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Do We Bear a Moral Obligation to Nature and/or the Environment?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Morals' started by Sunstone, Oct 14, 2016.

  1. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Do we humans bear any moral obligation to nature and/or the environment?

    If so, what is the ground or grounds for the obligation?

    If so, what sort of obligation do we bear? How would you characterize it?
     
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  2. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    So far as I can see, morality is traditionally about the treatment of ones fellow humans. How you should treat them, how they should treat each other and you. But in recent years, this has been extended by many people to include how we humans should treat nature and the environment. I can think of at least one over-riding reason for that extension.

    How we treat nature and the environment quite often has significant consequences on ourselves or on other humans, or on both. By that reasoning, much of our behavior towards nature and the environment becomes a moral issue even if morality is understood only in the traditional sense -- that is, as about the treatment of humans.

    There may be other reasons to assert that we have a moral obligation towards nature and the environment, too.
     
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  3. Laika

    Laika Well-Known Member
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    In a sense I would describe the earth as a form of common property that belongs, not simply to the present generation but also to past and future generations. In ensuring that the earth is still in good condition, we honour our ancestors and conserve their achievements whilst also leaving an inheritence to future generations that the earth may continue to be inhabitable. Because of that it is arguably immoral to degrade or destroy it as our inheritence from the past and to the future.

    However, I can almost hear @Quintessence calling that an anthroprocentric view by placing man at the centre of creation as when did man gain the right to own the earth? Is not the biodiversity and interconnectness of our planet have a greater intrinsic worth than its ultility as a life support system for the human race? I wouldnt have a response to that honestly so I felt it worth including. :)
     
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  4. ADigitalArtist

    ADigitalArtist Well-Known Member
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    I definitely feel like both 'given dominion over the earth' and 'earth's caretakers' are presumptive titles we take for ourselves, and that we have neither some cosmic obligation or ownership over the Earth.
    I also don't think earth, nature, the cosmos etc 'cares' whether we are in it or not, radically change the biodiversity status quo or not.

    That said, I think the discussion of morality is all about shared goals. Thus, if a goal is shared by two individuals, there can be arguments made about subjective but non-arbitrary morals. Things like our actions and how they impact the ecosystem as well as if that ecosystem can support human society in the future if we continue those actions. Same with a goal to reduce unnecessary suffering in both people and other animals.
     
  5. Mestemia

    Mestemia Advocatus Diaboli
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    Um...
    Are we not part of nature and the environment?

    I understand that there are those who think we humans are somehow above nature and the environment.

    How does obligation work exactly?
    Specifically human obligation to the environment/nature?

    Are we obligated to make sure there is an environment/nature for future generations?
    And if so, would that obligation be towards the future humans?

    I guess I am unclear what it is exactly you are asking.
     
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  6. Politesse

    Politesse Amor Vincit Omnia

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    This is a pretty straightforward matter, for me; I'm not a uitilitarian or your "humans-only" type in the first place, so I have no assumptions telling me not to care about the planet. And since I see plenty of reasons to do so - we live in it, for one, and everything we pretend to "have" comes from it and will return to it- I have no compunctions considering intentional destroyers of the earth to be moral filth barely worth consideration themselves.
     
  7. Father Heathen

    Father Heathen Veteran Member

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    I don't know about moral obligation, but it is at the very least in our rational self-interest. The biosphere is our life-support system, after all.
     
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  8. Deathbydefault

    Deathbydefault Apistevist Asexual Atheist

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    I feel that to answer this in a direct way, I would need to personify nature.
    That's not what I want to do, so my answer is a bit different.

    It's conscience issue more so than a moral obligation.
    You owe it to your descendants and the future of the human race, along with many other species of animals.
    If you care about those things, that is.

    If you were to personify nature, it could only be described as an abusive and indifferent parent.
    No need to feel obligation to that.
     
    #8 Deathbydefault, Oct 14, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2016
  9. DavidMcCann

    DavidMcCann Well-Known Member

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    In Virtue Ethics, which I've written about elsewhere on the board, and which goes back to Aristotle and Confucius, good actions are actions conducive to the flourishing of the agent. If we do not care for our environment, we will not flourish; or at the very least, our descendants will suffer.
     
  10. Nowhere Man

    Nowhere Man Bompu Zen Man with a little bit of Bushido.

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    I don't think we bear any real moral obligation.

    Maybe a practicable obligation exists to ensure any mismanagement of the environment dosent comes back to haunt us at a later date as repercussions for any misgivings through overuse or irresponsibility.
     
  11. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    I'm not a believer in "moral obligations" of any sort - there is only deciding the sort of character or virtues a person or society wants to uphold. Upholding such character is contractual - obligations only in the sense of social and personal norms - not in the sense of something that must be obeyed like the obligatory biological need to breathe to stay alive.

