Environmental Ethics Review of Literature

This chapter provides the review of literatures that forms the framework of this study. Reviews of the concepts that underpin this research will help elucidate and justify the major elements under which this study is based on.

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Environmental ethics is the discipline that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents. It also can be defined as the field of inquiry that addresses the ethical responsibilities of human beings for the natural environment. This field took its name from the 1979 creation of the journal Environmental Ethics. (Botzler & Armstrong, 1998)

Environmental ethics is the part of environmental philosophy which considers the ethical relationship between human beings and the natural environment. It is the field of inquiry that addresses the ethical responsibilities of human beings for the natural environment. It also exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including law, sociology, theology, economics, ecology and geography.

Environmental ethics is that part of applied ethics which examines the moral basis of our responsibility toward the environment. The fundamental questions are the following (Naess, 1973):

What are the obligations of the whole of the mankind toward the natural world?
How to allocate the benefits and charges deriving from the respect of these obligations?
What policies and institutional structures should be established to implement them?

The academic field of environmental ethics grew up in response to the work of scientists such as Rachel Carson and events such as the first Earth Day in 1970, when environmentalists started urging philosophers to consider the philosophical aspects of environmental problems. Two papers published in Science had a crucial impact: Lynn White’s “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (March 1967) and Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (December 1968). Also influential was Garrett Hardin’s later essay called “Exploring New Ethics for Survival”, as well as an essay by Aldo Leopold in his A Sand County Almanac, called “The Land Ethic,” in which Leopold explicitly claimed that the roots of the ecological crisis were philosophical (1949).

2.2 Man-nature relationship

Nature can be seen as beautiful and harmonious but it also inspires fear in man who has had to fight it in order to survive. Nowadays, nature is threatened by man who has become detached from it. Technology has endowed humans with the power of a major geological agency, which may act on a continental or even planetary scale (e.g. acid rain, photochemical smog, radioactive contamination, stratospheric ozone depletion, climate change). These man-made environmental problems cannot all be solved by technology alone.

Changes in human behaviour are necessary, hence the need for codes of conduct based on the ethics of the environment. The relationship between man and nature must be reconsidered. (Bourdeau, 2003)

As human population growth, technology, pollution and demands on finite resources begin to tax the earth’s capacity. A fundamental change in man’s attitude toward the environment and most important of all, an ethical basis for the necessary legal and incentives is required for the man to avoid self-destruction in the environment. According to Blackstone (1974), the main cause of environmental crisis is mistaken values and attitudes, which are “the attitudes that we can exploit the environment without restrictions, that the production of goods is more important than the people who use them, that nature will provide unlimited resources, that we have no obligation to future generations to conserve resources, that continued increases in human population is desirable and that the right to have as many children as one wants is an inviolate right, that the answer to the problems of technology is more technology, and that gross differences and inequities in the distribution of goods and services are quite acceptable”.

The “environmental awareness movement” which begin in the late 1960s is evidence that people’s attitudes are changing rapidly, and so it would seem that the development of an environmental ethics is but a logical extension of general ethics.

2.3 Environmental Philosophical Perspective

There are typically four types of philosophical perspective in environmental ethics, which are technocentrism, anthropocentrism, biocentrism and ecocentrism. Technocentrism and anthropocentrism based on the values centred on technology and human while biocentrism and ecocentrism based on the values centred on ecology.

2.3.1 Technocentrism

Technocentrism is the philosophical perspective that meaning values centred on technology. Technocentrics, including imperialists, have absolute faith in technology and industry and firmly believe that humans have control over nature. Although technocentrics may accept that environmental problems do exist, they do not see them as problems to be solved by a reduction in industry. Rather, environmental problems are seen as problems to be solved using science. Indeed, technocentrics see that the way forward for developed and developing countries and the solutions to our environmental problems today lie in scientific and technological advancement.

2.3.2 Anthropocentrism

Anthropocentrism is the philosophical perspective asserting that ethical principles apply to humans only, and that human needs and interests are of highest, and even exclusive, value and importance. Thus, concern for nonhuman entities is limited to those entities having values to humans.

There are typically two major types of anthropocentrism, which is strong anthropocentrism and weak anthropocentrism. Strong anthropocentrism is characterized by the notion that nonhuman species and natural objects have value only to the extent that they satisfy a “felt preference”, which is any fulfil able human desire, whether or not it is based on thought and reflection.

