sep 03, Sep 21, Anna Ledwin rated it liked it Shelves: Sarah rated it really liked it Jan 11, Kyle Martelle rated it liked it Jul 08, Masa added it Jul 06, Elizabeth marked it as to-read Sep 18, Mac Workman marked it as to-read May 11, Anna Uthe marked it as to-read Oct 03, Elizabeth marked it as to-read May 15, Keyur is currently reading it Feb 23, Humanity did not explicitly adopt science as the preferred tool for acquiring knowledge after choosing among a set of possibilities; we simply used our own mental functioning to explain the world.

If reason is a universal human feature, any knowledge can be transmitted and understood by everyone without the need for alien constraints, not unlike art or music. Moreover, science has demonstrated that it is a supreme mechanism to explain the world, to solve problems and to fulfil human needs.

A fundamental condition of science is its dynamic nature: Every scientific theory is always under scrutiny and questioned whenever new evidence seems to challenge its validity. No other knowledge system has demonstrated this capacity, and even, the defenders of faith-based systems are common users of medical services and technological facilities that have emerged from scientific knowledge. For these reasons, formal education from primary school to high school should therefore place a much larger emphasis on teaching young people how science has shaped and advanced human culture and well-being, but also that science flourishes best when scientists are left free to apply human reason to understand the world.

This also means that we need to educate the educators and consequently to adopt adequate science curricula at university education departments. Scientists themselves must get more involved both in schools and universities. But scientists will also have to get more engaged with society in general. The improvement of human culture and society relies on more diffuse structural and functional patterns. In the case of science, its diffusion to the general public is commonly called the popularisation of science and can involve scientists themselves, rather than journalists and other communicators.

In this endeavour, scientists should be actively and massively involved. Scientists—especially those working in public institutions—should make a greater effort to communicate to society what science is and what is not; how is it done; what are its main results; and what are they useful for.

In summary, putting a stronger emphasis on formal science education and on raising the general cultural level of society should lead to a more enlightened knowledge-based society—as opposed to the H vision of a knowledge-based economy—that is less susceptible to dogmatic moral systems. Scientists should still use the other arguments—technological progress, improved health and well-being and economic gains—to justify their work, but better education would provide the additional support needed to convince citizens about the usefulness of science beyond its economic value.

Science is not only necessary for humanity to thrive socially, environmentally and economically in both the short and the long term, but it is also the best tool available to satisfy the fundamental human thirst for knowledge, as well as to maintain and enhance the human cultural heritage, which is knowledge-based by definition. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Published online Aug Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Botanic Institute of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.

This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Open in a separate window. Conflict of interest The author declares that he has no conflict of interest. Moreover, the idea that animal ethics imply large-scale interferences in the environment can be questioned when one considers how much harm this would inflict upon predator and scavenger animals. Nevertheless, clashes of interest between individual animals and other natural entities are inevitable, and when push comes to shove animal ethicists will invariably grant priority to individual conscious animals.

Many environmental ethicists disagree, and are convinced that the boundaries of our ethical concern need to be pushed back further. As noted above, numerous philosophers have questioned the notion that only conscious beings have moral standing. The thought experiment asks us to consider a situation, such as the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, where the only surviving human being is faced with the only surviving tree of its species.

If the individual chops down the tree, no human would be harmed by its destruction. For our purposes we should alter the example and say that all animals have also perished in the holocaust. Would this individual be wrong to destroy the tree? According to a human or animal-centered ethic, it is hard to see why such destruction would be wrong. And yet, many of us have the strong intuition that the individual would act wrongly by chopping down the tree. For some environmental philosophers, this intuition suggests that moral standing should be extended beyond conscious life to include individual living organisms, such as trees.

Of course, and as I have mentioned before, we cannot rely only on intuitions to decide who or what has moral standing. For this reason, a number of philosophers have come up with arguments to justify assigning moral standing to individual living organisms. One of the earliest philosophers to put forward such an argument was Albert Schweitzer.

This, after all, would require some kind of conscious experience, which many living things lack. However, perhaps what Schweitzer was getting at was something like Paul W. For Taylor, this means that living things have a good of their own that they strive towards, even if they lack awareness of this fact. It is this value that grants individual living organisms moral status, and means that we must take the interests and needs of such entities into account when formulating our moral obligations.

Conflict of interest

But if we recognize moral standing in every living thing, how are we then to formulate any meaningful moral obligations? For example we need to walk, eat, shelter and clothe ourselves, all of which will usually involve harming living things. Of course, this simply begs the question: Taylor attempts to answer this question by advocating a position of general equality between the interests of living things, together with a series of principles in the event of clashes of interest.

