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Analysis of “The Ethics of Respect for nature”

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In this paper, I will be conducting an analysis of the article “The Ethics of Respect for nature” written by Paul W. Taylor. In this paper Taylor presented the foundational structure for a life-centered theory of environmental ethics.

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The structures according to Taylor are based on three categories which are related. The first part of the structure is called respect for nature. What this section of the article basically talked about was how human being only respects living things.

And it also mentioned how if we as human beings were to adapt to the life-centered system of environmental ethics, the way in which we view the world right now will have to have to change we would be caring for nature more than we are now. Taylor argued that, it is the good (well-being, welfare) of individual organisms, considered as entities having inherent worth that determines our moral relations with the Earth’s wild communities of life. In order to prove his argument he was able to relate the argument with the anthropocentric views.

In the anthropocentric view, human actions affecting the natural environment and its nonhuman inhabitants are right (or wrong) by either of two criteria: they have consequences which are favorable (or unfavorable) to human well-being, or they are consistent (or inconsistent) with the system of norms that protect and implement human rights. From this human-centered standpoint it is to humans and only to humans that all duties are ultimately owed (James). We as human have no obligation to promote or protect the good of nonhuman living things.

The difference between the life-centered system of environmental ethic and the human-centered system of environmental ethic is in life centered system (as noted earlier) we as human will have more duty to the nature. Our duties to respect the integrity of natural ecosystems, to preserve endangered species, and to avoid environmental pollution stem from the fact that these are ways in which we can help make it possible for wild species populations to achieve and maintain a healthy existence in a natural state (Taylor).

Our duties with respect to the “world” of nature would be seen as making prima facie claims upon us to be balanced against our duties with respect to the “world” of human civilization. We could no longer simply take the human point of view and consider the effects of our actions exclusively from the perspective of our own good. The evidence that the author used to justify the respect of nature is by making clear the fundamental moral attitude that underlies and makes intelligible the commitment to live by such a system.

The second part of the structure is a belief system that constitutes a way of conceiving of the natural world and of our place in it. This belief system underlies and supports the attitude in a way that makes it an appropriate attitude to take toward the Earth’s natural ecosystems and their life communities. This section focuses more on the perception of biocentric outlook on nature.

Taylor believed that the biocentric outlook on nature has four components; the first is human are thought of as member of the earth’s community of life, second the earth’s natural ecosystems as a totality are seen as a complex web of interconnected elements, with the sound biological functioning of each being dependent on the sound biological functioning of the others. Third, each individual organism is conceived of as a teleological center of life, pursuing its own good in its own way.

And the last component, whether we are concerned with standards of merit or with the concept of inherent worth, the claim that humans by their very nature are superior to other species is a groundless claim and, in the light of elements (1), (2), and (3) above, must be rejected as nothing more than an irrational bias in our own favor (Taylor). To further understand his argument he was able to relate human with other species in a biological aspect.

The laws of genetics, of natural selection, and of adaptation apply equally to all of us as biological creatures. In this light we consider ourselves as one with them, not set apart from them. We, as well as they, must face certain basic conditions of existence that impose requirements on us for our survival and well-being. Each animal and plant is like us in having a good of its own. This argument is considered a strong one because it logically self-explanatory and there are many scientific evidence to support this argument (Darwin’s theory of evolution).

What differentiate us humans from any other species according to Taylor is our good. This argument is reasonable because, although our human good (what is of true value in human life, including the exercise of individual autonomy in choosing our own particular value systems) is not like the good of a nonhuman animal or plant, it can no more be realized than their good can without the biological necessities for survival and physical health (Taylor). Taylor also argued about the possibility of extinction.

The possibility of the extinction of the human species, a possibility which starkly confronts us in the contemporary world, makes us aware of another respect in which we should not consider ourselves privileged beings in relation to other species. This argument has some strength to it because according to biology, the well-being of humans is dependent upon the ecological soundness and health of many plant and animal communities, while their soundness and health does not in the least depend upon human well-being.

Thinking about it, one can argue that the existence of the human race is not necessary. Every last man, woman, and child could disappear from the face of the Earth without any significant detrimental consequence for the good of wild animals and plants. On the contrary, many of them would be greatly benefited. The destruction of their habitats by human “developments” would cease. The poisoning and polluting of their environment would come to an end.

The Earth’s land, air, and water would no longer be subject to the degradation they are now undergoing as the result of large-scale technology and uncontrolled population growth. Life communities in natural ecosystems would gradually return to their former healthy state. Tropical forests, for example, would again be able to make their full contribution to a life-sustaining atmosphere for the whole planet. The rivers, lakes, and oceans of the world would eventually become clean again. Spilled oil, plastic trash, and even radioactive waste might finally, after many centuries, cease doing their terrible work.

Ecosystems would return to their proper balance, suffering only the disruptions of natural events such as volcanic eruptions and glaciation. The third component is a system of moral rules and standards for guiding our treatment of those ecosystems and life communities, a set of normative principles which give concrete embodiment or expression to the attitude of respect for nature. Taylor was able to support his argument by relating the idea of human superiority to the system of moral rules.

The relations that the author made in this case certainly helped his argument because, knowing that we as human are superior to other animals, we tend to overlook the morals in which we are supposed to look at which result in humans not respecting other species (James). The author also argued that various nonhuman species have capacities that humans lack. There is the speed of a cheetah, the vision of an eagle, the agility of a monkey. Why should not these be taken as signs of their superiority over humans in the way we as human treat other species?

This evidence is reliable because according to research a cheetah is faster than an average human being, an eagle has a much better vision than an average human and a monkey is much more agile than an average human being (Taylor). In the aspect of moral rights and the matter of competing claims, Taylor argued that animals and plants should not be included in the class that have moral rights. He argued that there is no reason, why plants and animals, including whole species populations and life communities, cannot be accorded legal rights under my theory.

This is a strong argument because to grant them legal protection could be interpreted as giving them legal entitlement to be protected, and this, in fact, would be a means by which a society that subscribed to the ethics of respect for nature could give public recognition to their inherent worth (James). The strength of this article is that it can be related to many aspect of the human race today in consideration to the definition of right and human rights today. Most of the term that was used in the article was well defined for example the definition of both life and human centered environmental ethics.

There was also enough adequate support of his argument, for example in the way Taylor used the anthropocentric view to support his argument of life-centered environmental ethics. One weakness that I found in this article is the way the author went about relating his topic in order to make his argument more sufficient. The author should have stated in introduction that he will be using “the attitude of respect of nature”, “the good of being and the concept of worth” etc. to support his argument instead of jumping into the discussion.

In conclusion, Taylor presented the foundational structures for a life-centered theory of environmental ethics. The structures according to Taylor are based on three categories which are related. The first part of the structure is called respect for nature, the second part of the structure is a belief system that constitutes a way of conceiving of the natural world and of our place in it and the third component is a system of moral rules and standards for guiding our treatment of those ecosystems and life communities, a set of normative principles which give concrete embodiment or expression to the attitude of re pect for nature . The author’s main purpose in this paper has been to try to establish a base point from which we can start working toward a solution to the problem. Most of the arguments that Taylor constructed in this paper are really convincing and was supported by evidence both scientific and philosophical evidence.