Sunday, December 7, 2008


J. C. B. Gosling

Socrates questioned whether one could ever deliberately, when able to follow either course, choose the worse, because overcome by fear, pleasure, etc.—i.e. whether akrasia could occur. In his view any deliberate agent must consider that what they are doing best fits their objectives (what they take to be their good). If seriously overcome, they would not be acting deliberately. What we deliberate (reason practically) about is always what we consider will be the best way to achieve our good. The apparent conflict between reason and passion is rejected: passions are unstable, untutored judgements about what is best; knowledge is necessary and sufficient for bringing stability to our judgements. This sets the problem as (i) how can we act against what reason dictates? And (ii) how can we act against our view of what we take as good? Socrates answered that we cannot.

Aristotle and others following him thought Socrates ignored the obvious facts. They contrasted reason and pursuit of the good with motivation by passion. This involved denying the Socratic view that all deliberate action is aimed at what the agent considers best: I can take a meringue because I want it, without thinking taking one the best thing for me to do. There grew up a tendency to ally virtue with the exercise of reason, in opposition to passion with its relatively short-term considerations: and to see akrasia as a moral problem, the question of its possibility as one for ethics.

In the Middle Ages account had to be given of how the Devil, without passion, could deliberately go wrong. Aquinas tried to account for this as an error of reason, Scotus saw it as a case of the will freely choosing a good, but one which it should not choose. Passion-free akrasia was on the map.

In the twentieth century R. M. Hare saw a problem arising because he considered that in their primary use moral judgements express the agent's acceptance of a guiding principle of action : if they are not acted on, how are they guiding? To account for akrasia he tried to devise a notion of psychological compulsion compatible with blame. Donald Davidson sees the problem as more generally one in philosophy of action: can we give an account of intentional or deliberate behaviour which allows of deliberate choice of an action contrary to what deliberation, whether moral or not, favours? The limitations to morality and conflict with passion have been dropped, but the contrast of reason with something less long-term or comprehensive retained.

Davidson retains the assumption that akratic behaviour is irrational in being contrary to what in some sense the agent considers at the time that reason requires—contrary to an all-things-considered or better judgement—and in contravention of a principle of practical reason, which he calls the principle of continence, which enjoins us always to act on such judgements. These judgements, which always have ‘more reason’ on their side, also are generally seen as contrasted with a narrower and more short-term view. Attempts to characterize such judgements have not been successful. There are insuperable problems with all-things-considered judgements; but talk of better judgement only secures the tie with reason if it collapses into talk of all-things-considered judgement.

In fact the puzzle, if there is one, arises even where a contrast between reason and something else is hard to make out: Hamlet is an interesting case. It arises because the agent seems in a way to favour a course which he then does not take, without apparently ceasing to favour it. Neither passion nor short-term considerations are an essential factor. What is puzzling is unforced action against apparently sincere declarations of opposition to it.

The views mentioned earlier treat the problem as one of how we can act against reason. A difference between animals and humans has been thought to be that the latter have a natural tendency towards what they reason to be their good, enabling them to resist passion. This is a rational faculty, the will , which is either always responsive to reason, in which case weakness is always a defect of reason; or always aims at some good, but is able to reject the one reason proffers, in which case akrasia is seen as weakness of will.

That reason does not always dictate intentional action seems to follow from the fact that if there is no common standard for judging between two objectives, or there is, but reason cannot determine that one is to be preferred to the other by that standard, then the agent (the will) must be free to choose either way. If, in the case of wrongdoing, there is no overarching standard for choosing between the moral good and some other objective, then the will has to choose between standards, without the help of reason. The will may be overcome by passion (be weak), but in the absence of passion is just evil when it chooses the worse course.

This view of the will can be demoralized by attaching it to long-term objectives generally, or to reflective choice. Yet there are many problems in the whole project of postulating such a rational faculty, which is an unstable structure built too rapidly on some familiar idioms and supposed requirements of experience.

Mr J. C. B. Gosling "Akrasia" The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press 2005.

*Also see this, this, and this on Akrasia in this blog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Virtue A virtue is a trait of character that is to be admired: one rendering its possessor better, either morally, or intellectually, or in the conduct of specific affairs. Both Plato and Aristotle devote much time to the unity of the virtues, or the way in which possession of one in the right way requires possession of the others; another central concern is the way in which possession of virtue, which might seem to stand in the way of self-interest, in fact makes possible the achievement of self-interest properly understood, or eudaimonia. But different conceptions of moral virtue and its relation to other virtue characterize Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, Enlightenment, Romantic, and 20th-century ethical writing. These divisions reflect central preoccupations of their time and needs of the cultures in which they gain predominance: the humility, charity, patience, and chastity of Christianity would have been unintelligible as ethical virtues to classical Greeks, whereas the ‘magnanimity’ of the great-souled man of Aristotle is hard for us to read as an unqualified good. Syntheses of Christian and Greek conceptions are attempted by many, including Aquinas, but a resolute return to an Aristotelian conception has been impossible since the emergence of generalized benevolence as a leading virtue. For Hume a virtue is a trait of character with the power of producing love or esteem of others, or pride in oneself, by being ‘useful or agreeable’ to its possessors and those affected by them. In Kant, virtue is purely a trait that can act as a handmaiden to the doing of duty, having no independent ethical value, and in utilitarianism, virtues are traits of character that further pursuit of the general happiness.

  • From Encyclopedia Britannica
In Christianity, any of the seven virtues selected as being fundamental to Christian ethics. They consist of the four “natural” virtues, those inculcated in the old pagan world that spring from the common endowment of humanity, and the three “theological” virtues, those specifically prescribed in Christianity and arising as special gifts from God.

Virtue has been defined as “conformity of life and conduct with the principles of morality.” The virtues are thus the practical attitudes and habits adopted in obedience to those principles. They have been conventionally enumerated as seven because that number is supposed, when combined with its opposite number of seven deadly sins, to cover the whole range of human conduct.

The natural virtues are sometimes known as the four cardinal virtues (from Latin cardo, “hinge”) because on them all lesser attitudes hinge. They are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. This enumeration is said to go back to Socrates and is certainly to be found in Plato and Aristotle. Late Roman and medieval Christian moralists—such as Ambrose, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas—took over the list as a convenient summary of the teaching of the ancient philosophers and of the highest excellence at which they aimed.

To these four, Christianity added the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. This classification was taken over directly from the Apostle Paul, who not only distinguished these three as the specifically Christian virtues but singled out love as the chief of the three: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” According to Christian teaching, the theological virtues do not originate from the natural man. They are imparted by God through Christ and are then practiced by the believer.

