Environmental ethics—the study of ethical questions raised by human relations with the nonhuman environment—emerged as an important subfield of philosophy during the 1970s. It is now a flourishing area of research. This article provides a review of the secular, Western traditions in the field. It examines both anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric claims about what has value, as well as divergent views about whether environmental ethics should be concerned with bringing about best consequences, respecting principles and rights, or embodying environmental virtues. The article also briefly considers two critical traditions—ecofeminism and environmental pragmatism—and explores some of the difficult environmental ethics questions posed by anthropogenic climate change.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Preston CJ. 1.  2005. Epistemology and environmental philosophy. Special issue. Ethics Environ. 10:21–216 [Google Scholar]
  2. Odenbaugh J. 2.  2007. Seeing the forest and the trees. Philos. Sci. 74:628–41 [Google Scholar]
  3. Carlson A. 3.  2008. Nature and Landscape: An Introduction to Environmental Aesthetics New York: Columbia Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  4. Jenkins W, Chapple C. 4.  2011. Religion and environment. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 36:441–63 [Google Scholar]
  5. Kelbessa W. 5.  2005. The rehabilitation of indigenous environmental ethics in Africa. Diogenes 52:317–34 [Google Scholar]
  6. James SP, Cooper D. 6.  2008. Buddhism and the environment. Special edition. Contemp. Buddhism 8:293–108 [Google Scholar]
  7. Brown C, Toadvine T. 7.  2003. Eco-Phenomenology: Back to the Earth Itself Albany: State Univ. N.Y. Press [Google Scholar]
  8. Foltz B, Frodeman B. 8.  2004. Rethinking Nature: Essays in Environmental Philosophy Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  9. Westra L, Robinson T. 9.  1997. The Greeks and the Environment Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield [Google Scholar]
  10. Leopold A. 10.  1968 [1949]. A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press, 2nd ed.. [Google Scholar]
  11. Taylor P. 11.  1986. Respect for Nature Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  12. Rolston H. 12.  1986. Philosophy Gone Wild New York: Prometheus [Google Scholar]
  13. Elliot R, Gare A. 13.  1983. Environmental Philosophy: A Collection of Readings Milton Keynes, UK: Open Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  14. Des Jardins JR. 14.  1993. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy Belmont, CA: Wadsworth [Google Scholar]
  15. VanDeVeer D, Pierce C. 15.  1993. The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book Belmont, CA: Wadsworth [Google Scholar]
  16. Minteer BA. 16.  2012. Refounding Environmental Ethics: Pragmatism, Principle, and Practice Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  17. O'Neill J. 17.  1992. The varieties of intrinsic value. Monist 75:2119–37 [Google Scholar]
  18. Jamieson D. 18.  2008. Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  19. McShane K. 19.  2007. Why environmental ethics shouldn't give up on intrinsic value. Environ. Ethics 29:143–61 [Google Scholar]
  20. Attfield R. 20.  1995. Value, Obligation, and Meta-Ethics Amsterdam: Rodopi [Google Scholar]
  21. Norton BG. 21.  1987. Why Preserve Natural Variety? Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  22. Rolston H. 22.  1988. Environmental Ethics Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  23. Weston A. 23.  1985. Beyond intrinsic value: pragmatism in environmental ethics. Environ. Ethics 7:4321–39 [Google Scholar]
  24. Maguire LA, Justus J. 24.  2008. Why intrinsic value is a poor basis for conservation decisions. BioScience 58:10910–11 [Google Scholar]
  25. Fox W. 25.  1993. What does the recognition of intrinsic value entail?. Trumpeter 10:3 http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/index.php/trumpet/article/view/379/601 [Google Scholar]
  26. Callicott JB. 26.  1992. Can a theory of moral sentiments support a genuinely normative environmental ethic?. Inquiry 35:183–98 [Google Scholar]
