Warning and Disclaimer

So this is just a blog I'm using to upload a bunch of the essays and assessment tasks I wrote for my various uni degrees. Basically I put a lot of effort into some of these and it seems a waste for them to only be read once... so I figured upload them onto the web and see if anyone looks at them.

did ok at most of my essays, some better than others so copy the ideas at your own risk... Given the slow increase in my marks over the years clearly it took me a while to get started. You can probably work out when I wrote each assessment based on the length of the reference list (and there's probably a correlation with the marks I received for that assessment too)

I had a glance over the cover sheets and don't think there's anything stopping me uploading them as I don't think the uni claims ownership over them. You sign off saying that the work has never been submitted before, not that you won't do anything with it later.

That all being said, if you do find these useful for your own uni work... DON'T copy them (not because I care about you copying them) but because you WILL get done for plagarism yourself... Take some of the main points if you want, definitely steal my reference lists, but don't copy text from the essay because you will get done...

So yeah, read on if you're interested, follow up the references... but don't copy if you know what's good for you

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Critical Literature Review- Environmental Ethics

Rolston, H. (1981) Values in Nature. Environmental Ethics 3, 113-128.

This paper by Holmes Rolston is about the different ways value can be assigned to nature and natural ecosystems. From the beginning Rolston encounters difficulties, because as he says “value is the generis noun for any positive predicate” and “science only works with neutral descriptive predicates”. Rolston proposes that the examined values arise in association with science and that these values are based on physical and biological properties and processes discovered by science. This would mean the ‘neutral’ nature of science is being used to determine the ‘positive’ values, which seems to be a contradiction.

Rolston uses ten categories to show the different ways that we could value nature. These are:

Economic Value  
For this category he shows how the prevailing view is the labour used on the environment is what gives it its economic value, not nature itself. He proposes that we should look at nature as having potential economic value that could arise in the future. This would however be based on pure speculation and if followed to it’s full extent would paralyse us from doing anything that could damage nature and potentially have a negative effect in the future, or ignore the future altogether and do whatever we want to nature as no matter what we do it will have a negative effect.
Life Support Value
The claim the Earth is valuable because it keeps us alive is made, but this only follows if we value human life. The statement that we are bound to nature with no hope for release through our arts (and presumably technology) is also made. No justification is given for this statement it is assumed to be an accepted fact. Rolston also asks the question “do we not value Earth because it is valuable, and not the other way around?” The other way around would be the Earth is valuable because we value it. Rolston gives no answer to this question he just poses more questions. 

Recreational Value 
This category is where Rolston first mentions the intrinsic value of nature. Comparing the recreational enjoyment of nature to the enjoyment of music and art. Rolston makes the assumption that music and art have an intrinsic value to people (which is an assumption that can be questioned) and that nature can be and is enjoyed in the same way.
Scientific Value
Science is given an intrinsic value by Rolston, like music and art. He then claims that the study of a worthless (and therefore presumably valueless) thing can be intrinsically valuable. According to his argument it follows that if natural science is intrinsically valuable science is intrinsically valuable. If natural science isn’t intrinsically valuable (and he offers no justification as to why this is so) his own argument (if correct) would show that natural science has no value. The argument that the study of a valueless thing has no value can also be challenged. The Ebola or Aids viruses have no value to humans (as value is a human concept) yet the study of these viruses with the aim of developing a cure surely has huge value to humans (if human life is taken to have value).
Aesthetic Value
This approach to valuing nature is one that Rolston claims people have difficulty justifying verbally. He seems to be stating that this is the appreciation of nature’s ideals and their beauty. He gives no real reason as to why people value nature this way, but perhaps this is due to his own admission that it is so hard to verbalise?
Life Value 
It is argued by Rolston that if we grant human life value (an assumption) all other life must have at least so value as we are all evolutionarily related. He also argues that mind is the most interesting and rare thing in the universe (that humans know of) and that life is the second most interesting and rare thing in the universe. However rarity and interest do not automatically equal value.
Diversity and Unity Value
For this approach Rolston claims that nature’s diversity and unity are valuable because these factors are what lead to the development of our minds. This is because “a complex mind evolves in order to deal with a diverse world, yet one through which unifying relationships run.” First of all Rolston does not specify what he means by a complex mind it could mean solely human’s minds, it could mean all animals minds or somewhere between these two. Are all minds valuable or just human ones? This is important because all animals could presumably recognise that nature is different but only humans presumably are able to recognise the laws of science that underlie natures complexity. If all minds are considered complex and valuable it is the diversity of nature that adds value according to the statement. If only human minds are complex and valuable it is the unifying relationships that underpin nature that are valuable.
Stability and Spontaneity Values 
Stability refers to the reliability of nature’s basic processes that have led to the formulation to many of science’s basic laws. Rolston claims some order supports value and this should be a basic value. If it is only some order that supports value how do we determine between order that is valuable and order that (presumably) isn’t valuable?