First, the principles state that humans are allowed to act in self-defense to prevent harm being inflicted by other living organisms. Second, the basic interests of nonhuman living entities should take priority over the nonbasic or trivial interests of humans. Third, when basic interests clash, humans are not required to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others Taylor, , pp. As several philosophers have pointed out, however, this ethic is still incredibly demanding.

For some, this makes the ethic unreasonably burdensome. No doubt because of these worries, other philosophers who accord moral standing to all living organisms have taken a rather different stance. Instead of adopting an egalitarian position on the interests of living things, they propose a hierarchical framework Attfield, and Varner, Such thinkers point out that moral standing is not the same as moral significance. So while we could acknowledge that plants have moral standing, we might nevertheless accord them a much lower significance than human beings, thus making it easier to justify our use and destruction of them.

Nevertheless, several philosophers remain uneasy about the construction of such hierarchies and wonder whether it negates the acknowledgement of moral standing in the first place. After all, if we accept such a hierarchy, just how low is the moral significance of plants? If it is low enough so that I can eat them, weed them and walk on them, what is the point of granting them any moral standing at all?

There remain two crucial challenges facing philosophers who attribute moral standing to individual living organisms that have not yet been addressed. One challenge comes from the anthropocentric thinkers and animal liberationists. For example, while plants may have a biological good, is it really good of their own?

Indeed, there seems to be no sense in which something can be said to be good or bad from the point of view of the plant itself. In response to this challenge, environmental ethicists have pointed out that conscious volition of an object or state is not necessary for that object or state to be a good. For example, consider a cat that needs worming. It is very unlikely that the cat has any understanding of what worming is, or that he needs worming in order to remain healthy and fit.

Similarly, plants and tress may not consciously desire sunlight, water or nutrition, but each, according to some ethicists, can be said to be good for them in that they contribute to their biological flourishing. The second challenge comes from philosophers who question the individualistic nature of these particular ethics. As mentioned above, these critics do not believe that an environmental ethic should place such a high premium on individuals.

For many, this individualistic stance negates important ecological commitments to the interdependence of living things, and the harmony to be found in natural processes. Moreover, it is alleged that these individualistic ethics suffer from the same faults as anthropocentric and animal-centered ethics: Once again, however, a word of caution is warranted here. Often the equilibrium of these entities is taken extremely seriously See Taylor, , p. However, it must be remembered that such concern is extended only insofar as such equilibrium is necessary in order for individual living organisms to flourish; the wholes themselves have no independent moral standing.

For Leopold, land is not merely soil. Instead, land is a fountain of energy, flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals. While food chains conduct the energy upwards from the soil, death and decay returns the energy back to the soil. Thus, the flow of energy relies on a complex structure of relations between living things.


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For one thing, it seems that Leopold jumps too quickly from a descriptive account of how the land is , to a prescriptive account of what we ought to do. What precisely is it about the biotic community that makes it deserving of moral standing? Unfortunately, Leopold seems to offer no answers to these important questions, and thus no reason to build our environmental obligations around his land ethic.

Baird Callicott has argued that such criticisms of Leopold are unfair and misplaced. According to Callicott, Leopold lies outside of mainstream moral theory. Thus, the question is not, what quality does the land possess that makes it worthy of moral standing? But rather, how do we feel about the land Callicott, ? In this light, the land ethic can be seen as an injunction to broaden our moral sentiments beyond self-interest, and beyond humanity to include the whole biotic community.

Of course, some have questioned whether sentiment and feelings are suitable foundations for an environmental ethic. After all, there seem to be plenty of people out there who have no affection for the biotic community whatsoever.


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In the search for more concrete foundations, Lawrence E. Johnson has built an alternative case for according moral standing to holistic entities Johnson, Johnson claims that once we recognize that interests are not always tied to conscious experience, the door is opened to the possibility of nonconscious entities having interests and thus moral standing. So, just as breathing oxygen is in the interests of a child, even though the child has neither a conscious desire for oxygen, nor any understanding of what oxygen is, so do species have an interest in fulfilling their nature.

This is because both have a good of their own, based on the integrated functioning of their life processes ibid. Children can flourish as living things, and so too can species and ecosystems; so, according to Johnson, both have interests that must be taken into account in our ethical deliberations. But even if we accept that moral standing should be extended to holistic entities on this basis, we still need to consider how we are then to flesh out our moral obligations concerning the environment.

For some, this is where holistic ethics fail to convince. In particular, it has been claimed that holistic ethics condone sacrificing individuals for the sake of the whole. Now while many holistic philosophers do explicitly condone sacrificing individuals in some situations, for example by shooting rabbits to preserve plant species, they are reluctant to sacrifice human interests in similar situations. In response, proponents of such ethics have claimed that acknowledging moral standing in holistic entities does not mean that one must deny the interests and rights of human beings.

