Philip Cafaro

Gluttony, Arrogance, Greed and Apathy:

An Exploration of Environmental Vice


1.       How human beings fail can teach us much about ourselves

2.       Perhaps nowhere are our failures more apparent than our treatment of nature

3.       Most Americans self-identify as “environmentalists” and support strong policies to protect the environment

          a.       Yet same people behave in environment irresponsible ways

          b.       For example:

                    i.        Plant thirsty bluegrass laws and pour poisons on them to keep them dandelions free

                    ii.       Buy gas-guzzling SUVs and drive them 4 blocks for a loaf of bread

4.       Why when in comes to environment are our actions so out of sync with professed values?

5.       Two answers

          a.       One: Political, economic, and technological systems give us unsustainable choices or push us in those directions

                    i.        Politicians fund highways, not bike paths or mass transit

                    ii.       Corporate advertising stimulates environmentally costly desires, rather than encouraging contentment with what we have

          b.       Two: We as consumers and citizens often chose environmentally worse choices

                    i.        No one forces us to buy big SUVs, build three car garages, or let our bicycles rust

6.       Cafaro’s main claim: Environment problems importantly stem from fact we are bad people (my language, not Cafaro’s)

          a.       Cafaro’s language: “We make environmentally irresponsible choices because we are not the people we should be

          b.       Poor environment behavior stems in part from particular character defects or vices

          c.       Most important environment vices: gluttony, arrogance, greed, and apathy.


7.       Ignores systemic causes/solutions?

          a.       EVE focuses too much on individualistic solutions to environment problems?

          b.       Cafaro reply:

          c.       That we need to worry about environment vice at the individual level does not mean we should ignore larger systemic causes of environmental degradation

          d.       Achieving sustainable societies requires that we make fundamental political change

          e.       Citizens need to work for strong anti-pollution laws, more national parks and wildernesses, more funding for mass transit, more taxes on personal cars, policies to limit human population growth, policies to stop large corporations from setting environment policy

8.       But must also choose wisely in everyday environmental decisions

          a.       Failure of neighbors or leaders does not absolve us from our personal environmental responsibilities

          b.       World is an unjust place, but we should live justly within it


          c.       Ignores tragedy of commons and prisoner’s dilemmas: Cases where individual action without guarantee that others will act means we sacrifice our self-interest for no good at all


9.       Is EVE too judgmental? (See footnote 1)

          a.       In contrast to wrong action language and bad systems language, virtue language is judgmental and will lead to resentment

          b.       Vice is not talked about much (by contemporary philosophers or others)

          c.       Because talking about vice involves being judgmental

          d.       In contrast, if say actions are wrong (instead of people are bad), assume people free to act otherwise

          e.       Vice signifies a deeper evil in people, harder to reform

          f.       Also, if we say particular social arrangements are unfair/unjust locate primary evil “in the system”

          g.       Vice terms locate evil squarely within people

          h.       Fine to criticize particular acts or social arrangements

          i.        Criticizing people generally is not seen to be okay

          j.        Find a persistent evil in people and you border on a pessimism at odds with the optimism most find desirable

10.     Since Cafaro is willing to focus on environment vice as important part of environment problems, he must not think EVE is too judgmental


11.     In common language, vices include drinking, gambling, smoking, nose-picking

12.     Vice (philosophically): A negative character trait (that harms others and typically oneself as well)

13.     Vice harms: Either vicious person, those around him, or both

          a.       This might be a controversial claim.....

          b.       Such as gluttony or greed (avarice) or sloth (being lazy)

14.     Vice objective: Vice judgments can be more or less plausible, sometimes right or wrong, correctable and improvable

15.     Vice depends on ideas about flourishing: Judgments of vice are dependent on particular conceptions of human and nonhuman flourishing and the assumption that these are important

          a.       Views on what “goods” make up a good human life

          b.       So vice judgments change as conceptions of (human) flourishing change

          c.       E.g., if don’t believe that people who spend their lives sitting on couches, drinking beer and watching T.V. are living less than fully (flourishing) human lives, then won’t think that sloth and drunkenness are vices

          d.       E.g., if don’t believe that human flourishing involves admiring contact with the natural world, then you won’t see biophobia (fear pr dislike of nature) as a vice


