Ethics of Ecology

  • David R. KellerEmail author
Part of the Studies in Global Justice book series (JUST, volume 19)


Ethics concerns how one ought to live one’s life. The aim of an ethics of ecology is to help us avoid disturbing the ecological integrity, stability and beauty of nature. This is in turn a necessary condition for bringing about ecological justice, understood as comprised of justice to both human and nonhuman organisms and systems. Because humans are moral agents embedded in biotic communities, our actions inescapably impact other beings worthy of moral consideration. A moral agent is free, in the sense of having a range of possible choices about how to treat other beings worthy of moral consideration. Reason demands that we strive to make our moral judgments comprehensive, consistent, coherent, and verifiable. Yet there remains the question of what makes a being or ecosystem worthy of moral consideration: what gives it value such that we should value it? Here we face the “is/ought gap” between descriptions and prescriptions, which rests on the ontological distinction between mind and matter. Bridging the gap first requires abandoning the metaphysics of mind-matter dualism and the mechanical view of nature. Second, it requires bioempathy. Bioempathy is a natural response to recognition of the beauty of organisms and ecosystems. Thus, aesthetics takes us from cognizance of facts to appreciation of natural value.


  1. Bahuchert, Serge. 1993. History of the Inhabitants of the Central African Rain Forest: Perspectives from Comparative Linguistics. In Tropical Forests, People and Food: Biocultural Interactions and Applications to Development, ed. Claude M. Hladik, A. Hladick, Olga F. Linares, H. Pagezy, 37–54. Pearl River, New York: Parthenon Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  2. Bennett, Elizabeth L., and John G. Robinson. 2000. Hunting of Wildlife in Tropical Forests: Implications for Biodiversity and Forest Peoples. Washington, D.C.: International Bank for Reconstruction/The World Bank.Google Scholar
  3. Bowen-Jones, Evan, D. Brown, and E. J. Z. Robinson. 2003. Economic Commodity or Environmental Crisis? An Interdisciplinary Approach to Analysing the Bushmeat Trade in Central and West Africa. Area 35 (4) (December): 390–402.Google Scholar
  4. Burdick, Alan. 1994. It’s Not the Only Alien Invader. The New York Times Magazine (November 13): 48–55, 78, 80–81, 86–87.Google Scholar
  5. Callicott, J. Baird. 1989. In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  6. Callicott, J. Baird. 1999. Beyond the Land Ethic: More Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  7. Costanza, Robert, Bryan G. Norton, and Benjamin D. Haskell. 1992. Ecosystem Health: New Goals for Environmental Management. Washington D.C.: Island Press.Google Scholar
  8. Craige, Betty Jean. 2001. Eugene Odum: Ecosystem Ecologist and Environmentalist. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
  9. Darwin, Charles. 1981. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Esbjörn-Hargens, Sean, and Michael E. Zimmerman. 2009. Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World. Boston: Integral Books.Google Scholar
  11. Ferré, Frederick. 1988. Philosophy of Technology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  12. Ferré, Frederick. 1996. Persons in Nature: Toward an Applicable and Unified Environmental Ethics. Ethics and the Environment 1 (1): 15–25.Google Scholar
  13. Ferré, Frederick. 1994. Personalistic Organicism: Paradox or Paradigm? In Philosophy and the Natural Environment: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, vol. 36, ed. Robin Attfield and Andrew Belsey, 59–73. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Flader, Susan L., and J. Baird Callicott. 1991. ‘The River of the Mother of God’ and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1989. Reason in the Age of Science, trans. Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gert, Bernard. 2004. Common Morality: Deciding What to Do. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gert, Bernard. 2005. Morality: Its Nature and Justification, Revised Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Gert, Bernard. 2010. Hobbes: Prince of Peace. Malden, MA: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  19. Heffernan, James D. 1982. The Land Ethic: A Critical Appraisal. Environmental Ethics 4 (3) (Fall): 235–247.Google Scholar
