Philip Cafaro, “Thoreau, Leopold, and Carson: Toward an Environmental Virtue Ethics” (Environmental Ethics, 2001)


1.      OVERVIEW

2.      Much env ethics argues for nature protection based on the intrinsic value and moral considerability of nonhumans

         a.      Such concerns give us strong reasons to worry about our destruction, overuse, and excessive appropriation of nature

3.      Environmental virtue ethics (EVE) argues for nature protection based on ideals of human excellence and flourishing

4.      EVE

         a.      Incorporates a respect for nature

                   i.       People who flourish and are virtuous respect nature

         b.      Conceives human interests broadly

                   i.       Not just jobs/income, but e.g., aesthetic appreciation of nature

         c.      Sees env protection as being in our enlightened self-interest

                   i.       Joy and fulfillment found in a more env conscious life

5.      To arguments for nature protection based on

         a.      Materialistic self-interest

         b.      Based on intrinsic value and moral considerability of nonhumans

         c.      EVE adds arguments for preserving nature in order to preserve human possibilities and help us become better people




7.      One: W/o virtue ethics, env. ethics is incomplete

         a.      Because ethics is incomplete w/o virtue ethics

8.      How virtue ethics differs from other types of ethics

         a.      Non-virtue ethics (Kantian deontology or utilitarianism–ethics of action/principle/duty)

         b.      Concentrate exclusively on rights and responsibilities

         c.      Judge our acts solely whether uphold or violate moral duty

         d.      Kantian deontology: Right acts are universalizable and respect individuals rights

         e.      Utilitarianism: Right acts have consequences that maximize overall good

         f.       Both seek to tell us what our obligations are

9.      These ethical theories ignore important ethical questions

         a.      What is best life for a person? How can I go about living it? What kind of person should I be?

         b.      What is a good society? How can we move closer to achieving it?

10.    Virtue ethics (VE) answers these questions

         a.      Any complete valuation of acts/lives must have VE component

11.    Any complete env ethics also muse include an EVE

         a.      Acts that affect env rebound and affect us, opening or closing off possibilities

         b.      Our env decisions make us better or worse people and create better or worse societies (healthier or sicker, richer or poorer)


12.    Two: Virtue ethics gives us important reasons for environmental protection and they are “positive” reasons and that’s useful as a counterbalance to all the negative proscriptions environmentalists often give

         a.      Enviros seen as killjoys, demanding that we sacrifice human freedom or happiness for environment

13.    EVE provides strong self-interested reasons for protecting the env (based on persons concern for own virtue and flourishing)

         a.      Recognition of enlightened self-interest gives us further incentive to respect wild nature’s intrinsic value

         b.      Makes our duties less onerous

         c.      Can help us lead better and more joyful lives

14.    Greater attention to our true happiness would do as much to protect the env as acceptance of intrinsic value of wild nature






17.    Thoreau’s Walden (1854) describes life of personal development and enriched exp, centered on pursuit of knowledge of self and nature

         a.      A description of how to flourish and live well (goal of VE)

         b.      Snug and secure in his cabin facing winter’s blasts

         c.      Floating on pond, symbol of personal equilibrium and harmony with surroundings

18.    Thoreau’s view of good life

         a.      Health, freedom (includes time to explore his local landscape w/o being arrested for trespassing), pleasure, friendship, rich experience, knowledge (of self, nature, god), self-culture and personal achievement

         b.      Great physical pleasure and sensual stimulation in living and working in the woods and compares this life favorably to indoor lives of so many

         c.      Possibility for living well in nature and what we may give up by living a more urban existence

19.    Virtues Thoreau focuses on include env virtues of:

         a.      Temperance, integrity, sensibility to beauty and (most important) simplicity

20.    Thoreau’s simplicity is his keystone virtue

         a.      Not of thought or experience–wants to complicate and enrich these

         b.      Simplicity means

                   i.       Limited use of external goods

                   ii.      Focus on task at hand

21.    Benefits of simplicity

         a.      Simplicity allows us to stabilize and focus our lives and develop a rich character

         b.      In a complicated world, simplicity allows us to understand effects of our actions and act with integrity

         c.      Simplicity a key to freedom, for if live simply, need on trade most of our time to an employer and can spend it as we wish

         d.      Simplicity important for env as living simply decreases our impact on other living things

                   i.       But Thoreau and many others also believe it will also improve our lives




23.    Leopold also an env virtue ethicist

24.    A Sand County Almanac (1947) shows opportunities for knowledge and self-development made possible by greater attention to nature

25.    Good life not solely or mainly material

         a.      Wealthy Americans have reached the point where they can’t better their lives via increased wealth or material possession

         b.      Instead should strive to live lives rich in perception and knowledge of surroundings

26.    Key virtue for Leopold was keen perception and appreciation of nature

         a.      Demonstrates an aes app of plants and animals and places

         b.      Exhibits virtues of naturalist: patience, eagerness, physical endurance, persistence a keen perception, skill in making fine distinctions, precise description

         c.      These activities make us happier and better people.