In the Christian ethic, love, or charity, which is omitted from the list of the pagan philosophers, becomes the ruling standard by which all else is to be judged and to which, in the case of a conflict of duties, the prior claim must be yielded.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Introduction: Environmental Virtue Ethics

By: Ronald Sandler

It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.
—Rachel Carson
When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
—Aldo Leopold
All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go . . . everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love.
—John Muir
Those things of real worth in life are worth going to any length in love and respect to safeguard.
—Julia Butterfly Hill

There is at least one certainty regarding the human relationship with nature: there is no getting away from it. One simply cannot opt out of a relationship with the natural world. On some accounts this is because humans are themselves a part of nature. On others it is because we must breathe, eat, drink, and decompose, each of which involves an exchange with the natural world. But whereas a relationship with nature is given, the nature of that relationship is not. Both human history and the contemporary world are replete with diverse and contradictory ways of conceiving of and interacting with the natural environment. Environmental ethics as a field of inquiry is the attempt to understand the human relationship with the environment (including natural ecosystems, agricultural ecosystems, urban ecosystems, and the individuals that populate and constitute those systems) and determine the norms that should govern our interactions with it. These norms can be either norms of action or norms of character. The project of specifying the latter is environmental virtue ethics, and a particular account of the character dispositions that we ought to have regarding the environment is an environmental virtue ethic.

Why Is There a Need for an Environmental Virtue Ethic?
The central ethical question is, “How should one live?” Answering this question of course requires providing an account of what actions we ought and ought not to perform. But an account of right action—whether a set of rules, a general principle, or a decision-making procedure—does not answer it entirely. A complete answer will inform not only what we ought to do but also what kind of person we ought to be. An adequate ethical theory must provide an ethic of character, and our lived ethical experience belies the claim that one’s character is merely the sum of one’s actions. Environmental ethics is simply ethics as it pertains to human–environment interactions and relationships. So an adequate environmental ethic likewise requires not only an ethic of action—one that provides guidance regarding what we ought and ought not to do to the environment—but also an ethic of character—one that provides guidance on what attitudes and dispositions we ought and ought not to have regarding the environment.

Consider the four widely regarded environmental heroes quoted above: Rachel Carson (naturalist and author of Silent Spring), John Muir (naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club), Aldo Leopold (wildlife ecologist and author of A Sand County Almanac), and Julia Butterfly Hill (activist who lived two years atop a threatened redwood). Why do we admire these individuals? Is it their accomplishments in defense of the environment? Yes. The sacrifices they made for those accomplishments? Of course. Their capacity to motivate others to take action? To be sure. But it is not only what they have done and the legacy they have left that we admire. It is also them—the individuals who managed those accomplishments, made those sacrifices, and have left those legacies. That is, we admire them also for their character—their fortitude, compassion, wonder, sensitivity, respectfulness, courage, love, appreciation, tenacity, and gratitude.

It is not always easy to keep this dimension of environmentalism in mind. Public discourse regarding the environment tends to be framed almost exclusively in legislative and legal terms, so it is tempting to become fixated on what activities and behaviors regarding the environment are or ought to be legal. After all, we might restrict the use of off-road vehicles in an ecologically sensitive area and take legal action against those who fail to adhere to that boundary; but we will not legislate against ecological insensitivity or indifference itself, and no one will be called to court merely for possessing those attitudes. We legislate regarding behavior, not character; policy concerns actions, not attitudes; and the courts apply the standards accordingly. But as our environmental heroes remind us—both by example and by word—we must not take so narrow a perspective of our relationship with the environment. It is always people—with character traits, attitudes, and dispositions—who perform actions, promote policies, and lobby for laws. So while we decry removing mountaintops, filling wetlands, and poisoning wolves and we make our case against these practices before lawmakers, the courts, and the public, we must also consider the character of persons responsible for them. Indeed, how one interacts with the environment is largely determined by one’s disposition toward it, and it seems to many that the enabling cause of reckless environmental exploitation is the attitude that nature is merely a boundless resource for satisfying human wants and needs. In Muir’s words, “No dogma taught by the present civilization seems to form so insuperable an obstacle in the way of a right understanding of the relations which culture sustains to wildness as that which regards the world as made especially for the uses of man.” So it would seem that any significant change in our environmental practices and policies is going to require a substantial shift in our dispositions toward the environment. In this way proper character is indispensable for facilitating right action and behavior.

But as our environmental heroes also remind us—again, by example and by word—environmental virtue is not merely instrumentally valuable as the disposition to identify and then perform proper actions; it is also valuable in itself. It is life-affirming and life enhancing. Those who possess it are better off than those who do not, for they are able to find reward, satisfaction, and comfort from their relationship with nature; and it is their character—their capacity to appreciate, respect, and love nature—that opens them to these benefits. “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” writes Carson; and according to Muir, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” To those who are receptive to it, nature is a source of joy, peace, renewal, and self-knowledge. Once the need for an environmental virtue ethic is recognized two questions immediately present themselves. First, what are the attitudes and dispositions that constitute environmental virtue? Second, what is the proper role of an ethic of character in an environmental ethic? These two issues—specifying environmental virtue and identifying the appropriate role of virtue in an environmental ethic—are central to environmental virtue ethics and largely orient the philosophical work that appears in this collection. The remainder of this introduction is intended to serve as a primer on these issues and to locate the contributions in this collection within these philosophical themes.

Specifying Environmental Virtue
The environmental virtues are the proper dispositions or character traits for human beings to have regarding their interactions and relationships with the environment. The environmentally virtuous person is disposed to respond—both emotionally and through action—to the environment and the nonhuman individuals (whether inanimate, living, or conscious) that populate it in an excellent or fine way. But although this formal account may be accurate, it does not provide any substantive description of what the environmentally virtuous person will actually be like. So how does one establish which dispositions regarding the environment are constitutive of virtue and which are constitutive of vice (and which are neither)? That is, how does one go about providing a substantive account of the environmental virtues and vices?

Perhaps the most common strategy for specifying environmental virtue is to argue by extension from standard interpersonal virtues, that is, from virtues that are typically applied to relationships among humans. Each interpersonal virtue is normative for a particular range of items, activities, or interactions, and that range is its sphere or field of applicability. For example, the field of honesty is the revealing or withholding of truth; the field of temperance is bodily pleasures and pains; and the field of generosity is the giving and withholding of material goods. Extensionists attempt to expand the range of certain interpersonal virtues to include nonhuman entities by arguing that the features that characterize their fields in interpersonal interaction or relationships also obtain in (at least some) environmental contexts. The virtues, they conclude, should therefore be normative in those environmental contexts as well. For example, if compassion is the appropriate disposition to have toward the suffering of other human beings and there is no relevant moral difference between human suffering and the suffering of nonhuman animals, then one should be compassionate toward the suffering of nonhuman animals. Or if gratitude is the appropriate disposition toward other human beings from whom one has benefited and one has similarly benefited from the natural environment, then gratitude is also an appropriate disposition to have toward the natural environment. Extension from the substance of the interpersonal virtues is thus one strategy for specifying the environmentally virtuous person.