The spontaneity of nature Rolston views as a form of freedom and he poses the question that why freedom is valued for humans but not for natural species to whom we are evolutionarily connected. The question if nature is ‘free’ in the same sense as humans are should be posed. Are plants free? Or species?
Dialectical Value 
Rolston feels that if it weren’t for human conflict with nature human evolution (both physically and culturally) would have stagnated. If nature was to hostile it would kill us, but if it were too forgiving we would stagnate, in a sense nature could be considered ‘just right’. If this were true however would we realise and object. Surely if we stagnated or were killed we wouldn’t realise as we have either stagnated intellectually or are dead. If you only value it after it has happened to you is this a true value?

Sacramental Value 
The value here is nature’s stimulation of the mind that must be an intrinsic value according to Rolston. If however the mind can be stimulated by something other then nature the intrinsic value of nature due to it’s intellectual stimulation becomes separated and it is the intellectual stimulation that gains the value, with nature just enhancing it.

The most common thrust of argument from Rolston throughout the paper is that nature is valuable because it enabled humans to develop evolutionarily, socially and culturally to the stage we are at today. However if we had never developed to this stage would we value getting to this stage?

Gunn, A.S., (1980) Why Should We Care About Rare Species? Environmental Ethics 3, 17-37.

Alastair Gunn aims in this paper to find a way to morally justify the (assumed) feeling that people have that it is wrong to exterminate species and further to why we feel that rare species should be further protected then other species. Gunn claims that rare species are the subject of increasing public interest but that this interest may only be focused on the beautiful spectacular species. He states that this “is true, but it is not clear what follows”. He chooses to ignore this statement because it would accept speciesist values uncritically (and he obviously has no wish to do this).

Gunn claims that the wholesale slaughter of entire species by human actions bears no resemblance to the natural processes of speciation, evolution and natural selection. If this is true then the ‘Big 5’ mass extinctions (where over fifty percent of the worlds species died out) of history also bear no resemblance to natural processes. This is not to say that the slaughter of species by humans is a natural process (illustrated by Gunn with the example of the passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius) or that the mass extinctions were unnatural (they all coincide with huge scale environmental or geological changes) but that there are precedents for a large-scale extinction of species occurring throughout history. Indeed over 99% of the species that have existed on Earth to date are extinct. “As a statistician might say, to a first approximation, all species (on Earth) are extinct” (Prothero, 2004).

The majority of Gunn’s paper is taken up with a critique of other approaches to valuing rare species. The first approach critiqued being rights.

There are many assumptions made for this approach, first off that animals have rights, that included in these rights is a right to life and that there is a difference between the rights of and individual and the rights of a species.

An argument that species could be assigned rights in a similar sense to corporations. This approach works on the surface but when you consider that the purpose of these legal entities is to be a means to an end and have no value. That would mean this approach doesn’t work as it gives no value to the species, which would have been the whole purpose of giving them legal standing in this manner.