  27. Warren MA. 27.  2000. Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  28. Goodpaster KE. 28.  1978. On being morally considerable. J. Philos. 75:6308–25 [Google Scholar]
  29. White L Jr. 29.  1967. The historic roots of our ecologic crisis. Science 155:37671203–7 [Google Scholar]
  30. Naess A. 30.  1973. The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movement. A summary. Inquiry 16:195–100 [Google Scholar]
  31. Devall B, Sessions G. 31.  1985. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith [Google Scholar]
  32. Norton BG. 32.  1991. Towards Unity Among Environmentalists New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  33. Singer P. 33.  1975. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals New York: Avon [Google Scholar]
  34. Regan T. 34.  1983. The Case for Animal Rights Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press [Google Scholar]
  35. Cahen H. 35.  1988. Against the moral considerability of ecosystems. Environ. Ethics 10:3195–216 [Google Scholar]
  36. Thompson J. 36.  1990. A refutation of environmental ethics. Environ. Ethics 12:147–60 [Google Scholar]
  37. Johnson L. 37.  1991. A Morally Deep World Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  38. Nelson M. 38.  1993. A defense of environmental ethics: a reply to Janna Thompson. Environ. Ethics 45:245–57 [Google Scholar]
  39. Sandler R. 39.  2013. The Ethics of Species London: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  40. Callicott JB. 40.  1980. Animal liberation: a triangular affair. Environ. Ethics 2:311–28 [Google Scholar]
  41. Varner G. 41.  1998. In Nature's Interests? Interests, Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  42. 42. US Environ. Prot. Agency (EPA) 2013. Plan EJ 2014 Progress Report Washington, DC: EPA http://www.epa.gov/compliance/ej/resources/policy/plan-ej-2014/plan-ej-progress-report-2014.pdf [Google Scholar]
  43. Camacho D. 43.  1998. Environmental Injustices, Political Struggles: Race, Class, and the Environment Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  44. Bullard RD, Mohai P, Saha R, Wright B. 44.  2007. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1989–2007 Cleveland, OH: United Church Christ [Google Scholar]
  45. Westra L, Lawson B. 45.  2001. Faces of Environmental Racism: Confronting Issues of Global Justice Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed.. [Google Scholar]
  46. Sandler R, Pezzullo PC. 46.  2007. Environmental Justice and Environmentalism Cambridge, MA: MIT Press [Google Scholar]
  47. Schlosberg D. 47.  2007. Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements and Nature New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  48. Shrader-Frechette K. 48.  2002. Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  49. Bryant B. 49.  1995. Environmental Justice: Issues, Policies, and Solutions Washington, DC: Island [Google Scholar]
  50. Guha R. 50.  1989. Radical American environmentalism and wilderness preservation: a third world critique. Environ. Ethics 11:71–83 [Google Scholar]
  51. Shiva V. 51.  1999. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge Cambridge, MA: South End [Google Scholar]
  52. Hassoun N. 52.  2012. The problem of debt-for-nature swaps from a human rights perspective. J. Appl. Philos. 29:4359–77 [Google Scholar]
  53. Gardiner S. 53.  2009. The Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  54. Singer P. 54.  2004. One World: The Ethics of Globalization New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  55. 55. World Comm. Environ. Dev 1987. Our Common Future. New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  56. Thompson PB. 56.  2012. Sustainability: ethical foundations. Nat. Educ. Knowledge 3:1011 http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/sustainability-ethical-foundations-71373239 [Google Scholar]
  57. Norton BG. 57.  2005. Sustainability: A Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press [Google Scholar]
  58. Thompson PB. 58.  2010. The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics Lexington: Univ. Ky. Press [Google Scholar]
  59. Posner E, Sunstein C. 59.  2008. Climate change justice. Georget. Law J. 96:1565–612 [Google Scholar]
  60. Caney S. 60.  2012. Just emissions. Philos. Public Aff. 40:4255–300 [Google Scholar]