A second strategy is to appeal to agent benefit. On this approach, what establishes a particular character trait as constitutive of environmental virtue is that it typically benefits its possessor. This is a wide-ranging approach bounded only by the limit to the ways in which the environment benefits moral agents. The environment provides not only material goods—such as clean water and air—but also aesthetic goods, recreational goods, and a location to exercise and develop physically, intellectually, morally, and aesthetically. That the environment can benefit individuals in such ways straightforwardly justifies a disposition to preserve these opportunities and goods. But it does not only justify a disposition toward conservation and preservation. It justifies cultivating the kind of character traits that allow one to enjoy those goods. The natural environment provides the opportunity for aesthetic experience, but that benefit accrues only to those who possess the disposition to appreciate the natural environment in that way. It provides the opportunity for intellectual challenge and reward, but those benefits come only to those who are disposed first to wonder and then to try to understand nature. The natural environment provides plentiful opportunities for meaningful relationships with its denizens, but those relationships are only possible for those who are open to having them. Many religious and environmental thinkers have argued that the natural world provides unique opportunities to commune with the spiritual or divine. But, again, the benefits are only available to those who are disposed to be open to them. So considerations of which environmental dispositions benefit their possessor (and allow their possessor to be benefited by the natural environment) are relevant to the substantive specification of environmental virtue. In this way environmental virtue ethics emphasizes the role that enlightened self-interest can play in promoting or motivating environmental consciousness and its corresponding behavior in a way that reinforces rather than undermines the other-regarding aspects of environmental ethics. It allows for environmental ethics to be self-interested without being egoistic.

A third strategy for the specification of environmental virtue is to argue from considerations of human excellence. On this approach what establishes a particular character trait as constitutive of environmental virtue is that it makes its possessor a good human being. What it means to be a good human being—to flourish as a human being—is typically understood naturalistically. That is, it is understood in terms of the characteristic features of the life of members of the human species. Human beings are, for example, social beings. Excellence as a human being therefore involves character dispositions that promote the good functioning of social groups and encourage one to maintain healthy relationships with members in the group. A human being who is disposed to undermine social cohesion, disrupt the conditions that make cooperation among individuals possible, and sour relationships with others is properly described as a deviant human being. Such a person fails to be a good human being precisely in virtue of his or her antisocial disposition. Many environmental philosophers have argued that a proper naturalistic understanding of human beings will locate them not only socially (as members of the human community) but also ecologically (as members of the broader biotic community). If this is correct, then excellence as a human being would include dispositions to maintain and promote the well-being of the larger ecological community. Given that the well-being of the ecological community is threatened by further habitation fragmentation and biodiversity loss, a disposition to oppose these would thereby be constitutive of environmental virtue. A human being who lacked these dispositions would, from the perspective of human beings as members of the biotic community, be properly described as deviant. Considerations of human excellence need not, however, be confined to secular or naturalistic accounts of environmental virtue. Human excellence is often understood by religious traditions in a way that transcends the natural by connecting it with divine or cosmic purposes. For example, if it is the divinely proscribed role of human beings that they be stewards of the land, then the environmental virtues will be those character traits or dispositions that make human beings reliable and effective stewards.

A fourth strategy for specifying environmental virtue is to study the character traits of individuals who are recognized as environmental role models. By examining the life, work, and character of exemplars of environmental excellence we may be able to identify particular traits that are conducive to, or constitutive of, that excellence. The lives of John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Aldo Leopold, for example, are not just compelling narratives; they also instruct us on how to improve ourselves and our approach to the natural world. Environmental role models of course need not be such public or renowned figures as Carson, Muir, and Leopold. Exemplars of environmental excellence can be found in local communities and in many organizations working for environmental protection and improvement. No doubt many of us have been benefited by such people, not only by their accomplishments but also by the guidance, inspiration, and example they provide.

These four approaches to the specification of environmental virtue—extensionism, considerations of benefit to agent, considerations of human excellence, and the study of role models—are not mutually exclusive. A particular disposition might draw support from all four approaches. Indeed, in the contributions in this collection one often finds them working in concert. Collectively they provide a rich variety of resources for thinking about the substance of environmental virtue.

The Role of Environmental Virtue in Environmental Ethics
A complete environmental ethic will include both an account of how one ought to interact with the natural environment and an account of the character dispositions that one ought to have regarding the natural environment. But what is the proper relationship between these two? This is an instance of the more general (and very much live) question in moral philosophy: What is the appropriate role of virtue in ethical theory?

Some moral philosophers believe that the virtues are simply dispositions to do the right thing. In the context of environmental ethics this would imply that environmental virtue is merely the disposition to act according to the rules, principles, or norms of action of the correct environmental ethic. On this account the environmental virtues are strictly instrumental and subordinate to right action. First one determines what the right ways to act or behave regarding the environment are, and then one determines which character dispositions tend to produce that behavior. Those dispositions are the environmental virtues.

I argued earlier that environmental virtue is instrumental to promoting proper action. The environmentally virtuous person—precisely because of his or her virtue—will be disposed both to recognize the right thing and to do it for the right reasons. However, there is more to how one ought to be in the world than the rules, principles, or guidelines of moral action. For example, it might not be morally required that one appreciate the beauty or complexity of the natural environment, but those who are disposed to do so are benefited and so better off than those who are not. So although it is undoubtedly true that the environmental virtues are dispositions to act well regarding the environment, they are not only that. As we have seen, they can be excellences or beneficial to their possessor in their own right, not merely insofar as they tend to produce right action.

Moreover, environmental virtue might provide the sensitivity or wisdom necessary for the application of action-guiding rules and principles to concrete situations. At a minimum, this sensitivity is required to determine which rules or principles are applicable to which situations, as well as for determining what course of action they recommend in those situations where they are operative. But it may also be indispensable in adjudicating between conflicting demands of morality or resolving moral dilemmas that arise from a plurality of sources of value and justification. Indeed, many moral philosophers have argued that it is implausible and unreasonable to believe that there is some finite set of rules or principles that can be applied by any human moral agent in any situation to determine what the proper course of action is in that situation. If they are correct—if action guidance cannot always be accomplished by moral rules and principles alone—then the wisdom and sensitivity that are part of virtue (including environmental virtue) are in some situations indispensable for determining or identifying right action (including environmentally right action).

