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Examination of the Environmental Crisis

by Chris Jones Kavelin

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3: The Current Radical Ecological Debate and the Principle of Consultation: Towards an Understanding of Tensions

The current debate between the three disciplines of the radical ecological movement represents a complex pattern of discussion. It has been common for the internal debate between the disciplines to focus on specific principles, felt to be commonly held by members of the opposing discipline and to criticize these principles from the viewpoint of the opponent discipline.[218] Within their disputes 'they have often seemed less than dialectical in their approach.' [219] Within the wider field of environmental ethics as well, many believe these debates are 'interminable'. Such as 'animal rightists entrenched against the wildlife managers, preservationists pitted against conservationists'[220]. Even going so far as to say that '...these polar extremes seem to be incommensurable.'[221] There is a growing concern about the polemical nature of the debate,

I don't see the point of either school trying to trash the other, working toward some imagined theoretical purity...[222]

This may be due not only to the attachment and investment for each philosopher to his or her discipline, but upon superficial readings and generalizations about the other disciplines. Simple characterizations of each discipline are made impossible by the fact that there are varying viewpoints held by a number of sub-groups within each discipline. In some cases the models of conceptual analysis within two sub-groups of the same discipline can be considered antithetical, proving it impossible to generalize the overall model of conceptual analysis held by the discipline group as a whole[223]. Making the discussion all the more difficult is the occasional tendency for critics to exclusively focus on the most outspoken members of the opposing groups,[224] therefore missing out on the diversity, and breadth of vision present within each movement. In this context the principles of authentic consultation have much to offer.

Consultation, in the sense of sharing ideas while remaining open to others in the pursuit of a common goal, represents a widening of our 'hermeneutical circle'. It represents

...a process for producing change in order to accomplish some definite purpose. This involves a sharing and interaction of thoughts and feelings in a spirit of love and harmony.[225]

It ultimately contributes to the expansion of our vision and our ability to relate to others.

Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self.[226]

This is valued, with obvious qualifications, by all three major forms of radical ecology. From a deep ecology perspective it represents a step towards that process of the expansion of the identification of self with the ecosphere. From one perspective of ecofeminism it contributes to

an adequate account of the ecological to recognize both the otherness of nature and its continuity with the human self.[227]

And certainly it is related to the concerns of social ecology for democracy, and the

creativity arising from cultural diversity. In the following quote from Murray Bookchin, he is speaking directly of social structures. However it assumed by extension of principle, that it applies to groups of people possessing similar outlooks and concerns, such as an ecological discipline.

Any community,...however, risks the danger of becoming parochial, even racist, if it tries to live in isolation and develop a seeming self-sufficiency.

And he further indicates the need to

foster a healthy interdependence, rather than an introverted, stultifying independence. [228]

Perhaps more than any other goal, the goal of living a life of ecological wisdom requires the contribution of many disciplines and many cultural perspectives. A key facet of 'unity in diversity' which all disciplines, to varying degrees, place importance upon, is remaining open to the experience of diversity. This openness entails becoming 'transparent' and allowing ourselves to grow as human beings in response to this rich tapestry of life. This is no case of a lazy ethical relativism, but a commitment to a wider and more comprehensive vision of reality. An authentic, united and diversely representational vision requires a higher degree of appreciation for sophisticated integrity, complexity of problems and solutions, mature consultation skills and results in a synergistic pattern of growth.

Perhaps this is how we ought to think about the diverse environmental philosophies... No one has all the right answers in every situation, but each has something important to bring to environmental ethics. Each provides a different perspective from which we can understand the values of, and the place of humans within, nature. ...They are resources that we can use to diagnose and treat environmental illness. Although no single one provides all the right answers, we need them all.[229]

But, as all disciplines agree, the need is so urgent, and the time so little, a greater commitment to consult with the goal of a united, yet diverse praxis[230] towards ecological harmony is required.

What Can We Learn From a Consultation Between the Ecological Disciplines?

If such a hypothetical consultation between the disciplines occurred with the purpose of achieving some sort of unity of both vision and purpose, for the sake of both humanity and nature, what elements of discussion would surface?

Of course, the first issue would be an apparent difference of agreement on the causes of ecological degradation.

To summarize again, deep ecology postulates anthropocentrism as the root cause; social ecology postulates a dysfunctional social hierarchical structure; while ecofeminism sees a parallel relationship between the variety of principles governing the dualistic domination and objectification of male over female with the same principles governing the domination and objectification of humanity over nature.

It would be naïve to propose that these causes are in complete harmony. That would be to ignore the diverse philosophical traditions that provide the foundations for many of the propositions within the traditions. However it is possible to see that these represent different aspects of a complex problem, and thus require the development of different approaches towards different causal elements.