  20. Hobbes, Thomas. 1985. Leviathan, ed. C.B. MacPherson. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  21. Homer. The Odyssey. 1996, trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  22. Hudson, William (ed.). 1969. The Is-Ought Question. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  23. Hume, David. 1978. A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. P.H. Nidditch, 2nd edn. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Kant, Immanuel. 2006. Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Mary Gregory. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Katz, Eric. 1997. Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  26. Keller, David R. 1997. Gleaning Lessons from Deep Ecology. Ethics and the Environment 2 (2) (Fall): 139–148.Google Scholar
  27. Keller, David R. 1998. Ecological Hermeneutics. Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, MA, August 12. Accessed 21 August 2011.
  28. Keller, David R. 2010. An Introduction to Ethics for Teaching. Teaching Ethics: Journal of the Society of Ethics Across the Curriculum 11 (1) (Fall): 1–52.Google Scholar
  29. Leopold, Aldo. 1949. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Leopold, Aldo. 1946. Erosion As a Menace to the Social and Economic Future of the Southwest. Journal of Forestry 44 (9) (September): 627–633.Google Scholar
  31. Loope, Lloyd L., Ole Hamman, and Charles P. Stone. 1988. Comparative Conservation Biology of Oceanic Archipelagoes: Hawaii and the Galápagos. BioScience 38 (4) (April): 272–282.Google Scholar
  32. McKeon, Richard (ed.). 1941. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  33. Moore, G.E. 2000 (1903). Principia Ethica. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Naess, Arne. 2008. The Shallow and the Deep Ecology Movement, trans. Erling Schøller. In Deep Ecology in Bucharest, ed. Peder Anker. The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, vol. 24, no. 1, 59–66.Google Scholar
  35. Nielsen, Kai. 1967. Problems of Ethics. In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 3, ed. Paul Edwards, 117–134. New York: Macmillan and Free Press.Google Scholar
  36. Paine, R.T. 1980. Food Webs: Linkage, Interaction Strength and Community Infrastructure. Journal of Animal Ecology 49: 666–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pearce, Fred. 2005. The Protein Gap. Conservation in Practice 6 (3) (July): 117–123.Google Scholar
  38. Regan, Tom. 1983. The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Rorty, Amelie Oksenberg (ed.). 1980. Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics. London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  40. Sandler, Ronald, and Philip Cafaro (eds.). 2005. Environmental Virtue Ethics. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  41. Satris, Stephen (ed.). 1992. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Moral Issues, 3rd ed. Guilford, Connecticut: Dushkin Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  42. Singer, Peter. 1975. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, 2nd ed. New York: New York Review Books.Google Scholar
  43. Singer, Peter. All Animals Are Equal. Philosophical Exchange 1 (5) (Summer 1974): 103–116.Google Scholar
  44. Sinnott-Armstrong, William, and Robert Audi. 2002. Rationality, Rules, and Ideals: Critical Essays on Bernard Gert’s Moral Theory. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  45. Smith, Adam. 2009. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  46. Stone, Charles P., and J.O. Keith. 1987. Control of Feral Ungulates and Small Mammals in Hawaii National Parks: Research and Management Strategies. In Control of Mammal Pests, ed. C.G.J. Richards and T.Y. Ku, 277–279. New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  47. Taylor, Paul W. 1986. Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Walsh, Peter D., Kate A. Abernethy, Magdalena Bermejo, Rene Beyersk, Pauwel De Wachter, Marc Ella Akou, Bas Huijbregts, Daniel Idiata Mambounga, Andre Kamdem Toham, Annelisa M. Kilbournk, Sally A. Lahmq, Stefanie Latourk, Fiona Maiselsk, Christian Mbinak, Yves Mihindouk, Sosthène Ndong Obiang, Ernestine Ntsame Effa, Malcolm P. Starkeyk, Paul Telfer, Marc Thibault, Caroline E. G. Tutin, Lee J. T. Whitek, and David S. Wilkie. 2003. Catastrophic Ape Decline in Western Equatorial Africa. Nature 422 (April 10): 611–614.Google Scholar
  49. Wilson, Edward O. 1980. Sociobiology. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Salt Lake CityUSA

Personalised recommendations