Some moral philosophers believe that virtue should play an even more prominent or fundamental role within ethical theory than it is afforded in the previous account. These virtue ethicists consider an ethic of character to be theoretically prior to an ethic of action. On this approach to moral philosophy an action is right if and only if it is the virtuous thing to do, it hits the target of virtue, or it is what the virtuous person would do under the circumstances. So a substantive account of the virtues and the virtuous person informs what actions one ought or ought not to perform. In the context of environmental ethics this would imply that reflections on the content of the virtues and studying the character traits and behavior of environmentally virtuous people are what ultimately inform how we ought to behave regarding the environment. There is thus a range of roles—from instrumental to foundational—that environmental virtue might play within a complete environmental ethic. This is not, however, to claim that each position is equally defensible. I have, for example, argued that a merely instrumental role for environmental virtue is too narrow. But those arguments notwithstanding, it is very much an unsettled issue what the proper role (or roles) of virtue is in an adequate environmental ethic, and the reader will find a sampling of the range of possibilities in the selections in this collection.

The Selections
The selections—which consist of ten original contributions written specifically for this collection, as well as reprints of four key previously published works on the topic—are divided into four sections. In this first section, “Recognizing Environmental Virtue Ethics,” Louke van Wensveen and Philip J. Cafaro reflect on the roles that considerations of virtue and character have traditionally played in environmental discourse. In “The Emergence of Ecological Virtue Language” Wensveen tracks this history by reviewing the language that environmentalists and environmental ethicists, both secular and religious, have used to characterize their environmental ethics. She finds virtue language ubiquitous in these articulations. Indeed, she writes that she is “yet to come across a piece of ecologically sensitive philosophy, theology, or ethics that does not in some way incorporate virtue language.” Moreover, she finds the discourse to be integral, diverse, dialectic, dynamic, and visionary. Virtue language is not only everywhere in the discourse, it is indispensable to the discourse. Virtue language, Wensveen concludes, puts us in touch with a rich set of evaluative concepts and perspectives, and if afforded sufficient attention, it can expand and enhance our capacity to respond to environmental issues. As she says, “One more language is one more chance.”

In “Thoreau, Leopold, and Carson: Toward an Environmental Virtue Ethics” Cafaro tracks the role of virtue and character in environmental discourse by reflecting on the lives and writings of three widely influential and respected environmental figures: Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson. Although these models of environmental excellence lived very different lives and expressed their virtue in diverse ways, we nonetheless find among them certain commonalities. These commonalities, Cafaro argues, are characteristic of environmental excellence and must be embraced by any environmental virtue ethic worth the name. They include putting economic life in its proper place, cultivating scientific knowledge, extending moral considerability beyond human beings, promoting wilderness protection, and believing in the goodness of life (both human and nonhuman). Cafaro also emphasizes the importance of these environmental heroes as examples of individuals who live well with nature. Their lives suggest that “greater attention to our true happiness would do as much to protect the environment as the acceptance of the intrinsic value of wild nature.”

In the second section of the collection, “Environmental Virtue Ethics Theory,” Thomas E. Hill Jr., Holmes Rolston III, Laura Westra, Bill Shaw, and David Schmidtz and Matt Zwolinski consider the proper role for environmental virtue ethics within environmental ethics. In “Ideals of Human Excellence and Preserving Natural Environments” Hill argues that there are cases of environmental behavior that are intuitively improper—for example, needlessly paving over a patch of natural landscape—whose impropriety is best understood in the context of an account of human excellence and the dispositions that we ought to express in our environmental interactions. Hill argues that such behavior, or “even [seeing nature’s] value solely in cost/benefit terms,” betrays the absence of traits that are the natural facilitators for developing proper humility and appreciation. If he is correct, then sometimes the answer to the question “What is wrong with treating the environment that way?” is intelligible only against the background of an answer to the question, “What is wrong with the kind of person who would do that?”

However, in “Environmental Virtue Ethics: Half the Truth but Dangerous as a Whole” Rolston warns against casting environmental virtue in too fundamental a role in environmental ethics. Although environmental virtue is an intrinsically good state, valuable to its possessor, and enables attunement to “the flow of nature,” we must not identify human virtue or excellence as the source of natural value. Natural entities do not derive their value from their relationship to human virtue and flourishing; nature and natural entities have value in themselves. Indeed, environmental virtue is only intelligible as a responsiveness to the independent value of nature. After all, “it is hard to gain much excellence of character from appreciating an otherwise worthless thing.” Rolston thus finds environmental virtue ethics dangerous to the extent that its focus on human flourishing distracts us from the intrinsic value of natural entities that makes environmental virtue possible. “Our deeper ethical achievement,” he writes, “needs to focus on values as intrinsic achievements in wild nature. These virtues within us need to attend to values without us.”

Westra, like Rolston, believes that natural value is not derived from the value of humans or human flourishing. However, in “Virtue Ethics as Foundational for a Global Ethic” she argues that virtue ethics has a foundational role nonetheless. It provides an account of flourishing—for humans, nonhumans, and natural systems—which it is the goal of a global ethic to promote. This foundation justifies the need for both ecological integrity and environmental or ecological rights because all individuals (human and nonhuman) depend on ecosystem services for their survival, health, and optimum functioning. This is true (in regard to humans) not only for Aristotelian accounts of human excellence but also for Kantian accounts that identify human functioning with moral agency, for the cultivation and exercise of moral agency depend on the capacity of natural ecosystems to provide their preconditions (e.g., food, clear air, and clean water). So both ecosystem integrity and human rights are supported by virtue ethics. But because international discourse is largely framed in terms of human rights, Westra urges that “we must emphasize the human rights dimension of this ethic and its implication for international law.”

In “A Virtue Ethics Approach to Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic” Shaw examines Leopold’s land ethic—that one ought to promote the integrity, beauty, and stability of the biotic community—from a virtue ethics perspective. He argues that operationalizing or enacting the land ethic requires cultivating certain virtues, which he calls “land virtues,” that not only dispose individuals to act in ways that promote the integrity, stability, and beauty of natural systems but also mitigate some of the difficulties that arise when the land ethic is treated strictly as an account of right action. Shaw suggests three land virtues—respect (or ecological sensitivity), prudence, and practical judgment—each of which he considers to be an adaptation of a conventional interpersonal virtue. However, any character trait that contributes to an attitude of community with the land and promotes its integrity, stability, and beauty is properly a land virtue.

