Environmental Ethics and the Principles of Pluralism and Environmental Pragmatism Assignment

Environmental Ethics and the Principles of Pluralism and Environmental Pragmatism Assignment Words: 1536

by Chum Hamilton Environmental Ethics ENV362 Professor Dave Williams August 16, 2008 CONTENTS Pluralism and Environmental Pragmatism3 My Response6 References9 Pluralism and Environmental Pragmatism With the widely differing theoretical environmental ethic philosophical frameworks that are currently espoused, it is clear that a single unified theory has not yet emanated from this discipline. This has frustrated “monists” within the discipline.

Monists contend that there must be a single environmental ethic framework that is the only true framework. Underpinning this standpoint is the idea that environmental ethics would be devoid of any objectivity if there is not a single “true” theoretical framework: “One strong motivation behind moral monism is the fear of the alternative. Without a single unified and coherent theory, we seem relegated to ethical relativism” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 262).

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In contrast to the monists, “pluralists” are those who “accept the possibility that more than one basic approach can be legitimate” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 262) and they subscribe to “a plurality of moral truths,” as opposed to the relativist, who contends that lack of a single truth means that there can be no moral truth. Desjardins notes that “perhaps it is a mistake to apply scientific and mathematical standards to ethics. Perhaps we are asking too much when we seek clear, unambiguous and certain decisions on ethical matters.

Perhaps we can be rational about ethical matters without having unequivocal, definitive answers” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 263). Environmental pragmatism acknowledges moral pluralism, and focuses less on what is true, per se, and more on what it is that we should do about issues. It is a very “contextual” approach in that each issue presents its own complexities that need to be reviewed in order to begin to make a decision. Pragmatists “understand that practical reasoning may not always offer unambiguous advice” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 66). Desjardins also goes on to describe that “pragmatism also supports democratic values such as tolerance and respect for diverse opinions and the commitment to engaging in free and open procedures for deciding rather than seeking the single ‘true’ decision” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 266). Desjardin then goes on to note that he had a personal experience where a task force had to make a difference. Apparently, the task force was not able to make much headway in its first two years of existence.

He contends that this resulted from the fact that the first two years were characterized by the task force members coming at the issue unyieldingly from whatever their theoretical viewpoint was that they began the meetings with. He feels that once the task force began focusing on what the different participants actually did already agree on that they really started to gain momentum and make headway with the issue: “the alternative began with the practical matter of getting things done, and it did this by starting with specific issues on which people agreed.

Ultimately, ‘theory’ followed practice in the sense that the final governing principle was developed out of the agreed upon starting points” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 267). Critics of environmental pragmatism claim that the decision plans that emanate from this pragmatism approach are really nothing more than more of the same. In other words, they still reflect business as usual and the status quo.

Pragmatists feel as if this criticism is not valid because they view the pragmatic approach to decision-making as a venue through which opinions not in step with the status quo get surfaced so that more people may benefit from them as they make decisions. In other words, because this process makes differing positions known and because it makes the black-box of the decision-making process transparent, then it opens the door for the status quo to evolve: “as values are brought in line with practices, they evolve to guide future practices, which in turn shape future values” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 268).

Critics also feel that because pragmatism relies heavily on the notion that decisions should be made within that context within which they arise that it must, therefore, be relativistic. Desjardins notes that pragmatists have responded to this criticism by claiming that they are more interested in what is reasonable as opposed to what is true. And, further, they hold that there are standards to reasonableness that are upheld: 1) intellectual and moral openness, 2) intellectual and moral care, and 3) attention to detail. These standards “prevent the collapse of pragmatism into relativism” (Desjardins, 2006, p. 69). My Response Information I have read to date regarding pluralism and environmental pragmatism leads me to believe that these approaches are more aligned with my own personal values and ethical beliefs than are the other environmental ethics frameworks we have surveyed in this class. However, I would not be comfortable referring to pluralism and environmental pragmatism as an “environmental ethic framework” in and of itself. It strikes me more like a valid decision-making process that may eventually lead to establishing a more coherent framework rather than a framework itself.

As Kelly Parker noted in her chapter in Environmental Pragmatism, “Pragmatism sees philosophical ethics as an ongoing attempt to determine what is good, and what actions are right” (Parker, 1996, p. 30). It also strikes me as the only way we will actually be able to get anything done with respect to solving/mitigating environmental problems in the meantime while the debates over the “correct unified theory” continue. However, I am not too deeply discounting the role of theoretical environmental ethic frameworks- without these multiple frameworks, the “plural” would be taken out of “pluralism. Obviously, these theories will (and should) continue to evolve. I just feel that when we are dealing with environmental issues, we should look to pluralism and pragmatism as our “first responder. ” In many situations, we are in an environmental emergency and time is of the essence. Pragmatic approaches are probably the only approaches that can be agreed upon the fastest. Imagine the time it would take us to agree on the one “true” theory before we were able to even decide what to do! It will take a lot less time to agree on at least some things that can be done now in order to help solve environmental issues.

Supporting the notion that theory should not be too deeply discounted if pragmatism is to gain ground is Piers H. G. Stevens, the feature editor for the Sage publication Organization and Environment. In his book review of Bryan G. Norton’s Sustainability: A Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management voices a concern that political participation has waned and corporate monopoly power has grown and that this situation threatens true democracy. Consequently, he doesn’t share Norton’s desire to dispose with theory and focus only on the pragmatic. He feels that theory is needed as inspiration “to help reclaim true democracy in the public sphere. (pg 391). Thus it seems to me that theory without pragmatism is foolish, but pragmatism without theory is just as foolish. I very much enjoyed the way that Desjardins ended the textbook chapter on pluralism and environmental pragmatism. He made note of the three pillars of sustainable development when writing “A sustainable future must be sustainable on three related grounds: economic, environmental, and ethical. ” (pg. 269). Reviewing the issues that were brought up in this course allowed me to see that for many, many years we have gone about our business as if we were in a vacuum and that environmental issues didn’t need our attention.

This “discounting environmental matters” is clearly the wrong way to approach our current and future existence. However, we should not let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction where we discount economic needs. It is true that too much of a focus on economic considerations may have caused us to be short-sighted. However, we should not lose sight of the importance of the economy. We have in fact already done this if you ask me. In my opinion, we did this a while back when we elevated the notion of the “economy” so high up that we let people become subservient to the “economy. All interests- environmental, social, spiritual, and individual- may be better served if we take a view of the economy where the “economy should be for the people” not where “the people should be for the economy. ” In many ways, our economy is also very much part of our human habitat and we must be concerned with it since it is the venue through which we are able to work in exchange for goods and services that we NEED. Of course, there are also plenty of goods and services that we don’t need. These are expressions of our wants as opposed to our needs. Human survival is as important as is the survival of anything else on this planet.

However, it is undoubtedly the case that notions of human comfort should be revisited in light of the importance of the survival of other things on this planet. References Desjardins, J. (2006). Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy (4th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. Parker, K. (1996). Pragmatism and environmental thought. In A. Light & E. Katz (Eds. ), Environmental Pragmatism (pp. 21-37). New York: Routledge. Stephens, P. (2007). Sustainability, democracy, and pragmatism in Bryan Norton’s philosophy of ecosystem management. Organization and Environment, 20, 386-392.

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