16.     Four common features of vices

17.     One: Vices hinder legitimate self-development (and virtues lead to flourishing)

          a.       Aristotle: virtues cause people to function well, vices undermine proper human functioning and well-being

          b.       Aquinas: vice lead to weakness, failure and disintegration of self

          c.       E.g., gluttony, arrogance, apathy, greed (harder to make this case)

18.     Two: Vice both bad for individuals and harmful to their communities (and often these harms are related)

          a.       Extreme view Cafaro rejects: Can never benefit ourselves by wronging others

                    i.        Does this reject the key insight of EVE below (“we can’t harm nature without harming ourselves”)?

          b.       Cafaro: Wronging others in attempt to benefit ourselves tends to lead us toward unhappiness

                    i.        Sharp dealings in business leads people to distrust us and so we don’t prosper

                    ii.       Avarice helps us amass great wealth at expense of fellow citizens, who then hate us or plot our demise

          c.       Our happiness is bound up with the happiness of others, so a broadened self-interest should get people to act morally

                    i.        Most modern moral philosophy abandoned this claim and instead focuses on a direct appeal to altruism (helping others for its own sake, and not because it makes one happy or flourishing)

          d.       Until recently people have paid little attention to human harms to the environment or for the potential for those harms to rebound and harm us in turn

                    i.        E.g., fill wetlands and our property floods, spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and get stronger hurricanes

19.     Three: Vice contradicts and eventually undermines reason

          a.       Destroys our ability to understand our proper place in the world and act morally

          b.       Vices are habits of thought and action that if left unchecked cloud reason, which is the voice of both conscience and prudence (rational self-interest)

          c.       E.g., Aristotle’s notion of intemperance:

                    i.         Continued pursuit of illicit pleasure so clouds our judgment that we no longer recognize it as wrong

                    ii.       It can’t be wrong, were having so much fun

                    iii.      At first you feel something is wrong, but after you do it for a while, you no longer have this feeling.....

20.     Four: Vice cuts us off from reality and what is most important in life

          a.       E.g., We spend time amassing wealth instead of getting to know our children


21.     Two types of arguments to protect nature

          a.       Altruistic: Wrong to harm nature, it has intrinsic value, appeal to altruism (should be concerned with others) (non-anthropocentric)

          b.       Enlightened self-interest: Wrong to harm humans and since human flourishing depends on nature’s flourishing, we should not harm nature

                    i.        Nature has derivative, instrumental value

                    ii.       We will be better or happier people if we appreciate and protect nature

                    iii.      (Anthropocentric)

          c.       Both are good reasons to protect nature


22.     Key idea behind EVE: We can’t harm nature w/o harming ourselves


23.     EVE argues that a flourishing natural world is a prerequisite for human flourishing.

          a.       “The more we preserve and appreciate nature’s beauty, the more we will flourish ourselves”

24.     Human flourishing depends on nature’s flourishing

          a.       Need healthy environment

                    i.        E.g., lead exposure damages children’s brains, lowers intelligence, lead to mental retardation

          b.       Need varied and stimulating environment, including accessible wild areas that preserve native flora and fauna

                    i.        Children who grow up w/o chances to experience wild nature miss opportunities to appreciate beauty, understand human history /prehistory and reflect on their place in the world– and doing so is part of human flourishing

                    ii.       “Monotonous sea of corn and soybeans has probably taken a toll on minds of Illinois farmers”


25.     Human flourishing does not depend on high levels of material consumption

          a.       Acquisition of material possessions leads us to ignore higher pursuits

          b.       Overconsumption undermines nature’s health and integrity and our lives suffer


26.     Assumes a conception of human flourishing that environmentalists accept (and others may not) and that is perhaps controversial and in any case needs justification

          a.       Do humans need significant amounts of wild flourishing nature to lead fulfilling lives?

          b.       Clearly need nature in some sense for human flourishing, but it’s not clear it is a wild, “natural” nature we need, rather than an artifactualized, artificial life support type of nature

          c.       Mightn’t plastic trees or genetically engineered plants or more generally artificial environments do as well?

          d.       If we need diverse environments, why isn’t NY City environment sufficiently diverse?

          e.       If we need beauty, why isn’t artistic beauty enough?

          f.        If we need a feeling of belonging, why isn’t belonging to the human community enough? Why do we need belonging to earth community too?