In the final contribution of this section, “Virtue Ethics and Repugnant Conclusions,” Schmidtz and Zwolinski argue that virtue ethics offers indispensable resources for addressing Derek Parfit’s “repugnant conclusions,” the most notorious of which is that for any number of persons, all with lives well worth living, there is some much larger human population whose existence would be better, even though the lives of its members are only barely worth living. The repugnant conclusions have typically been thought to arise from (and thereby indict) only certain forms of utilitarianism, but Schmidtz and Zwolinski argue that they are considerably more insidious and “suggest problems for the whole idea that moral theorizing should culminate in a simple formula for right action.” An appropriate response to the repugnant conclusions will therefore not be found by merely reformulating traditional principles of right action but, instead, must involve considerations of character and human excellence. In so arguing they both embrace and expand on Hill’s claims that the impropriety of some environmental behaviors is best understood by reflecting on the kind of person who would do such a thing. One implication of this for moral theory is that no principle of right action is a replacement for moral wisdom, sensitivity, and experience. “The proper lesson,” they write, “is not that act-centered theories are useless . . . but, rather, that we are better off treating act-centered theory as the sort of thing from which wise persons can gain insight that is useful, even if limited.”

The third part of the collection, “Environmental Virtues and Vices,” contains discussions of the substantive content of environmental virtue and vice by Geoffrey Frasz, Philip Cafaro, Charles Taliaferro, and Louke van Wensveen. Rather than focusing on a detailed account of any specific environmental virtue or vice, the authors aim to provide a general account or typology of environmental virtue and vice from which future work can proceed. In “Benevolence as an Environmental Virtue” Frasz employs an extensionist approach to articulate and defend benevolence as an environmental virtue. He considers benevolence to be a genus under which fall specific other-regarding environmental virtues such as compassion, friendship, kindness, and gratitude. Among the vices counter to benevolence he considers jealousy, selfishness, greed, and profligacy. Central to benevolence, in both interpersonal and environmental contexts, is a genuine concern for the welfare of another. This concern is made possible by what Frasz calls “an imaginative dwelling on the condition of the other,” which requires understanding the interests of the other. There is thus “an important role for the biological and ecological sciences, for nature writing, and for personal accounts of encounters with wild creatures” in the cultivation and maintenance of environmental benevolence. Frasz concludes with a discussion of the ways in which environmental benevolence benefits its possessor. He argues that “in cultivating the environmental virtue of benevolence we can discover who we really are and what it will take to live in a joyous way with the nonhuman world of which we are a part.”

If, as Frasz argues, environmental virtue benefits both its possessor and the natural environment, then perhaps the concept of environmental vice is best understood in terms of the frustration of human and environmental flourishing, as well as the connections between them. In “Gluttony, Arrogance, Greed, and Apathy: An Exploration of Environmental Vice,” Cafaro develops such an account. According to Cafaro, “A vice harms the vicious person, those around him or her, or both.” Judgments about the vices are thus derivative on particular conceptions of the “goods” that make up a good human life, a well-functioning society, and a healthy natural environment. Establishing that a particular disposition regarding the environment is a vice thus requires showing how the disposition is detrimental to its possessor, those around him or her, and nonhuman nature. Cafaro applies this standard in the course of elucidating four key environmental vices—gluttony, arrogance, greed, and apathy—each of which, he argues, harms its possessor, other people, and nature.

In “Vices and Virtues in Religious Environmental Ethics” Taliaferro discusses virtues and vices in both theistic (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) and Buddhist environmental ethics. Taliaferro begins apologetically, arguing that there are several reasons why environmental ethicists should be attentive to religious ethical traditions, not least of which are that at least one religious tradition may be true and that the majority of the world’s population subscribes to some religious tradition; so to be relevant to the actual world an environmental ethic must be able to engage those traditions. Taliaferro then demonstrates how environmental virtues such as gratitude, respect, solidarity, and caring (and the corresponding vices of ingratitude, vanity, and exploitiveness) emerge from the central tenets of theistic environmental ethics: creation, divine ownership, and the identification of natural goods with God’s presence. Regarding the Buddhist traditions, Taliaferro focuses on the emergence of mindfulness and compassion as environmental virtues as part of the Buddhist goal of detachment. He concludes by examining how these religious virtues function both explicitly and implicitly in environmental contexts such as agriculture.

In the final contribution of this section, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological Perspective,” Wensveen considers whether the traditional cardinal virtues—practical wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage—are sufficient for providing guidance in this age of ecological crises. She argues that we ought to neither cling to the traditional account of these virtues nor jettison them entirely. We should instead take a “middle course” and revamp them in light of our improved biological, ecological, and neurological vantage point. After all, we are “now in a better position than the ancients ever were to judge how well the traditional cardinals shape our emotions, allowing us to pursue the goals of our lives in ways that are appropriate within our particular environments.” Wensveen thus advocates putting a contemporary ecological spin on the venerable tradition of the cardinal virtues. She argues that we should consider a particular virtue cardinal “if its cultivation consists of conditioning a particular type of neurobiological system that plays a pivotal role in processes of emotional fine-tuning by which agents are enabled to flourish and let flourish under changing circumstances.” Using this definition she argues for several environmental virtues that are themselves cardinal (for example, sensitivity and tenacity), related to cardinals as constituents (for example, humility, respect, gratitude, benevolence, attentiveness, and loyalty), or particular instantiations of cardinals (for example, friendship, love, frugality, and simplicity).

In the final section of the collection, “The Application of Environmental Virtue,” Peter S. Wenz and I apply environmental virtue ethics to concrete environmental issues and problems. These contributions belie the criticism that environmental virtue ethics is unable to provide guidance regarding actual environmental issues or decisions. In “Synergistic Environmental Virtues: Consumerism and Human Flourishing” Wenz considers the relationship among traditional anthropocentric virtues and vices, nonanthropocentric environmental ethics, and consumerism. He argues that for people in industrialized nations the traditional virtues foster both human and environmental flourishing, whereas the traditional vices diminish both. Anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric accounts of virtue and flourishing are thus synergistic—“each is stronger in combination with the other than alone.” The key to this synergism is a shared repugnance to consumerism, which as practiced in industrialized countries is harmful to both humans and nature. Wenz therefore suggests that individuals in industrialized countries ought to adopt what he calls “the principle of anticipatory cooperation” when making consumer decisions. This principle “calls for actions that deviate from the social norm in the direction of the ideal that virtuous people aspire to for themselves and others but which do not deviate so much that virtue impairs instead of fosters flourishing.”