This becomes more evident when we consider that the nature of the object will prescribe the method of knowing[231]. While the degradation of nature is not an object in the strict sense, it can be considered an object in the wider sense of a phenomena possessing qualities which define its character. As such, considering that it is such a multifaceted object of consideration, the methods required for understanding its character need to be diverse. This is obviously problematic when traditions tenaciously cling to the assumption that their method addresses the root cause and which assume a single essential attribute defines the nature of the object. Within such an endeavor, such traditions should attempt to be detached from the assumption of such primacy, and be willing to concede that there are potentially a number of 'roots' to the problem as well as essential attributes which define its character.

While maintaining this pluralistic assumption that a united but diverse approach is required, it is important to be aware of the tensions that arise from the relationships between the approaches. The question must be asked, are these tensions based on essentially conflicting and irreconcilable aspects of reality, or are they tensions of perspective and interpretation?[232] Paul Davies summarizes what he considers to be the scientific consensus on the character and range of the principles ("laws") of nature[233]. These principles which govern the relationships within nature are considered to be universal[234], absolute[235], eternal[236] and omnipotent[237].

If one is committed to a vision of reality which is diverse yet intelligible, multifaceted yet united, and that the principles which govern its relationships are indeed universal, absolute, eternal and omnipotent, then it must be assumed that these tensions are a matter of interpretation and perspective rather than representative of an antithetical, dualistic structure of reality.

What are some of the dualistic tensions in the discussion of intrinsic value that can be perceived?

1.) Tension between intrinsic value defined as subjective (anthropogenic and instrumental) and objective (independent existence implying a condition of agency).

2.) Between proposals of moral consideration through the extension of a theory of rights or a revolution in ecological relationships through an enlightenment of human understanding.

3.) Between cognition and emotion, particularly within the Kantian framework of the earlier environmental rights movements[238].

4.) Between individualistic and holistic models.

5.) Between egalitarian distribution of universally equal levels of intrinsic worth and a

heirarchical model of diminishing value.

6.) Between biological and spiritual models of relationship.

7.) Tension in that most models implicitly or explicitly posit a telos or overall purpose to

nature and evolution, yet this is done in a modern positivistic scientific framework

that assumes this is not possible.

There is another kind of tension which while not as explicit, is even more fundamental to the nature of this discussion. That is:

8.) The assumption by many engaged in the discussion of ecological philosophy that

religion, and more specifically theology, is essentially incompatible with such an


Let us briefly examine examples of this last particular tension in some of the major models of ecological philosophy.

The first environmental philosophies proposed individualistic rights based solutions in a Mills framework such as Tom Regan, or an ethics based solution in a Kantian framework, such as Paul Taylor.

It is important in particular to understand the implications of Taylor's Kantian framework for this tension of theological incompatibility. While there are few explicit anti-theological comments in these works, there is a deep-seated implicit rejection within this framework. Although Kant believed in God and was a transcendental idealist, he was also an empirical realist[239]. Most importantly for our discussion, the consideration of theological models of natural theology or metaphysics is highly problematic in a Kantian framework. This is because it is

fundamentally anti-metaphysical, in the sense that it is impossible to move, by philosophical reason, beyond the world of human experience, inner or outer, to affirm legitimately the existence of some reality transcending this experience.[240]

As well the Kantian dichotomy dictates that

knowledge must be denied to make room for faith.[241]

Speaking of the legitimation of 'large-scale or high-cost social enterprises such as war, scientific and technological development, or environmental exploitation'[242] Deep Ecologist Warwick Fox makes the connection that

Such enterprises have habitually been undertaken not simply in the name of man, capitalists, whites, or Westerners for example, but rather in the name of God (and thus our essential humanity-or our anthropocentric projection upon the cosmos, depending upon ones perspective)...[243]

And Fox continues by saying

where these traditions have supposedly been primarily theocentric rather than anthropocentric, it has of course still been humans who have, by divine decree, had "dominion...over all the earth [which they were enjoined to "fill and subdue"]...and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Genesis 1:26 and 1:28). From a deep ecological perspective, personalistic theocentrisms, in which humans are made in the image of a god to whom they have a privileged personal relationship, are simply anthropocentric projections upon the cosmos.[244]

As Fox makes no mention of any other possible theocentric models, it appears that Fox assumes that anthropocentric projection is an essentially defining characteristic of theocentrism, and thus rejects it outright.

From an ecofeminist perspective, Karren J. Warren qualifies 'stewardship ethics', an important part of most theocentric models, as a 'non-consequentialist' approach

that extend traditional ethical considerations to include animals and the nonhuman environment. (Some would argue that these are not bona fide environmental ethics, since they do not make the natural environment itself deserving of moral consideration.)[245]

One assumes that Warren is aware her assumptions depend upon what type of model of stewardship ethics is being examined and that there are actually a variety of such models.

It is probable that this assumption is related to a more essential and popular feminist critique of traditional theocentric models as representational of patriarchal hierarchy and the 'Great Chain of Being'. A pyramid of diminishing power and authority beginning with God and descending to Men, and finally to Women, children, animals, plants and rocks.[246] Although there are a number of ecofeminists who do not dismiss theocentric models out of hand, this concern is significant, and perhaps explains why theocentric models are widely ignored within ecofeminism as potentially positive frameworks for its main concerns.

