The Problem of (with) Environmental Ethics

  • Daniel W. BromleyEmail author
Part of the The International Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics book series (LEAF, volume 26)


The quest for enhanced environmental outcomes underlies the entirety of Bryan Norton’s prodigious scholarship. Throughout his illustrious career, the constant thread is one of nudging ethicists to grasp the promising insights of pragmatism. I follow his lead here by arguing that the popular appeal to intrinsic value among environmental ethicists is a mistake. Much of the discussion has tended to focus on the “intrinsic” part. It is better to start by focusing on the “value” part. The idea of value requires a valuer. Every valuer will, since every valuer is unique, find different value in perceived objects, events, or phenomena. Following Peirce, it is the effects on a valuer that matter. Those who wish to attach the adjective “intrinsic” would deny the relevance of the pragmatic maxim by ascribing desirable yet unavoidable perceptual qualities to the objects of our senses. This project fails because doing so universalizes very specific and idiosyncratic sentiments. Pragmatism offers escape from this trap by insisting that all choice is informed by reasons, and sapient adults are in need of reasonable reasons. Being told that an observed object is intrinsically valuable is not a reason. Its only purpose is to render the listener an instrument of the speaker’s desires. Environmental policy is most successful when skeptics can be brought around. They demand—and deserve—reasons, not moral authoritarianism.


Intrinsic value Pragmatism Environmental ethics 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agricultural and Applied EconomicsUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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