In “A Virtue Ethics Perspective on Genetically Modified Crops” I propose a virtue ethics approach for assessing the acceptability of the use of genetically modified crops in agriculture. From a virtue ethics perspective, an environmental assessment of a particular genetically modified crop involves determining whether the technology will compromise the capacity of the environment to produce the goods essential to the development and maintenance of human virtue, as well as determining if the technology is contrary to any of the virtues applicable to human interactions with the natural environment. Using these criteria I defend a limited endorsement position regarding genetically modified crops. There is, I argue, a presumption, justified by humility, against the use of genetically modified crops in agriculture. However, if the external goods criterion is met, this presumption can be overcome by other virtue-based considerations. For example, in the case of golden rice (rice genetically modified to produce the precursor to vitamin A), the external goods criterion is met, and the presumption against the use of genetically modified crops is overcome by compassion for those suffering from vitamin A deficiency.

Although work on environmental virtue has become increasingly visible in recent years, environmental virtue ethics remains a relatively underappreciated and underdeveloped aspect of environmental ethics. Philip Cafaro and I hope that the work collected here will not only help establish the indispensability of this area of environmental ethics but also enhance the breadth and quality of the ongoing discussion of environmental virtue and vice and the role they should play in an adequate environmental ethic. This collection is thus not intended to settle the central issues of environmental virtue ethics but, rather, to provide an impetus and orientation for further work on them. We very much look forward to those discussions.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Eudaimonia, Eudaemonism

  • From The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy in Religion & Philosophy

Eudaimonia (Greek, happiness, well-being, success) The central goal of all systems of ancient ethics; according to Aristotle, the ‘best, noblest, and most pleasant thing in the world’. Eudaimonia is a place-holder waiting for further specification, and different ethical theories will fill it out differently. Aristotle conceives of it as the active exercise of the powers of the (virtuous) soul in conformity to reason. Eudaimonia is usually translated as happiness or well-being, but it has some of the same connotations as ‘success’, since in addition to living well it includes doing well. For example, it can be diminished by events that happen after the subject's death, and it is not a state that children can possess. It is complete and self-sufficient, to be attained for no other end than itself, so it includes all other ends that are pursued for themselves. It therefore includes pleasure, but goes beyond it. In Bk. x of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle extols the life of study as the essential realization of eudaimonia.

  • From The Oxford Companion to Philosophy in Religion & Philosophy

Eudaimonia Literally ‘having a good guardian spirit’, i.e. the state of having an objectively desirable life, universally agreed by ancient philosophical theory and popular thought to be the supreme human good. This objective character distinguishes it from the modern concept of happiness , i.e. of a subjectively satisfactory life. Much ancient theory concerns the question of what constitutes the good life, e.g. whether virtue is sufficient for it, as Socrates and the Stoics held, or whether external goods such as good fortune are also necessary, as Aristotle maintained. Immoralists such as Thrasymachus (in Plato's Republic) sought to discredit morality by arguing that it prevents the achievement of eudaimonia, while its defenders (including Plato ) argued that it is necessary and/or sufficient. The Kantian conception of morality binding on rational beings independently of their well-being was absent from Greek thought.

Prof. C. C. W. Taylor

  • From Encyclopedia Britannica, Academic Edition

Eudaemonism also spelled Eudaimonism, or Eudemonism, in ethics, a self-realization theory that makes happiness or personal well-being the chief good for man. The Greek word eudaimonia means literally “the state of having a good indwelling spirit, a good genius”; and “happiness” is not at all an adequate translation of this word. Happiness, indeed, is usually thought of as a state of mind that results from or accompanies some actions. But Aristotle's answers to the question “What is eudaimonia?” (namely, that which is “activity in accordance with virtue”; or that which is “contemplation”) show that for him eudaimonia was not a state of mind consequent on or accompanying certain activities but is a name for these activities themselves. “What is eudaimonia?” is then the same question as “What are the best activities of which man is capable?”

Later moralists, however—for instance, the 18th- and 19th-century British utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill—defined happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. Others, still regarding happiness as a state of mind, have tried to distinguish it from pleasure on the grounds that it is mental, not bodily; enduring, not transitory; and rational, not emotional. But these distinctions are open to question. A temporal dimension was added to eudaemonism in ancient times by Solon, who said, “Call no man happy till he is dead,” suggesting that happiness and its opposite pertain, in their broadest sense, to the full course of one's life. Contemporary moralists have tended to avoid the term.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Virtue Ethics

  • From Encyclopedia Britannica

In the last two decades of the 20th century, there was a revival of interest in the Aristotelian idea that ethics should be based on a theory of the virtues rather than on a theory of what one ought to do. This revival was influenced by Elizabeth Anscombe and stimulated by Philippa Foot, who in essays republished in Virtues and Vices (1978) explored how acting ethically could be in the interest of the virtuous person. The Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, in his pessimistic work After Virtue (1980), lent further support to virtue ethics by suggesting that what he called “the Enlightenment Project” of giving a rational justification of morality had failed. In his view, the only way out of the resulting moral confusion was to ground morality in a tradition, such as the tradition represented by Aristotle and Aquinas.

Virtue ethics, in the view of its proponents, promised a reconciliation of morality and self-interest. If, for example, generosity is a virtue, then a virtuous person will desire to be generous; and the same will hold for the other virtues. If acting morally is acting as a virtuous human being would act, then virtuous human beings will act morally because that is what they are like, and that is what they want to do. But this point again raised the question of what human nature is really like. If virtue ethicists hope to develop an objective theory of the virtues, one that is valid for all human beings, then they are forced to argue that the virtues are based on a common human nature; but, as was noted above in the discussion of naturalism in ethics, it is doubtful that human nature can serve as a standard of what one would want to call morally correct or desirable behaviour. If, on the other hand, virtue ethicists wish to base the virtues on a particular ethical tradition, then they are implicitly accepting a form of ethical relativism that would make it impossible to carry on ethical conversations with other traditions or with those who do not accept any tradition at all.

A rather different objection to virtue ethics is that it relies on an idea of the importance of moral character that is unsupported by the available empirical evidence. There is now a large body of psychological research on what leads people to act morally, and it points to the surprising conclusion that often very trivial circumstances have a decisive impact. Whether a person helps a stranger in obvious need, for example, largely depends on whether he is in a hurry and whether he has just found a small piece of change. If character plays less of a role in determining moral behaviour than is commonly supposed, an ethics that emphasizes virtuous character to the exclusion of all else will be on shaky ground.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interview with Ronald Sandler


Ronald Sandler, author of Character and Environment: a virtue-oriented approach to environmental ethics. (Also see this by the same author in this blog.) Character and Environment is the first book-length defense of a virtue-oriented approach to environmental ethics. Ronald Sandler brings together contemporary work on virtue ethics with contemporary work on environmental ethics.