While this is obviously true, that still leaves the question of what to do when the interests of wholes clash with the interests of individuals. If humans cannot be sacrificed for the good of the whole, why can rabbits? The answer that has been put forward by Callicott claims that while the biotic community matters morally, it is not the only community that matters. Thus, our obligations to the biotic community may require the culling of rabbits, but may not require the culling of humans.

This is because we are part of a tight-knit human community, but only a very loose human-rabbit community. In this way, we can adjudicate clashes of interest, based on our community commitments. This communitarian proposal certainly seems a way out of the dilemma. Unfortunately, it faces two key problems: As for the first point, if deciding on our community attachments is left up to individuals themselves, this will lead to quite diverse and even repugnant moral obligations.

For example, if an individual believes that he has a much stronger attachment to white males than to black women, does this mean that he can legitimately favor the interests of the former over the latter? If not, and an objective standard is to be imposed, we are left with the enormous problem of discovering this standard and reaching consensus on it.

Without doubt, extending moral standing to the degree of holistic ethics requires some extremely careful argumentation when it comes to working out the precise content of our environmental obligations. Not all philosophers writing on our obligations concerning the environment see the problem simply in terms of extending moral standing. First of all, none see extending moral standing as sufficient to resolve the environmental crisis.

They argue that a broader philosophical perspective is needed, requiring fundamental changes in both our attitude to and understanding of reality. This involves reexamining who we are as human beings and our place within the natural world. For radical ecologists, ethical extensionism is inadequate because it is stuck in the traditional ways of thinking that led to these environmental problems in the first place.

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In short, it is argued that ethical extensionism remains too human-centered, because it takes human beings as the paradigm examples of entities with moral standing and then extends outwards to those things considered sufficiently similar. Secondly, none of these radical ecologies confine themselves solely to the arena of ethics. Instead, radical ecologies also demand fundamental changes in society and its institutions. In other words, these ideologies have a distinctively political element, requiring us to confront the environmental crisis by changing the very way we live and function, both as a society and as individuals.

According to deep ecologists, shallow ecology is anthropocentric and concerned with pollution and resource depletion. Shallow ecology might thus be regarded as very much the mainstream wing of environmentalism. In other words, deep ecologists are not aiming to formulate moral principles concerning the environment to supplement our existing ethical framework. Instead, they demand an entirely new worldview and philosophical perspective.

The most important application of science

While the various eco-philosophies that have developed within deep ecology are diverse, Naess and George Sessions have compiled a list of eight principles or statements that are basic to deep ecology:. In other words deep ecologists do not offer one unified ultimate perspective, but possess various and divergent philosophical and religious allegiances. Moving to this wider Self involves recognizing that as human beings we are not removed from nature, but are interconnected with it. Recognizing our wider Self thus involves identifying ourselves with all other life forms on the planet.

For Fox, as with Naess, this consciousness involves our widest possible identification with the non-human world. The usual ethical concern of formulating principles and obligations thus becomes unnecessary, according to Fox, for once the appropriate consciousness is established, one will naturally protect the environment and allow it to flourish, for that will be part and parcel of the protection and flourishing of oneself Fox, Critics of deep ecology argue that it is just too vague to address real environmental concerns.

For one thing, in its refusal to reject so many worldviews and philosophical perspectives, many have claimed that it is difficult to uncover just what deep ecology advocates. For example, on the one hand, Naess offers us eight principles that deep ecologists should accept, and on the other he claims that deep ecology is not about drawing up codes of conduct, but adopting a global comprehensive attitude.

In particular, just how are we to deal with clashes of interests? According to the third principle, for example, humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of the natural world unless to meet vital needs. But does that mean we are under an obligation to protect the richness and diversity of the natural world? If so, perhaps we could cull non-native species such as rabbits when they damage ecosystems. But then, the first principle states that non-human beings such as rabbits have inherent value, and the fifth principle states that human interference in nature is already excessive.

So just what should we do? Clearly, the principles as stated by Naess and Sessions are too vague to offer any real guide for action. However, perhaps principles are not important, as both Naess and Fox have claimed.

Environmental Ethics

Instead, they claim that we must rely on the fostering of the appropriate states of consciousness. Unfortunately, two problems remain. First of all, it is not at all clear that all conflicts of interest will be resolved by the adoption of the appropriate state of consciousness. For even if I identify myself with all living things, some of those things, such as bacteria and viruses, may still threaten me as a discrete living organism. At this point deep ecologists would object that such criticisms remain rooted in the ideology that has caused so much of the crisis we now face.

For example, take the point about persuading others.