Values, Ethics, and the Use of Synthetic Pesticides in Agriculture

  • Hugh Lehman


This chapter is divided into four parts. In the first part I make some remarks aimed at reducing obscurities associated, by many people, with the concepts of value and obligation. In the second part I am concerned primarily to distinguish value judgments and ethical judgments. In addition I discuss the nature of ethics and the value of systematic investigation of ethical issues. In the third part I review several ethical theories in order to formulate some basic ethical principles which may be applied in considering our obligations in regard to the use of synthetic pesticides. Only in the fourth part do I directly address the question, “What are our moral obligations in regard to the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture?” Some people, impatient with the preliminary discussions, may think that we should have gone directly to a consideration of that question. However, if others are to understand and critically evaluate the claims made in the fourth part, the preliminary material is necessary.


Moral Judgment Moral Obligation Ethical Theory Moral Theory Ethical Judgment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 5.
    For a discussion of the value-laden nature of the concept of health see “On the Nature of Illness” Man and Medicine 4 (1979), by Bernard Rollin.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    There is considerable philosophical literature regarding values. For extensive references and much more thorough discussion than I provide see Introduction to Value Theory by Nicholas Rescher (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1969).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    The above analysis of value may be said to be naturalistic since, according to this analysis, value is essentially tied to psychological states (states of objects found in the natural world). In this century there has been extensive discussion concerning naturalistic analyses. G.E. Moore claimed that such analyses committed what he called the naturalistic fallacy. For some discussion of this see Ethics, second edition, by William Frankena (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1973), p. 97f.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    R. M. Hare had claimed that a form of utilitarianism has been proved. See his Freedom and Reason, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1963), especially chapter 7. Alan Gewirth claims to have proved that all moral agents, e.g., most human beings, have moral rights. See his Reason and Morality (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978). A number of moral philosophers have claimed that a number of moral principles have been established by the method of wide reflective equilibrium which was first formulated by John Rawls. See his A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1971).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    There have been many discussions concerning scientific methodology. At one extreme there is skepticism such as has been defended by Karl Popper. See The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959, Basic Books). A review of alternative views is found in Israel Scheffler, The Anatomy of Inquiry (1964, Routledge and Kegan Paul). The controversy has continued, as may be seen by consulting articles in such journals as Philosophy of Science and The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    C. I. Lewis said that “there is that most important and most frequent type of evaluation which is the ascription of the objective property of being valuable to an existent or possible existent.... Like other judgments of objective fact... determination of their truth or falsity can never be completed, and they are theoretically, never more than probable.” In other words, such value ascriptions involve predictions which may or may not be confirmed. See C.I. Lewis, An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (LaSalle, Open Court Publishing Company, 1946), pp. 375–376. Dewey said, “Moreover there is a genuine difference between a false good, a spurious satisfaction, and a true good, and there is an empirical test for discovering the difference.” Dewey suggests that in trying to determine whether a course of action is good we reach a point at which we have conflicting motivations as to what to do. The judgment that the act is good implies that that act constitutes a harmonious resolution of the conflict. Such a judgment may be mistaken; i.e., something we judge to be valuable may not really resolve the motivational conflict. See Human Nature and Conduct by John Dewey (New York, The Modern Library, 1930), p. 210f.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    For a discussion of this distinction see “The Science of Man and Wide Reflective Equilibrium” by R.B. Brandt, Ethics, Vol. 100,No. 2, January, 1990, p. 259f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 13.
    For a recent work in which a philosopher maintains that value exists in objects independently of valuers, see Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World, by Holmes Rolston, III (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1988).Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    For an introductory discussion and critique of the idea that ethical judgments are merely expressions of emotion see chapter 9 of Ethical Theory, by R.B. Brandt (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1959).Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    For an excellent defense of the view that the reasoning which enters into the justification of value or moral judgments is closely integrated with the reasoning that enters into the justification of beliefs about matters of fact, see What Is and What Ought To Be Done: An Essay on Ethics and Epistemology, by Morton White (New York, Oxford University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    For a nonempiricist view of moral knowledge see Reason and Morality by Alan Gewirth (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1981). An alternative nonempiricist view concerning the rational justification of moral principles is expressed in Moral Thinking: Its Levels, Method and Point by R.M. Hare (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    For an excellent introductory account of types of ethical theory see chapter 2 of Matters of Life and Death: New Introductory Essays in Moral Philosophy, ed. Tom Regan (Random House, New York, 1980). An older but excellent book, which is in some ways more complete, is Ethics, second edition, by William K. Frankena (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1973).Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    If a person has a moral obligation then that person has a reason for acting, for doing whatever it is that the statement of the obligation requires. Whether such a reason for action can be reduced to a desire to achieve certain objectives is an issue about which philosophers disagree with each other. For some discussion of this issues see chapters 10 and 11 of The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics, by Gilbert Harman (New York, Oxford University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    Such a view was expressed by Albert Schweitzer. There is a brief discussion of Schweitzer’s views in “The Search for an Environmental Ethics” by William T. Blackstone in the first edition of Matters of Life and Death: New Introductory Essays in Moral Philosophy, cited in footnote 17, p. 301f.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    See, for example, the work of Rolston, cited in footnote 13.Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    Kant’s work is difficult to read. For an introductory explanation, see “The Moral Perplexities of Famine and World Hunger” by Onora O’Neill in Matters of Life and Death ..., ed. Tom Regan, cited in footnote 17.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    The concept of rationality has entered into many efforts to formulate basic ethical principles. It enters into Kant’s efforts to justify the categorical imperative. More recently it enters into the justification of contractualist views on ethical principles such as that of John Rawls. See his A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1971). Rawls views have been both very influential and subjected to extensive criticism. An interesting book concerned with the notion of rationality is Paradoxes of Rationality and Cooperation: Prisoner’s Dilemma and Newcomb’s Problem, ed. Richmond Campbell and Lanning Sowden (Vancouver, University of Vancouver Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    One such work is Taking Rights Seriously by Ronald Dworkin (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    A brief selection of Kant’s work in regard to our obligations to animals is found in Animal Rights and Human Obligations, second edition, ed. Tom Regan and Peter Singer (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1989). For a critical discussion of Kant’s view plus discussions of alternative views regarding obligations to animals see The Case for Animal Rights, by Tom Regan (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    Such a view is expressed in “The Search for an Environmental Ethic,” by J. Baird Callicott, in Matters of Life and Death: New Introductory Essays in Moral Philosophy, ed. Tom Regan (New York, Random House, 1980).Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    See “Is Silent Spring Behind Us?” by David Pimentel, American Chemical Society, 1987. Further, see chapter 3 of this volume.Google Scholar
  22. 32.
    One discussion of the issue is found in “Should Business Be Regulated?” by Tibor Machan, in Just Business: New Introductory Essays in Business Ethics, ed. Tom Regan (New York, Random House, 1984.)Google Scholar
  23. 33.
    Pimentel; see footnote 30.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    Tom Regan has taken this position. See The Case for Animal Rights cited in Peter Singer (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1989) footnote 27.Google Scholar
  25. 35.
    “The Case for Animal Rights” by Hugh Lehman, Dialogue XXIII (1984), 669–676. “On the Moral Acceptability of Killing Animals” by Hugh Lehman, Journal of Agricultural Ethics, Vol. 1. No. 2, 1988, 155–162. See also “Rights, Justice and Duties to Provide Assistance: A Critique of Regan’s Theory of Rights,” by Dale Jamieson, Ethics, Vol. 100, No. 2, January 1990, pp. 349–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc. 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hugh Lehman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of GuelphGuelph

Personalised recommendations