Question: What does it mean for an environmental ethic to be virtue-oriented?
Ronald Sandler: Virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequentialism are widely recognized as the three primary forms of ethical theory. They are distinguished by their central evaluative categories, as well as by what they consider the point of ethics to be. In virtue ethics, the central evaluative concepts are the virtues, rather than consequences or duty/obligation, and ethics is foremost about living well and flourishing, rather than promoting certain outcomes or fulfilling one's duty. What makes an environmental ethic virtue-oriented, then, is that it evaluates our relationships, actions, practices, and policies regarding the environment in terms of virtues and vices, and that it emphasizes cultivating environmental virtue—i.e., those character traits that are conducive to promoting human and nonhuman flourishing—in addition to performing particular actions.

Q: What are some of the advantages of a virtue-oriented environmental ethic over other approaches to environmental ethics?

RS: One of the primary advantages is that the language of virtue and vice is far more diverse, rich, and nuanced than the languages of duty and consequences. There are hundreds of virtue and vice terms—"honesty," "compassion," "generosity," "optimism," "courage," "temperance," "respect," "gratitude," "appreciation" (and their corresponding vices). This allows for more informative and subtle evaluations of both character and conduct than do the standard deontological and consequentialist categories, i.e., wrong, permissible, obligatory, and supererogatory. This diversity and richness is crucial for environmental ethics because of the complexity of the human relationship with the natural environment, which is, for example, a source of basic resources, knowledge, recreation, renewal and, for some, spiritual experience, but at the same time a threat, indifferent to us, and a locus of human-independent values. Environmental ethics needs the resources to accommodate this complexity, without homogenization or misrepresentation, and the language of virtue and vice provides them.

Moreover, our environmental challenges are neither simple nor static. The wilderness and land use issues that dominated early environmentalism are still with us (e.g., off-road vehicle use and road building in national forests, fire suppression policy, wolf "management" programs, and species preservation), as are the pollution issues that first emerged in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., industrial zoning and permit issuance, manufacturing and consumer waste disposal, water privatization, and environmental justice). To these have been added global issues, such as climate change, ozone depletion, and population growth, which are impersonal, distant (both spatially and temporally), collective action problems that involve the cumulative unintended effects of an enormous number of seemingly inconsequential decisions, as well as issues associated with advanced technologies such as genetic modification and nanotechnology. Given the wide array of environmental issues, environmental ethics requires a dynamic and diverse set of evaluative concepts, which, again, virtue-oriented ethics provides.

A further advantage of virtue-oriented ethics lies in its focus on character. As I just mentioned, many of our environmental challenges are longitudinal collective action problems. When faced with such challenges, an ethic is needed that emphasizes sustained commitment, the development of communities of agents, and the importance of doing one's part even when others fail to do theirs. The constancy and centrality of a person's character in orienting her life, in addition to her episodic actions, is thus crucial to an effective environmental ethic.

Q: Is a focus on character new to environmental ethics?
RS: Environmental philosophers have often emphasized the nonanthropocentric value of environmental entities (nonhuman animals and ecosystems) and the importance of ecological context, in addition to social context, to human flourishing. This is a significant departure from the dominant frames of philosophical ethics, according to which the primary ethical domains are the personal and interpersonal. Moreover, although environmental ethicists often employ virtue-oriented evaluation (e.g., respect and love for nature), discuss the role of ecological context and experience in human flourishing, and appeal to role models (e.g., Henry Thoreau and Rachel Carson) for guidance, environmental ethics has been poorly informed by contemporary work on virtue ethics. What I have done is bring together contemporary work on virtue ethics with contemporary work on environmental ethics, updating and improving each in light of the other. This is thus the first book-length defense of a virtue-oriented approach to environmental ethics.

Q: What are some of the more important environmental virtues?
RS: Different environmental virtues are important in different contexts. For example, among the virtues of sustainability—character traits that are conducive to promoting environmental sustainability—temperance, simplicity, farsightedness, attunement, and humility are crucial character traits. Among the virtues of respect for nature—character traits that involve appropriate responsiveness to the value that the environment and nonhuman living things have in and of themselves—care, compassion, nonmaleficience, restitutive justice, and ecological sensitivity are crucial. And when it comes to communion with nature, character traits such as wonder, openness, attentiveness, aesthetic sensibility, and love are crucial. As I mentioned earlier, the environmental virtues are legion, and different environmental virtues are operative in different contexts. The character traits most conducive to being a successful environmental activist are not always the same as those that make for a good environmental scientist, for example. There is, therefore, no one way to be environmentally virtuous.

Q: In what ways is the virtue-oriented approach significant for moral philosophy?
RS: As I say in the preface, although this is a book on environmental ethics, it is also a book on virtue ethics. I defend a particular theory of virtue, virtue-oriented principle of right action, and virtue-oriented method of decision making. Moreover, the primary project has implications that extend beyond environmental ethics to moral philosophy more generally. It demonstrates the ways that an ethic of character can and should be informed by environmental considerations. It also helps to justify virtue-oriented ethical theory. Ethical theories must be assessed on their theoretical and practical adequacy with respect to all aspects of the human ethical situation: personal, interpersonal, and environmental. To the extent that virtue-oriented ethical theory provides a superior environmental ethic to other ethical theories, it is to be preferred over them not just as an environmental ethic but also as an ethical theory.

Columbia University Press

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Values Deep in the Woods

By Holmes Rolston, III

In a forest, as on a desert or the tundra, the realities of nature cannot be ignored. Like the sea or the sky, the forest is a kind of archetype of the foundations of the world. Aboriginally, about sixty percent of Earth's land surface was forested; historically, forests go back three to four hundred million years. Humans evolved in forests and savannas in which they once had adaptive fitness, and classical cultures often remained in evident contact with forests. In modern cultures, the growth of technology has made the forest increasingly a commodity, decreasingly an archetype. That transformation results in profound value puzzlements. What values lie deep in the forest?

The Forest Primeval
The central goods of the biosphere--hydrologic cycles, photosynthesis, soil fertility, food chains, genetic codes, speciation, reproduction, succession--were in place long before humans arrived. The dynamics and structures organizing the forest do not come out of the human mind; a wild forest is wholly other than civilization. Confronting it I must penetrate spontaneous life on its own terms. The genius of forestry as a pure science helps us to appreciate the biology, ecology, integrity of the forest primeval. Immersed in a nonhuman frame of reference, foresters know the elements, raw and pure.

Applied forestry, making a commodity out of an archetype, is humane and benevolent at risk of prostituting the primeval. The principles reorganizing the managed forest do come out of the human mind. Seeking goods of their kind, humans modify the natural kinds. A domesticated forest, like a caged wolf, is something of a contradiction in terms. There remains what used to be a forest or wolf now reduced to something less. A tract of pine planted for paper pulp is not deep woods. The radical values are gone.