         d.      Allow us to pursue knowledge and enrich our exp w/o diminishing nature

27.    Leopold asks us to conceive of our own flourishing in ways that sustain and depend on flourishing of natural communities we are part of



29.    Carson often seen as founder of modern env movement

30.    Her book Silent Spring (1962) explored the use and abuse of agricultural and industrial chemicals

31.    Carson showed heroic determination to publish her book and defend its conclusions publicly in face of declining health and well-financed personal smear champaign by the chemical and agribusiness industries

32.    Carson’s plea for restraint rests on

         a.      Human health considerations

                   i.       Man is part of nature and he can’t escape the pollution so thoroughly distributed throughout the world

         b.      Moral considerability of nonhuman beings

                   i.       Insects we poison deserve something better from us

         c.      Value to humans of preserving wild nature: preserving wild nature helps promote human happiness and flourishing

                   i.       Destruction of wild nature is a human loss

                   ii.      There is a great danger that the next generation will have no chance to know nature as we do

                            (1)    “Can anyone imagine anything so cheerless and dreary as a springtime without a robin’s song?

                   iii.     Aes value and intellectual stimulation provided by wildlife and wild places

                            (1)    Beauty and order of nature has a meaning that is deep and imperative

33.    **Widespread knowledge of nature would motivate people to protect it

34.    Humility was the cardinal env virtue for Carson

         a.      “The control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man”

35.    Virtues Carson embodied: tenacity, intelligence, courage and passionate commitment to nature



         a.      Any EVE must include

37.    A desire to put economic life in proper place

         a.      As support for comfortable and decent human lives rather than as an engine powering endlessly more acquisition and consumption

         b.      Both in personal economies and modern industrial economies

         c.      Subordinate economic life to life as a whole

38.    A commitment to science combined with an appreciation of its limits

         a.      All three were active participants in the science of their day, trying to learn as much as they could about aspects of nature that intrigued them

         b.      Resisted cold objectivity and insisted science be supplement by personal acquaintance and appreciation

39.    Nonanthropocentrism (nonhumans are morally important in their own right and not just in so far as they contribute to human flourishing)

         a.      Their virtue ethics complements (not replaces) nonanthropocentrism

         b.      Objection: EVE is anthropocentric as it focuses on humans enlightened self-interest

                   i.       EVE starts with a concern for human interests, but does not remain there

                   ii.      Says in our interests to explore and experience the world

                   iii.     In so doing we discover intrinsic value nonhumans

                   iv.     EVE does not assume human self-interest always coincides with interests of nonhumans, nor that human interests always trump

         c.      These claims are true of an env ethic that accepts EVE plus moral considerability of and direct duties to nonhumans.

                   i.       But not clear true of EVE by itselfby itself, it does seem anthropocentric

                   ii.      Perhaps the idea is that the intense attention to nature required by EVE and the aesthetic appreciation involved will lead to a non-anthropocentric view?

40.    An appreciation of wild and support for wilderness protection

         a.      Important for protecting nonhumans

         b.      Important for protecting human possibilities, freedom, self-reliance, stretching our imaginations and teaching us humility

         c.      Wilderness must be known and experienced on pain of ignorance, arrogance and impoverishment

41.    Bedrock belief that life is good, both human and nonhuman



43.    Are there objective and universal human standards of excellence or are the virtues and conceptions of human flourishing particular and historically contingent?

44.    Are the virtues unified or can they conflict?

45.    Artificial alternatives argument is a problem for EVE

         a.      Objection: When we have specified the good life, we will find that it can be lived just as well in a largely artificial world and so no need for wild nature

         b.      Reply: Importance of diversity and understanding the radical otherness of nonhuman nature

                   i.       No need to say wild is absoluely superior to tame

                            (1)    But that a mix of wild and tame in individuals and cultures is the best

                   ii.      Given how much we dominate the world now, this will lead to extensive preservation and restoration of wild nature

Questions for Cafaro

1.         Why does Cafaro think ethics and environmental ethics is incomplete w/o virtue ethics? What does virtue ethics add to traditional utilitarian and deontology (Kantian) ethics of duty and action? How is it different from these?

2.         In what way does virtue ethics provide “positive” reasons for acting environmentally (in contrast with the negative proscriptions environmentalists often give?

3.         Who are the three environmental writers Cafaro describes and explain their key environmental virtues?

4.         What does Thoreau mean by simplicity and what benefits does it provide? Why is it an environmental virtue?

5.         How important is widespread knowledge of nature as a motivation for people protecting nature?

6.         Cafaro identifies a number of common themes in the three writers he considers concerning what is involved in human flourishing. Identify and explain three of these.

7.         How does Cafaro propose to answer the objection that the good life for humans can be lived in a largely artificial world so we do not need wild nature?