27.     Doesn’t human life and flourishing require harming nature, at least to some extent?

          a.       Even if we accept that nature flourishing is a prerequisite for human flourishing, other things are required as well (culture) and this may require a sacrifice in nature flourishing

                    i.        E.g., cutting trees, clearing land for agriculture

          b.       Idea that we needed to tame much of nature to achieve human civilization

          c.       But now not clear we need to further sacrifice nature for human flourishing.


28.     Environmental vices cause harm in three ways

          a.       Harm the vicious person directly

                    i.        Vices are often selfish, but also lead to self-harm

          b.       Harm those around him and future generations

                    i.        He should care about them for their own sake and his own happiness is not easily separated from theirs

          c.       Harms nonhuman nature

                    i.        This is bad in itself (for these entities can flourish and are wonderful when they do)

                    ii.       And bad because the harm rebounds and harms human communities and (sometimes) the individuals inflicting the harm


29.     Gluttony:

          a.       Excess in eating and drinking, an excessive desire for food and drink

          b.       Mmore generally, overindulgence of many kinds

30.     Two kinds: (See p. 140, examples)

          a.       Classic glutton at a table stuffing food in with both hands, sauces dribbling down chin, going for quantity, not quality

          b.       Fine gluttony: (“Developing a taste for finer things”)

                    i.        Two women at a fancy restaurant simpering (= “To utter or express with a silly, self-conscious, often coy smile”) over the tomato bisque

                    ii.       Getting too delicate food or drink; fastidiousness with great attention to the preparation and dressing of food

                    iii.      Fish from New Zealand in NY City; strawberries from Chile in NY city in January


31.     Gluttony is not just a displeasing aesthetically, but causes harm and thus morally wrong

32.     Harms of gluttony

          a.       Harms the glutton:

                    i.        Overeating leads to obesity and huge related health dangers

                              (1)     Four of ten leading causes of death are correlated with being overweight

                    ii.       Obesity decreases happiness/well-being, feel more lethargic, less engagement in enjoyable physical activities (and positive feedback loop)

          b.       Harms the fine glutton: Harder to argue that gluttony harms the fine glutton

                    i.        They may find lots of pleasure in savoring the sauces and comparing the wines and we do want pleasure out of life

                    ii.       But will a taste for finer things lead to happiness in the long run?

                              (1)     If can no longer enjoy simple meals or forget Seneca’s advice that “hunger is the best spice”

                              (2)     Or pay more attention to how our cooking turned out than to the friends around our table

                    iii.      Given limited time, attention to trivia can lead to neglect the more important things

          c.       Environmental Costs of Gluttony

                    i.        Gluttony’s other-directed harms falls primarily on nonhumans, and lessening our agricultural footprint would help other species greatly

                    ii.       1200 species on U.S. ESA and habitat loss is the main cause

                    iii.      Agriculture and livestock grazing huge major source of habitat loss

                    iv.      Agriculture also leads to water depletion and pollution both factors that threaten other species.

                    v.       25% over-consumption of food leads to 25%? increase in harm caused

                              (1)     Americans take in 25% more food than they need (2800 calories a day versus 2200)

                              (2)     Increase land needed to grow crops and raise animals by 25%, increases water use for agriculture by 25%, and pollution associated with agriculture 25%

          d.       Gluttony’s environmental costs lead to more human harm

                    i.        Gluttony harms ecosystem health, which in tern harms human health again

                    ii.       Air and water pollution from livestock confinement and agriculture makes people sick

                    iii.      Mental health suffers:

                              (1)     Intellectual and spiritual loss as diverse native ecosystems converted to boring monoculture

                              (2)     Boring to live and work in

                              (3)     “Monotonous sea of corn and soybeans has probably taken a toll on minds of Illinois farmers”


          e.       Rejects popular idea that overeating harms starving people in 3rd world,

                    i.        Eating less would not help them, for the causes are political and economic (inept governments, maldistribution of wealth and poverty)


33.     Gluttony need not harm the glutton himself (much) for we can refine our vices to direct almost all of their harm to others

          a.       Can “eat and drink our way though our children’s inheritance and then hit the gym the next day and stay quite healthy”

          b.       Can cook spectacular meals for myself and friends, maximize our pleasure, and greatly increase environment harm as fish flown in from New Zealand and strawberries from Chile

                    i.        Fine gluttony increases our agricultural footprint, thus harming nature

                    ii.       But we can get out and enjoy nature, flying to New Zealand or Chile to hike/ski