  61. Broome J. 61.  2012. Climate Matters New York: Norton [Google Scholar]
  62. Parfit D. 62.  1984. Reasons and Persons Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  63. Mulgan T. 63.  2006. Future People New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  64. Roberts M, Wasserman D. 64.  2009. Harming Future Persons New York: Springer [Google Scholar]
  65. 65. U.N. Food Agric. Organ. (UNFAO) 2012. State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture Rome: Food Agric. Organ. U.N. [Google Scholar]
  66. Haberl H, Erb KH, Krausmann F, Gaube V, Bondeau A. 66.  et al. 2007. Quantifying and mapping the human appropriation of net primary production in Earth's terrestrial ecosystems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104:3112942–47 [Google Scholar]
  67. Singer P. 67.  1979. Killing humans and killing animals. Inquiry 22:145–56 [Google Scholar]
  68. Palmer C. 68.  2010. Animal Ethics in Context New York: Columbia Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  69. Donaldson S, Kymlicka W. 69.  2011. Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  70. Carruthers P. 70.  1992. The Animals Issue London: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  71. Cohen C. 71.  1986. The case for the use of animals in biomedical research. N. Engl. J. Med. 315:14865–70 [Google Scholar]
  72. Nobis N. 72.  2004. Carl Cohen's ‘kind’ argument for animal rights and against animal rights. J. Appl. Philos. 21:143–59 [Google Scholar]
  73. Schweitzer A. 73.  1987 [1923]. The Philosophy of Civilization New York: Prometheus [Google Scholar]
  74. Attfield R. 74.  1987. A Theory of Value and Obligation Beckenham, UK: Croom Helm [Google Scholar]
  75. Agar N. 75.  2001. Life's Intrinsic Value New York: Columbia Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  76. Schmidtz D. 76.  1998. Are all species equal?. J. Appl. Philos. 15:57–67 [Google Scholar]
  77. Sterba JP. 77.  1998. A biocentrist strikes back. Environ. Ethics 20:361–76 [Google Scholar]
  78. Callicott JB. 78.  1989. In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy Albany: State Univ. N.Y. Press [Google Scholar]
  79. Norton BG. 79.  1988. The constancy of Leopold's land ethic. Conserv. Biol. 2:193–102 [Google Scholar]
  80. Callicott JB. 80.  1987. Companion to ‘A Sand County Almanac’: Interpretive and Critical Essays Madison: Univ. Wis. Press [Google Scholar]
  81. Sagoff M. 81.  2013. What does environmental protection protect?. Ethics Policy Environ. 16:3239–57 [Google Scholar]
  82. Costanza R, Norton BG, Haskell BD. 82.  1992. Ecosystem Health: New Goals for Environmental Management Washington, DC: Island [Google Scholar]
  83. Westra L. 83.  1994. An Environmental Proposal for Ethics: The Principle of Integrity Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield [Google Scholar]
  84. Jamieson D. 84.  1995. Ecosystem health: some preventive medicine. Environ. Values 4:333–44 [Google Scholar]
  85. McShane K. 85.  2004. Ecosystem health. Environ. Ethics 26:3227–45 [Google Scholar]
  86. Soulé M. 86.  1985. What is conservation biology?. BioScience 35:11727–34 [Google Scholar]
  87. Katz E. 87.  1992. The big lie: human restoration of nature. Res. Philos. Technol. 12:231–41 [Google Scholar]
  88. Bradley B. 88.  2001. The value of endangered species. J. Value Inq. 35:43–58 [Google Scholar]
  89. Maier DS. 89.  2012. What's So Good About Biodiversity? A Call for Better Reasoning About Nature's Value Dordrecht, Neth.: Springer [Google Scholar]
  90. Preston CJ. 90.  2011. Re-thinking the unthinkable: environmental ethics and the presumptive argument against geoengineering. Environ. Values 20:457–79 [Google Scholar]
  91. Elliot R. 91.  1982. Faking nature. Inquiry 25:81–93 [Google Scholar]
  92. Hettinger N, Throop W. 92.  1999. Refocusing ecocentrism. Environ. Ethics 21:13–21 [Google Scholar]
  93. Callicott JB, Nelson MP. 93.  1999. The Great New Wilderness Debate Athens: Univ. Georgia Press [Google Scholar]
  94. Kareiva P, Marvier M. 94.  2012. What is conservation science?. BioScience 62:11962–69 [Google Scholar]
  95. McKibben B. 95.  1989. The End of Nature New York: Random House [Google Scholar]