Extermination of a species was also shown not to be a violation of the rights of the individuals of the species as it would be possible to make all individuals infertile but protected till they die of old age thus exterminating the species but not violating individual rights. Gunn also states that if this occurred naturally (or all individuals where of the one sex) there is no possible step we could take to save the species. However there is a difference between a species naturally becoming infertile and deliberately being tampered with to exterminate them. Perhaps individuals could be considered to have the right to avoid being ‘tampered’ with. Although if this right were applied to all species it would mean many of our attempts to control ‘pest’ species would have to change.

Gunn then points out the gestalt nature of species rights. He illustrates this by showing how killing the 50 last individuals of a species seems to be a greater wrong then killing 50 individuals of a species that has 100,000 individuals. One approach he doesn’t look at however is that in the first example from above you are killing 100% of the species but in the second approach you are killing 0.05% of the species. Perhaps by reflecting on individuals as a percentage of their species you could explain how individuals of a rare species tend to have special rights. Gunn show that unless rare species have special rights there is no way that animals right can lead us to specially protecting rare species.
Speciesist Account
Gunn feels this argument is ultimately flawed, as it doesn’t take into account that people tend to feel that it is morally wrong to exterminate a species. Speciesist arguments are limited to showing the benefits of preservation or the loss to humans for failing to preserve a species.

Gunn rightly points out that many of the speciesist arguments are flawed by the assumption that technology is static. The more persuasive argument he also reviews is that while the species may not be valuable now it may have value in the future. He dismisses this argument as we do not know anything about the future and cannot assume anything about it, indeed it is just as likely that the species may prove to be harmful to future generations as it will prove to be useful.

When considering recreational, aesthetic and scientific values in a utilitarian speciesist sense many competing factors need to be added together and this means that you cannot always guarantee that extermination is wrong and therefore this approach cannot be relied upon to bring the desired results.

The speciesist approach as argued by Gunn seems to give reasons to preserve particular species. It works on a species to species basis but not as blanket protection for all species, which is the point, he is trying to make.
Rarity and Value
Rarity enhances value, it doesn’t create value is Gunn’s main argument against this approach. Rare species are then compared to special individuals whom are assigned special rights but explains this away as everyone has the right to compete but not succeed. He once again falls back on his argument that a species is a gestalt of the individuals comprising it.
Gunn’s Solution
Gunn proposes that there is only one way in which we can justify enhanced value to rare species and that is to follow a new environmental ethic. He feels that there is something perfect about a self-renewing ecosystem and that therefore exterminating some part of this is morally wrong. This approach however doesn’t take into account that ecosystems are not static but exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Species are not co-existing peacefully but competing against each other in the environment. Ecosystems don’t stay the same over time as new species migrate to the area or on a longer timescale as environmental changes occur.

Extinction (the ultimate removal of a species from the ecosystem) also occurs in nature. Extinction is a natural part of evolution and natural selection and in fact if it weren’t for extinction’s the “perfect” ecosystem we see today would never have evolved. Surely some of the extinctions seen in prehistory were the result of one species out competing another species and forcing it to extinction, was this wrong? If only humans are considered to be moral agents was it wrong when humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) out competed and forced Neanderthal man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) to extinction?

Two even larger problems exist in Gunn’s solution, which is otherwise very hard to find fault with. The first is that it would require a major shift in the way that the majority of the western world thinks. Surely this would be at least as difficult to achieve as finding reason for protecting rare species under the current system. The second problem is “(his theory) is really no answer to the person who cannot see why it is better to have a natural ecosystem then an airport”. Would this mean that he is preaching to the converted? Isn’t the purpose of his paper to show people who don’t value rare species why they should?

Prothero, D. (2004) Bringing Fossils to Life: an introduction to palaeobiology (2nd ed.) McGraw Hill, Sydney

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