34.     We need to limit our agricultural footprint and accommodate ourselves more to locally available foods

          a.       For “all important unnecessary harm is wrong”


35.     Childishness of gluttony:

          a.       People are crude and undeveloped when they seek all their happiness in the simplest ways

          b.       “Gross feeder is a man in the larva state” “and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them” (Thoreau)

          c.       Self development and lasting satisfaction come though more adult pleasures and activities–pleasures of love and friendship, aesthetic appreciation, and pursuit of knowledge, will not pale or lead to unjust behavior


36.     Opposite of gluttony

          a.       Virtues of temperance (moderate use)

          b.       Gratitude is also a related virtue

                    i.        Thanksgiving should not simply be “another excuse for Americans to pig out”, but a real day of giving thanks and felling gratitude (and accepting our environment responsibilities)


37.     Attitudes about pride, humility and arrogance are complex

38.     Pride can be a vice

          a.       Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount exhorts us to live lives of meekness and humility

          b.       We often go wrong in our social dealings because of a desire to assert our superiority over others

          c.       We condemn those who lord it over others

          d.       Dislike braggarts and prefer heroes who credit others for their successes or downplay them

39.     Pride is a necessary part of a good life

          a.       Encourage our children to take pride in their work and achievements

40.     Cafaro: Proper pride is a virtue (and a mean between two extremes)

          a.       One vice: Obsequiousness (bootlicking, attentive in a servile manner, fawning, subservient, excessive meekness)

          b.       Other vice: Arrogance (overvaluation of ourselves and undervaluation of others)


41.     Environmentalists have focused on human arrogance towards nature

          a.       We humans think we are number one in the universe

          b.       Arrogance of anthropocentrism:

                    i.        The vain and selfish view that humans alone are worthy of respect and that everything else in the world, including several million other species, has value only if useful to humans.

          c.       Setting ourselves up as tyrants over the rest of nature


42.     Examples of arrogance:

43.     Arrogant indifference to nature and arrogant indifference to people often go together

          a.       Story of Chevron/Shell in Nigeria using military dictatorship to ruthlessly stop locals from protesting harm oil extraction was causing them and Chevron contractor indifference and arrogance toward local Nigerians: “Did I personally have any concern for them, not one little bit. No.”

44.     Off road vehicle use as arrogant:

          a.       ORVs harms public lands: tens of thousands of miles of illegal roads, degrade wildlife habitat, erosion

                    i.        For some, harming nature is part of the fun

          b.       Snowmobiles in Yellowstone stampeding wildlife and causing air pollution (entrance guards wear gas-masks)

          c.       Jet-skis dump 1/4 of oil/gas into lakes/rivers

          d.       Not only trash nature, also ruin experience of other recreationists (vast majority don’t use these machines)

          e.       ORV use encourages anthropocentrism

          f.       Should encourage our children to enjoy nature in ways that are environmentally responsible: bird watching, trout fishing, wildlife photography, back-country camping


45.     Greed defined

          a.       “An excessive desire to acquire/possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth”

          b.       “An excessive longing that actual possession cannot satisfy”

46.     Greed is vicious because too great an emphasis on money or possessions leads to harm

47.     Greedy are incapable of generosity and immune to the demands of justice

          a.       Greedy people who are super rich, harm people to get more (buy up companies and sell off assets and put people out of work),

          b.       No intention of sharing wealth with others,

          c.       Can’t see the sheer pointlessness of amassing any more wealth

48.     Greed leads to of environmental harm to nature

          a.       Profits placed ahead of all else leads to breaking environmental laws or do minimal necessary to comply

                    i.        E.g., profitable hog farmer who doubles size of operation to make even more money results in environment harms

49.     Greed helps drive over-consumption which harms nature

          a.       Americans use vastly more resources than our grandparents largely because we purchase unnecessary things

                    i.        Kids toys quickly thrown out, fancy big powerful poor gas mileage cars–hummers, 3-5 TVs per household)

          b.       But we compete with other living things which also need resources to survive

          c.       We are willing to destroy others lives and monopolize resources they need in order to satisfy trivial desires

          d.       At a minimum, justice requires we avoid consumption that does nothing to further our happiness (but greed leads us on to ever more consumption)