Social Ecologist Murray Bookchin clearly rejects the potential of any theocentric models. He says that although

an appeal for the respiritization of the natural world, recurs throughout the literature of social ecology, it should not be mistaken for a theology that raises a deity above the natural world or that seeks to discover one within it. The spirituality advanced by social ecology is definitively naturalistic (as one would expect, given its relation to ecology itself, which stems from the biological sciences), rather than supernaturalistic or pantheistic.[247]

The spirituality of social ecology bears no relationship to a theocentric model, and rules out such a model in principle, as its concept of spirituality is a naturalistic one with its basis in a biological framework. However, even this admission of the need for spirituality is highly qualified,

To prioritize any form of spirituality over the social factors that actually erode all forms of spirituality, raises serious questions about one's ability to come to grips with reality.[248]

Speaking within the Land Ethic tradition, Callicott seems to come close to admitting the previous and potential future contribution a theocentric model makes; yet he rejects it for not altogether logical reasons. He admits that, at least historically, ethics originated within religion, but he disregards this as relevant and qualifies it by saying that ethics found its source in the theological belief in a God who 'imposes morality on people'. He also indicates that God 'sanctions' this morality by means of 'plagues, pestilences, droughts, military defeats, etc.'. The theme of progressive revelation

of course, handily and as simply explains subsequent moral growth and development.[249]

In spite of his admittance of the historical origins of ethics within theology and religion, and that the theme of progressive revelation does offer a form of moral evolution, Callicott goes on to say

Western Philosophy, on the other hand, is almost unanimous in the opinion that the origin of ethics in human experience has somehow to do with human reason.[250].

Callicott also comments,

The idea that God gave morals to man is ruled out in principle-as any supernatural explanation of a natural phenomenon is ruled out in principle in natural science. [251]

However, Callicott offers no explanation for what justification lies behind this ruling out of theology or models of revelation in principle.

One assumes, by the way he has stated the case, that Callicott has rejected a literalistic interpretation of Old Testament moral theology. However, this is a narrow understanding of moral theology in that it not only ignores the diversity within the Christian tradition, but also within non-Christian theologies. More importantly, this is a rejection by association with an immature concept and not valid by any school of logic. It is like saying that a theocentric model of moral development, (A) is invalid because there is an interpretation of such a model (B) which is immature such as the literalistic moral theology of a specific branch of Old Testament hermeneutics. Not only does it ignore the unnecessary association of A with B, but it appears ignorant that B hasn't been the popular expression of moral theology within the majority of Christian traditions for nearly a century and is only one of many diverse models.

Ironically, in other works Callicott suggests that a moral metaphysics based on the Yahwist tradition within Genesis appears to, out of all other models,

provide most effectively for the intrinsic value of other species...[and] unequivocally provides for objective intrinsic value for existing nonhuman species.[252]

Also Callicott sees as positive elements that

God cares for the creation as a whole and for its several parts equally,[253]

and that man is called to care for nature as steward rather than subdue it in domination.

However Callicott rejects this tradition in favour of the Humean modern moral metaphysic of 'Bio-empathy'. This is strange, considering that Callicott believes that

only J-Theism provides for objective intrinsic value for existing nonhuman species.

Callicott ultimately rejects this Theistic model because of its association with the Priestly strand in Genesis which sees humanity as privileged over nature in a domineering relationship. Callicott argues that this instrumental vision of nature has dominated Judeo-Christian history and effectively removed the capacity of J-Theism to have any transformational impact on wider society in fostering its vision of objective intrinsic value.

If one is concerned with the integrity of a model, it is very strange that Callicott advocates a model, Bio-Empathy which, he admits, does not provide objective intrinsic value for existing non-human species. The capacity for objective intrinsic value within J-theism comes from the independent valuing consciousness of God which locates value in all of nature and is related to God's Self-revelation, and in which lies the capacity for the development of a natural theology. As the framework of bio-empathy is Humean, it leaves little room for Theism, revelation, or natural theology and thus also this capacity for objective intrinsic value. This is as value is purely a matter of individual perception and more importantly these metaphysical models do not stand the strict empirical test of 'Hume's fork' which distinguishes between real or apparent knowledge.

When we run over libraries persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.[254]

Is this the key to Callicott's rejection in principle?

However, it appears that Callicott rejects the potential of J-Theism purely by association as he does not directly allude to this Humean critique. Callicott does not reject J-Theism itself, but its association with a history of Judeo-Christian dysfunctional ecological relationships that he states is based on the dominance of P-Theism.

It's like saying: 'I reject the usefulness of the model of democracy, because it was developed in a Greek civilization that endorsed slavery, the domination of women and other such anti-democratic dysfunctional relationships.' Why not recognize the non-essential historical associations, and then modify and develop the model, particularly if it appears to have the greatest potential out of a range of other models? Or at least discuss those elements that make the model attractive and attempt to incorporate them in a new model? That Callicott rejects the potential of both J-Theism specifically and a moral or natural theology 'in principle' is less than satisfying in its logic.

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