  96. Carter A. 96.  2005. Inegalitarian biocentric consequentialism, the minimax implication and multidimensional value theory: a brief proposal for a new direction in environmental ethics. Utilitas 17:162–84 [Google Scholar]
  97. Singer P. 97.  1989. All animals are equal. Animal Rights and Human Obligations T Regan, P Singer 148–62 Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall [Google Scholar]
  98. Holbrook D. 98.  1997. The consequentialist side of environmental ethics. Environ. Values 6:187–96 [Google Scholar]
  99. McMahan J. 99.  2010. The meat eaters. New York Times Sept. 19. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/the-meat-eaters/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 [Google Scholar]
  100. Sagoff M. 100.  1984. Animal liberation and environmental ethics: bad marriage, quick divorce. Osgoode Hall Law J. 22:297–307 [Google Scholar]
  101. Hayward T. 101.  2005. Constitutional Environmental Rights Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  102. Francione G. 102.  2000. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  103. Cochrane A. 103.  2012. Animal Rights Without Liberation New York: Columbia Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  104. Hill TE Jr. 104.  1983. Ideals of human excellence and preserving natural environments. Environ. Ethics 5:3211–24 [Google Scholar]
  105. Sandler R. 105.  2007. Character and Environment: A Virtue-Oriented Approach to Environmental Ethics New York: Columbia Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  106. Sandler R, Cafaro P. 106.  2005. Environmental Virtue Ethics Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield [Google Scholar]
  107. van Wensveen L. 107.  2000. Dirty Virtues: The Emergence of Ecological Virtue Ethics Amherst, NY: Prometheus [Google Scholar]
  108. Warren K. 108.  1993. Introduction. Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology ME Zimmerman, JB Callicott, J Clark, KJ Warren, IJ Klaver, J Clark 253–67 Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall [Google Scholar]
  109. Ruether RR. 109.  1975. New Woman, New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation New York: Seabury [Google Scholar]
  110. Plumwood V. 110.  1991. Nature, self and gender: feminism, environmental philosophy and the critique of rationalism. Hypatia 6:13–27 [Google Scholar]
  111. Kheel M. 111.  1993. From heroic to holistic ethics: the ecofeminist challenge. Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature G Gaard 243–71 Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  112. Plumwood V. 112.  1993. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature London: Routledge [Google Scholar]
  113. Light A, Katz E. 113.  1996. Environmental Pragmatism New York: Routledge [Google Scholar]
  114. Norton BG. 114.  1997. Convergence and contextualism: some clarifications and a reply to Steverson. Environ. Ethics 19:187–99 [Google Scholar]
  115. Light A. 115.  2002. Contemporary environmental ethics: from metaethics to public philosophy. Metaphilosophy 33:4426–49 [Google Scholar]
  116. Ferkany M, Whyte K. 116.  2012. The importance of participatory virtues in the future of environmental education. J. Agric. Environ. Ethics 25:3419–34 [Google Scholar]
  117. O'Neill J. 117.  1993. Ecology, Policy and Politics London: Routledge [Google Scholar]
  118. Attfield R. 118.  2011. Climate change, environmental ethics, and biocentrism. Climate Change and Environmental Ethics VP Nanda 31–41 New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction [Google Scholar]
  119. Sarkar S. 119.  2005. Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  120. Basl J, Sandler R. 120.  2013. Designer Biology: The Ethics of Intensively Engineering Biological and Ecological Systems Lanham, MD: Lexington [Google Scholar]
  121. Streiffer R, Basl J. 121.  2013. The ethics of agricultural animal biotechnology. Ethics and Emerging Technologies R Sandler 501–5 New York: Palgrave Macmillan [Google Scholar]
  122. Preston CJ. 122.  2008. Synthetic biology: drawing a line in Darwin's sand. Environ. Values 17:123–39 [Google Scholar]
  123. Comstock G. 123.  2001. Vexing Nature? On the Ethical Case Against Agricultural Biotechnology Dordrecht, Neth.: Springer [Google Scholar]