50.     Greed harms greedy people themselves

          a.       No strong connection between increased wealth and happiness

                    i.        Beyond poorest 10-15%, no correlation between wealth and happiness (no more likely to be happy at $400,000 and $40,000)

          b.       Happiness is correlated most strongly with security of income and getting along with fellow workers and spouse.

          c.       Materialistic outlooks on life tend to undermine happiness

                    i.        People with more materialistic outlooks on life tend to have poorer interpersonal relations, the most effective means to happiness

                    ii.       Gap between what you want and what you have tends to be greater with material possessions (than with other things)

                    iii.      Focus on material goods requires $ and working harried lives to get it

          d.       Materialism involves turning away from real goods to apparent goods

                    i.        Birdwatcher with expensive Zeiss binoculars who rarely gets up to hear the dawn chorus

51.     In America we are raised to be greedy

          a.       So much advertising, encouraging us to think happiness comes through consumption

                    i.        W/o the latest consumer goodie, you are a loser

          b.       Institutions that once spoke out against materialism (mainly churches) have fallen largely silent about its dangers

52.     How to lessen greed and promote opposite virtues: thrift, modesty, generosity and contentment

          a.       Engage in activities rather than purchasing things

          b.       Share things (neighbors share lawnmowers)

          c.       Stop watching TV

          d.       Find alternatives to “recreational shopping”

          e.       Ban billboards and commercial advertising in public schools

          f.       Require recycling

          g.       Pass sumptuary laws (laws that regulate habits of consumption):

                    i.        E.g., limit size of homes, cars etc

                    ii.       Help send message that greed is bad


53.     Apathy defined

          a.       Lack of interest/concern regarding matters of general importance or appeal

          b.       Apathy and laziness are closely connected

54.     Apathy a key environment vice

          a.       Our default procedures harm the environment and doing better takes work, at least initially

                    i.        E.g., biking to work rather than driving, setting up recycling bins rather than just tossing garbage

55.     Apathy involves lazy thinking as well as halfhearted action or inaction

          a.       Tied to passivity

          b.       His students can’t imagine any way forward beyond American car culture and this combined with knowledge of environment harms car culture causes leaves them feeling defeated and hopeless

          c.       People feeling defeated or hopeless in face of environment problems a sign of their apathy or a cause?

56.     Environment harms of apathy

          a.       People don’t stand up to protect the places and things they care about and they get destroyed.

57.     Apathy harms the apathetic person

          a.       Apathy feels bad, makes life seem meaningless, no interest in the world, feeling of powerlessness

          b.       If care about nature but too apathetic to stand up for it, forfeit one’s moral integrity

          c.       Fighting for what you care about feels good and helps one lead a fulfilling life

58.     Opposites of apathy: vulnerability and ambition

59.     Might a person be happier not caring about the environment, but simply enjoying it?

          a.       Being a free rider makes sense from individual point of view

          b.       People who “float the rivers, ski the mountains, build second homes in prime elk habitat, enjoy it while the can” might be happier than those sitting in 4 hour long city council meetings waiting nervously for a chance to speak for two minutes in favor of new zoning ordinance

                    i.        Can’t sit in the meeting room and ski fresh powder at the same time!

60.     Cafaro: those who enjoy nature’s benefits have a duty to try to preserve it: for our communities, for future generations, for nature’s sake and for our own sake.

          a.       Cafaro here abandons EVE and uses deontological, obligation language


61.     Virtues must be sustainable, including environmentally sustainable

          a.       Virtues as virtues contribute to human flourishing and without sustainable environment there can be no such flourishing

62.     Any character trait, habit, institution that is unsustainable is vicious


63.     Apathy and indifference socially and environment unsustainable, cause great harm and thus are vices.


64.     How to fight apathy?

          a.       Find roles that are enjoyable for you

                    i.        Excitement of political campaigns?

                    ii.       Minor celebrity of writing newspaper editorials

                    iii.      Analyze complex policy proposals

                    iv.      Teaching children names of flowers/birds


65.     We harm nature because

66.     We are ignorant, selfish, gluttonous, arrogant, greedy, and apathetic

67.     We don’t understand obligations to others or to our own self-interest

68.     Falsely assume we can separate

          a.       Harms to nature from harms to humanity

          b.       Hams to others and harms to ourselves

69.     Fail to see that environment vices do not just harm nature, but ourselves and people around us

70.     Environment vice is bad for us and bad for the earth