Environmental Ethics Beyond Principle? The Case for a Pragmatic Contextualism

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Abstract

Many nonanthropocentric environmental ethicists subscribe to a ``principle-ist'' approach to moral argument, whereby specific natural resource and environmental policy judgments are deduced from the prior articulation of a general moral principle. More often than not, this principle is one requiring the promotion of the intrinsic value of nonhuman nature. Yet there are several problems with this method of moral reasoning, including the short-circuiting of reflective inquiry and the disregard of the complex nature of specific environmental problems and policy arguments. In the present paper, we advance an alternative, pragmatic contextualist approach to environmental ethics, one grounded in the moral theory of John Dewey. We present the results of an empirical study of public environmental ethics and natural resource management attitudes to support our position, and we conclude with a few recommendations for future inquiry in the field of environmental ethics.