  124. Thompson PB. 124.  2013. Artificial meat. Ethics and Emerging Technologies R Sandler 516–30 New York: Palgrave Macmillan [Google Scholar]
  125. Light A. 125.  2000. Ecological restoration and the culture of nature: a pragmatic perspective. Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences P Gobster, B Hull 49–70 Washington, DC: Island [Google Scholar]
  126. Throop W. 126.  2012. Environmental virtues and the aims of restoration. See Ref. 149 47–62
  127. Higgs E. 127.  2012. History, novelty and virtue in ecological restoration. See Ref. 149 81–102
  128. Sandler R. 128.  2012. Global warming and virtues of ecological restoration. See Ref. 149 63–80
  129. Light A. 129.  2012. The death of restoration. See Ref. 149 105–24
  130. Nolt J. 130.  2011. Nonanthropocentric climate ethics. WIREs Clim. Change 2:701–11 [Google Scholar]
  131. McCoy ED, Berry K. 131.  2008. Using an ecological ethics framework to make decisions about the relocation of wildlife. Sci. Eng. Ethics 14:505–21 [Google Scholar]
  132. Camacho A. 132.  2010. Assisted migration: redefining nature and natural resource law under climate change. Yale J. Regul. 27:171–255 [Google Scholar]
  133. Aubin I, Garbe CM, Colombo S, Drever CR, McKenney DW. 133.  et al. 2011. Why we disagree about assisted migration: ethical implications of a key debate regarding the future of Canada's forest. For. Chron. 87:755–65 [Google Scholar]
  134. Albrecht G, Brooke C, Bennett D, Garnett S. 134.  2013. The ethics of assisted colonization in the age of anthropogenic climate change. J. Agric. Environ. Ethics 26:827–45 [Google Scholar]
  135. Ricciardi A, Simberloff D. 135.  2008. Why assisted migration is not a viable conservation strategy. Trends Ecol. Evol. 24:248–53 [Google Scholar]
  136. Sandler R. 136.  2010. The value of species and the ethical foundations of assisted colonization. Conserv. Biol. 24:2424–31 [Google Scholar]
  137. Buma B. 137.  2013. Don't give up just yet: maintaining species, services and systems in a changing world. Ethics, Policy Environ. 16:33–36 [Google Scholar]
  138. Larson B, Palmer C. 138.  2013. Assisted migration is no panacea, but let's not discount it either. Ethics, Policy Environ. 16:16–18 [Google Scholar]
  139. Jamieson D. 139.  1996. Ethics and intentional climate change. Clim. Change 33:323–36 [Google Scholar]
  140. Hamilton C. 140.  2013. The ethical foundations of climate engineering. Climate Change Geoengineering: Philosophical Perspectives, Legal Issues and Governance Frameworks W Burns, A Strauss 39–58 London: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  141. Tuana N. 141.  2013. The ethical dimensions of geoengineering: solar radiation management through sulfur particle injection. Geoengineering our climate? Ethics, policy and governance. Work. Pap. 2, Geoeng. Our Clim. Work. Pap. Opin. Artic. Ser., Penn State Univ. Press http://geoengineeringourclimate.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/tuana-2013-ethics-of-geoengineering-click-for-download.pdf [Google Scholar]
  142. Hale B. 142.  2012. The world that would have been: moral hazard arguments against geoengineering. See Ref. 147 113–32
  143. Davies G. 143.  2010. Geoengineering: a critique. Clim. Law 1:3429–41 [Google Scholar]
  144. Svoboda T, Keller K, Goes M, Tuana N. 144.  2011. Sulfate aerosol geoengineering: the question of justice. Public Aff. Q. 25:3157–80 [Google Scholar]
  145. Preston CJ. 145.  2012. Solar radiation management and vulnerable populations: the moral deficit and its prospects. See Ref. 147 77–94
  146. Hamilton C. 146.  2013. No, we should not just ‘at least do the research.’. Nature 496:7444139 [Google Scholar]
  147. Preston CJ. 147.  2012. Engineering the Climate: The Ethics of Solar Radiation Management Lanham, MD: Lexington [Google Scholar]
  148. Gardiner S. 148.  2010. Is arming the future with geoengineering really the lesser evil? Some doubts about intentionally manipulating the climate system. Climate Ethics: Essential Readings S Gardiner, S Caney, D Jamieson 284–314 New York: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  149. Thompson A, Bendik-Keymer J. 149.  2012. Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future Cambridge, MA: MIT Press [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error