Western Washington University Western Washington University ------------------------------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------

Environmental Management Seminar

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Discussion Questions for Environmental Ethics:

1) The question of 'value' is foundational to discussions of environmental issues. How is a 'value' for the environment to be determined? Can 'value' be measured without reference to money? Is there a way to establish value without being homocentric? Consider the following:
"If I am right there is no theory of intrinsic value that, in a parsimonious fashion, can possibly meet the demands this conception of an environmental ethic imposes upon it."
With what 'values' was Zuckerman concerned? Were any 'values' overlooked by the framing of the issue in the following way?
"Zuckerman faced a dilemma. He had to choose whether to butcher Wilbur (the slaughterhouse would have paid for the pig) or on moral and aesthetic grounds to spare his life..."
2) It is alternately claimed that...
"Nature is random, contingent, blind, disastrous, wasteful, indifferent, selfish, cruel, clumsy, ugly, struggling, full of suffering, and, ultimately death?
This sees only the shadows, and there has to be light to cast shadows.
Nature is orderly, prolific, efficient, selecting for adapted fit, exuberant, complex, diverse, renews life in the midst of death, struggling through to something higher."
Which view is correct? What are the practical implications of embracing one or the other view?

3) Which of the following alternate world views is most accurate?

"So this land of the great plains is claimed by the Lakota as their very own. We are of the soil and the soil is of us. We love the birds and beasts that grew with us on this soil. They drank the same water as we did and breathed the same air. We are all one in nature. Believing so, there was in our hearts a great peace and a welling kindness for all living, growing things."
-Luther Standing Bear
"I think, too, that we've got to recognize that where the preservation of a natural resource like the redwoods is concerned, that there is a common sense limit. I mean, if you've looked at a hundred thousand acres or so of trees — you know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?"
-Ronald Reagan
(While the issue candidate Reagan was addressing was a legitimate one — how to balance commercial interests against a desire to preserve natural resources for aesthetic reasons — he expressed his thoughts on the subject so coarsely that he came across as glib and callous, and incumbent governor Pat Brown's campaign soon mocked him by transforming his statement into the pithier "If you've seen one redwood, you've seen them all," a phrase that was picked up by the press and widely circulated during the campaign.)

4) Let us now consider the problem of dualism:

"The Bible's discrete distinctions between God, nature, and humanity form a core of current scholarly thought on biblical attitudes toward nature. Because God is distinct from his creation, nature is effectively secularized."

5) Who are we? Are we part of nature, or something separate and distinct from nature?

6) Locke makes the following statements which address property ownership:

"No man's labour could subdue or appropriate all, nor could his enjoyment consume more than a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to entrench upon the right of another or acquire to himself a property to the prejudice of his ne ighbour, who would still have room for as good and as large a possession as before it was appropriated."
Infringing on the commons only occurs when one takes more than can be used. Punishment would occur only if one took products of nature that "perished in their possession without their due use."
Are there any other infringements on the commons beyond consuming that which one can not use? What is implied in Locke's argument regarding the principle of scarcity? About consumption?

7) Locke's basic view about property ownership is implied in the following statements:

"Whatsoever he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined it to something of his own, and thereby makes it his property."
"...cultivating the earth and having dominion...are joined together."
"Tis labour which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would be scarcely worth anything."
In contrast, the Native American's basic view of ownership is implied in the following statement:
"...the Great Spirit told me...that the lands belong to Him, that no people owns the land."
How do these two viewpoints differ with regard to the value of nature? Specifically, the intrinsic vs instrumental value? Is not the view that 'value' is established by the addition of 'our' labour hopelessly homocentric?

8) Locke has very distinctive views of the man's purpose with regard to the environment:

"God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to its best advantage of life and convenience. The earth and all that is therein is given to men for the support and comfort of their being."
"God gave the world to men in common, but since he gave it them for their benefit and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated."
Locke believes land that is left "wholly to nature" is "waste." How does this viewpoint compare with the attitudes of today's American businesses? Give examples.

9) We seem to accept as a matter of course that human beings are 'naturally' driven to acquire more and more. Is this the case, or rather are we socialized into a consumption mentality? What evidence can you provide in support of your position? Even if we are naturally acquisitive, are we hopelessly so? What would it take for us to adopt 'simpler' lifestyles?

10) There seems to be a great debate as to whether or not the environmental problems we face are related more to issues of overconsumption or overpopulation. Leaving this debate aside, what would be the policy implications of defining the principle problem as one of overconsumption? Of defining the principle problem as one of overpopulation?

11) Let's return to the question of our 'nature.' There was a time in our not-so-distant past in which overconsumption was viewed as evidence of a moral lapse--that greed, in short, was viewed as a moral vice. Now, however, we have 'progressed' to the point at which greed is viewed quite differently; consider the words of Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street:

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality.
America…America has become a second-rate power.
Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions.
Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder.
The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, did it because it was their money at stake.
Today, management has no stake in the company!
…The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be the survival of the unfittest.
Well, in my book, you either do it right or you get eliminated.
…I am not a destroyer of companies.
I am a liberator of them!
The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
Greed is right.
Greed works.
Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Greed, in all its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed—you mark my words—will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.
Thank you very much.
Is greed good, or is greed a moral vice?

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