    That said, I find it deplorable that the field of ethics has traditionally been so anthropocentric in Western philosophy. Western culture got this way by virtue of (mostly) Christianity beating down traditional animistic cultures (aka, Paganisms), and then mechanistic narratives of the Enlightenment putting more nails in the coffin. In traditional cultures, "persons" never meant just humans - the world is seen as full of persons, only some of whom are human - so the default for who is an ethical subject had always included other-than-human persons as well. Often, these other-than-human persons were subjects of worship or celebration - basically gods. But we lost all that.

    For those who aren't contemporary Pagans and are members of Abrahamic traditions, it makes sense for them to keep to their traditions and continue being very anthropocentric and self-centered. For me as a Pagan, such depauperate consideration for persons who happen to not be human is entirely unacceptable and demonstrates a deficiency in proper virtue or character. If I actually take to heart the animistic underpinnings of my tradition, it is dishonorable for me to not consider the needs of my fellow non-human persons.

    In short, you have an obligation if and only if you decide that you do for yourself. And from experience, I can tell you that being an animist in a culture of non-animists can be very, very hard.
     
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  12. Acim

    Acim Revelation all the time

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    Like asking, does nature have a moral obligation to nature?

    Whereas the implication in OP is, do we as supernatural beings have a moral obligation to the natural world?
     
  13. Parchment

    Parchment Active Member

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    It would seem in our rational self-interest.
     
  14. icehorse

    icehorse Well-Known Member
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    I guess that unless you're a pure relativist, you need to admit to at least one axiom for your philosophy.

    I like Sam Harris's idea of maximizing the "well being of conscious creatures" (WBCC), as the axiom I use for my philosophy. More specifically, my axiom is that: It's 'good' to maximize the well being of conscious creatures for as many generations as possible (WBMG).

    Questions of aggregate well being are hard to answer, but the WBMG approach is an attempt to support conclusions like: It's better to have fewer people on the planet now, so that many future generations can enjoy a healthy biosphere.

    And of course, this idea also raises the question of which species have consciousness.
     
  15. sun rise

    sun rise "Let there be peace and love among all"
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    Personally I like the Native American understanding that the Earth is our mother.
     
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  16. beenherebeforeagain

    beenherebeforeagain Rogue Animist
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    My approach: everything (what we in the West call living and non-living, animate and inanimate, etc.) is at least potentially persons, and should be treated as such, even if we decide that they aren't really conscious in the same way we humans are. The "Golden Rule" seems to be a good guideline for behavior, and the "others" applies to all other persons and potential persons--whether or not they can knowingly reciprocate in the relationship.
     
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  17. metis

    metis aged ecumenical anthropologist

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    Yes we should all have an obligation to our environment because this affects everyone, and there's a difference between use and abuse.
     
  18. sayak83

    sayak83 Well-Known Member
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    Let us roughly define morality as the duty to interact with other beings in a way that prevents gratuitous suffering and enhances eudaimonia in other beings.

    1) It is widely known now that most animals have the capacity to suffer and enjoy quality of life in their own respective sense. Since we are aware of this, moral duty requires that we treat these animal beings in ways that prevent gratuitous suffering and enhances their quality of life. This is to be balanced by the needs of humans beings of course, whose ability to feel suffering and enjoy happiness exceeds other animals.

    2) From a utilitarian point of view as well, we need the natural world to properly function for us and our future generations to survive. So from mere human interest alone there is an obligation to preserve it.

    3) Astronomical observations show that life is extremely rare in the universe. Biology shows that among all phenomena in the universe life is perhaps the most complex, most dynamic and most functionally diverse phenomena ever to arise in the universe and taking an enormous amount of time to develop to the current level of complexity and sophistication. If we as a part of life, have a desire to preserve and to know about and interact with the phenomenological rich aspects of the universe and enhance this richness through our creative desires, then life,being the highest level of this richness seen anywhere till now in this universe of a trillion galaxies...has the first claim for such a treatment and nurture. It is objectively illogical to value a diamond (a static structure of carbon atoms quite widely present in the universe and reasonably easy to create and while pretty not much functionally complex or dynamic) over a beetle (a dynamic living system of mind boggling structural and functional complexity whose species is absolutely unique to this earth and this epoch of earth and can neither be recreated or found anywhere else in this universe).
     
  19. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    If there's anything close to a moral obligation for an ethical person, I believe it would be to not increase suffering, and perhaps to try to reduce suffering. This would apply to both humans and other animals.

    People in particular should greatly care for the environment if they value the wellbeing of their children or grandchildren, or nieces or nephews, though.
     
  20. syo

    syo Well-Known Member

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    of course we do. we are dependent on nature.
     
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