For weak anthropocentrism, it was distinguished by the affirmation that nonhumans and nature objects can satisfy “considered preferable” than as well as “felt preferences”. A “considered preference” is a human desire or need that is based on careful deliberation and is compatible with a rationality adopted world view, incorporating sound metaphysics, scientific theories, aesthetic values and moral ideals. Thus, weak anthropocentrism value nonhuman entities for more than their use in meeting unreflective human needs. They value them for enriching the human experience.

2.3.3 Biocentrism

Biocentrism defined as the belief that all forms of life are equally valuable and humanity is not the centre of existence. In Respect for Nature, Taylor (1986) described the fundamental points of biocentrism. First, Taylor equates the status of human beings with that of animals. He argues that humans and animals share the earth, and should live equally and harmoniously. Second, Taylor says that human and other animal species are interdependent. This rejects the view that humans need animals, or that animals depend upon humans.

Third, every living creature is unique, and lives in its own way for its own good, says Taylor. This implies that one species cannot know more about what is good for another species than that species itself. Fourth, Taylor rejects the argument that human beings are inherently superior to animals.

But, there is a key problem in biocentrism. This philosophical perspective still pre-ecological, which mean that not really focused on ecosystems, but on individual life forms.

2.3.4 Ecocentrism

Ecocentrism is based on the philosophical premise that the natural world has inherent or intrinsic value. There are typically two types of ecocentrism which is the land ethic and deep ecology.

Land ethic was first clearly articulated by Aldo Leopold in the late 1940s. The proponents of the land ethic advocate the human responsibility towards the natural world. Proponents of the land ethic advocate a true environmental ethic, valuing nature in and of itself rather than only in relation to its significance for the survival and well-being of humans or other select species. The land ethic implies human responsibility for natural communities.

Deep ecology is a more recent ecocentric philosophy. This term was coined in 1974 by Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher, as a contrast with the notion of shallow ecology; the latter includes all superficial, short-term reform approaches to solving such environmental problems as pollution and resource depletion. Deep ecology involves an intensive questioning of the values and lifestyles that have led to serious environmental problems.

2.4 Related research with environmental philosophical perspective

There are many studies have been conducted all around the world on environmental philosophical perspectives. Bjerke, T and Kaltenborn, B.P., (1999) had been conducted a study entitled “The relationship of ecocentric and anthropocentric motives to attitudes toward large carnivores” in Norway. The target populations in this study consist of three different groups which is sheep farmer, research biologist and wildlife manager. The results showed positive associations between anthropocentrism and negative attitudes toward carnivores, and between ecocentrism and positive attitudes toward carnivores for all three groups. Farmers, relative to the other groups, scored lowest on the concentric and highest on the anthropocentric subscales.

Kortenkamp., K.V. and Moore., C.F., (2001), had conducted a study entitle “Ecocentrism and anthropocentrism: moral reasoning about ecological common dilemmas” to examine some issues in how people extend ethics to the natural environment. The result showed that the presence of information about the impact of ecological damage on the environment, especially a more “wild” environment, elicited more ecocentric reasoning, while the presence of a social commitment elicited more non environmental moral reasoning.

Another study related with environmental philosophical perspective was a study conducted by Casey., P.J. and Scott., K., (2006), entitled “Environmental concern and behaviour in an Australian sample within an ecocentric-anthropocentric framework”. The result of this study showed that female gender, better education, and being older were associated with higher levels of ecocentric concern for the environment and reporting more ecological behaviours.


Bjerke, T., & Kaltenborn, B. P. (1999). The relationship of ecocentric and anthropocentric motives to attitudes toward large carnivores. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19, 415-421.

Blackstone, T. W. (1974). Philosophy and Environmental Crisis: University of the Georgia Press.

Botzler, R. G., & Armstrong, S. J. (1998). Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence (2nd ed.): McGraw-Hill.

Bourdeau, P. (2003). The man – nature relationship and environmental ethics. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 72, 9-15.

Casey, P. J., & Scott, K. (2006). Environmental Concern and Behaviour in an Australian Sample Within an Ecocentric-Anthropocentric Framework. Australian Journal of Psychology, 58(2), 57-67.

Kortenkamp, K. V., & Moore, C. F. (2001). Ecocentrism and Anthropocentrism: Moral Reasoning About Ecological Commons Dilemmas. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21, 261-272.

Naess, A. (1973). The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movement. Inquiry, 16(1-4), 95-100.

Taylor, P. (1986). Respect For Nature: Princeton University Press.