Round 4 Blog, Response to Prompt 1: On Rationality and Environmental Stewardship

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I believe that both Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas’ views on environmental stewardship are quite extreme and ultimately irresponsible. While I agree regarding their stance that nature serves to be of service to humans, I think there is a fine line between utilizing nature for survival and sustenance and blatantly over-exploiting it. I concur with Kant that one should treat the environment and nature with care in order to maintain a disposition of respect for things overall. For instance, treating nature disrespectfully and exploitatively may cause one to develop a habit of treating all things, including humans, in such a way. While I am not necessarily on the other side of the spectrum from Aristotle and Aquinas (a’ la Francis of Assisi) wherein recognition of intrinsic value in nature is necessary to treat it with care, I think we should position ourselves in a middle ground that advocates stewardship of the environment.

                For me, lack of rationality of animals and other life forms is irrelevant; like mentally handicapped individuals and infants, animals are still living things and deserve to be respected and maintained for what they are and the purpose they serve, despite their lack of rationality. However, as long as one practices some degree of environmental stewardship, whether one views nature as having purely instrumental or purely intrinsic value is unimportant. It is our physical interaction with the environment that matters, not necessarily the values behind such an interaction. For example, I do believe animals and the environment have a high degree of instrumental value, but for me, that does not warrant me to simply overexploit it. My weakly anthropocentric viewpoint inclines me to want to act as an environmental steward in order that future human generations can sustainably enjoy what the environment has to offer. Thus, overall, I believe that both Aristotle and Aquinas and Francis of Assisi (on the other side of the spectrum) are too extreme of views; both are unrealistic and ultimately inapplicable in today’s society teeming with concerns of population growth and resource depletion. A middle ground wherein nature’s instrumental value and one’s duty as an environmental steward are united seems ideal.

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2 responses »

  1. In general, I agree with your reaction. The only way we will be able to create an environmental ethic that is both sustainable and practical is through the implementation of both instrumental and intrinsic values. Intrinsic value must serve as the backbone for this ethic, providing the understanding that even if we can’t find an immediate use for something, it inherently demands our respect. This view may be coupled with an instrumental view to remind our “rational” minds how valuable and necessary to life so many aspects of the earth are to us.

    However, in general, my viewpoint trends towards the opposite extreme. Exemplifying a creed similar to St. Francis’, we must extend the same intrinsic respect that we attribute to living beings to Earth as a whole. This includes “inanimate” things like soil and holistic processes like nutrient cycling. Neglecting any aspect of the earth, living or not, will eventually result in the undoing of the intricate web that holds us together. This type of ethic completely overrides the need for arguments of rationality, sentience, or superiority; whether we like it or not, we are a dependent part of an interconnected system.

  2. I agree with you completely!! I think that our standpoint will be hard to achieve since it seems that most people are on the extremes (St. Francis’ or Aristotle).They either think we need to value nonhuman living things intrinsically to show true environmental stewardship. I think if we are able to establish a sense of moral responsibility to care for our environment purely because if we don’t it won’t be there for our children and their children and their children and so on. But, also because we respect life. We need to make the distinction that in the end we need to value humans (our species) more than other species. This may seem selfish by statement but does the alligator consider the condition of our species when they attack a human or eat fish (our food supply too)? I think Kant got it almost spot on by emphasizing on moral responsibility. If we feel it is our moral responsibility to take care of our environment, people will start to treat it as a social responsibility as well. So when someone throws trash outside the window people will look upon that as if you shoved someone and did not say “excuse me”. (It will be frowned upon and people will most likely refrain from doing it). For now we are the dominant species but also a caring species we need to use our RATIONAL to preserve our environment but not to the point that we don’t even value ourselves.

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