In the forest itself there are no board-feet of timber, BTU's, miles, or acre feet of water. There are trees rising toward the sky, birds on the wing and beasts on the run, age after age, impelled by a genetic language almost two billion years old. There is struggle and adaptive fitness, energy and evolution inventing fertility and prowess. There is cellulose and photosynthesis, succession and speciation, muscle and fat, smell and appetite, law and form, structure and process. There is light and dark, life and death, the mystery of existence.

Life Support Value
A forest is objectively a community. Only subjectively, with human preferences projected onto it, does it become a commodity. "Forest products" are secondarily lumber, turpentine, cellophane; the forest "produces" primarily aspen, ferns, squirrels, mushrooms; this life is never self-contained but incessantly ingests and eliminates its environment. Trees must photosynthesize and coyotes must eat. The flora, like the fauna, make resources of soil, air, water, nutrients.

Many species have found a home in the forest ecosystem, life-supporting niches into which they are well-fitted. This objective satisfaction (=support) of life occurs with or without our human experiences. That the forest is able on occasion to satisfy human preferences seems a spinoff from its being valuable--able to satisfy organic needs--on its own.

Endangered Species/Endangered Ecosystem Values
There can no longer be found about 500 faunal species and subspecies that have become extinct in the United States since 1600, and only rarely found another 500 that are (officially or unofficially) threatened and endangered. Hardly a stretch of forest in the nation is unimpoverished of its native species especially those at the top of trophic pyramids: otters and peregrine falcons. We have only scraps of undisturbed once- common ecosystems, such as hemlock forests, and no chestnut forests at all. Acid rain is impoverishing the Adirondacks and the Great Smokies. An area of tropical rainforests the size of West Virginia is being destroyed annually.

All this ought not to be. Rather, forests ought to be optimally rich in native fauna and flora, in community types, and some forest ecosystems intact enough to support grizzly bears, wolverines, red cockaded woodpeckers, Chapman's rhododendron. What the forest produces is individuals, but, at a deeper level, what the forest has produced is species and ecosystems. Extinction shuts down forever life lines that flowed over the continental landscape long before humans arrived and that might, apart from us--or together with us, were we more sensitive--continue for millennia henceforth.

Natural History Value
A pristine forest is a historical museum that, unlike cultural museums, continues to be what it was, a living landscape. A visit there contributes to the human sense of duration, antiquity, continuity, and our own late-coming novelty. The forest--we first may think--is prehistoric and timeless; world history begins with armies and kings. The perceptive forest visitor knows better and realizes the centuries-long forest successions, the age of sequoias or great oaks; he or she sees erosional, erogenic, and geomorphic processes in rock strata, canyon walls, glacial moraines. The Carboniferous Forests were giant club mosses and horsetails; the Jurassic Forests were gymnosperms--conifers, cycads, ginkgoes, seed ferns. A forest today is yesterday being transformed into tomorrow.

Each forest is unique. Forest types exist only in forestry textbooks; what exists in the world is Mount Monadnock, Tallulah Gorge with its unique colonies of Trillium persistens, Mobley Hollow on Sinking Creek. Forests with their proper named features and locales--Grandfather Mountain, or Chattahoochee National Forest--always exist specifically, never abstractly. When visited by persons with their proper names, the encounter is valued because it yields distinctive, never-repeated stories--the biography of John Muir in the Sierras, or one's vacation hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Scientific Study Value
At least half of what there is to be known about forests remains undiscovered. Successive levels of biological organization have properties that cannot be predicted from simpler levels, and the least known level of organization is that of landscape ecology. Do forests inevitably appear, given a suitable moisture and climatic regime? We are not sure why tree line lies at the elevations it does, or why the balds in the Southern Appalachians are there. We are beginning to suspect that insect outbreaks sometimes convey benefits to a forest, something like those of fires, and of which we were long unaware. How do the non-fruiting mosses get propagated over long distances?

Does diversity increase over time? Stability? Do the species at the top of trophic pyramids rise in complexity? In neural power? All this seems to have happened, but why we do not know. Biologists are divided over whether intraspecific or interspecific competition is a minimal or a major force in evolution. Sizeable natural systems are the likeliest places to settle such debates. To destroy the relict primeval forests is like tearing the last pages out of a book about our past that we hardly yet know how to read.

Aesthetic Values
Like clouds, seashores, and mountains, forests are never ugly; they are only more or less beautiful; the scale runs from zero upward with no negative domain. Destroyed forests can be ugly--a burned, wind-thrown, diseased, or clear-cut forest. But even the ruined forest, regenerating itself, has yet positive aesthetic properties; trees rise to fill the empty place against the sky. A forest is filled with organisms that are marred and ragged--oaks with broken limbs, a crushed violet, the carcass of an elk. But the word "forest" (a grander word than "trees" in the plural) forces retrospect and prospect; it invites holistic categories of interpretation as yesterday's flora and fauna pass into tomorrow. This softens the ugliness and sets it in somber beauty.
One has to appreciate what is not evident. Marvelous things are going on in dead wood, or underground, or in the dark, or microscopically, or slowly, over time; they are not scenic, but an appreciation of them is aesthetic. The usefulness of a tree is only half over at its death; an old snag provides nesting cavities, perches, insect larvae, food for birds. The gnarled spruce at the edge of the tundra is not really ugly, not unless endurance and strength are ugly. It is presence and symbol of life perpetually renewed before the winds that blast it.

In the primeval forest humans know the most authentic of wilderness emotions, the sense of the sublime. By contrast, few persons get goose pimples indoors, in art museums or at the city park. We will not be surprised if the quality of such experiences is hard to quantify. Almost by definition, the sublime runs off scale.

Recreation/Creation Values
The word recreation contains the word creation. Humans go outdoors for the repair of what happens indoors, but they also go outdoors because they seek something greater than can be found indoors--contact with the natural certainties. Forests and sky, rivers and earth, the everlasting hills, the cycling seasons, wildflowers and wildlife--these are superficially just pleasant scenes in which to recreate. They are the timeless natural givens that support everything else.

Those who recreate here value leisure (watching a sunset, listening to loons, or to rain) in contrast to work for pay; they value being in a wild world that runs itself and need not be labored over. They value work (climbing, setting up camp) that isn't for pay; an environment with zest, in contrast to a boring or familiar job. They value an escape, if you like, but they value also being drawn to roots. They want to know the weather, protected by minimal but enough cover and shelter so as to leave rain or sun close at hand. They want to submit to the closing day at dusk, to be roused by the rising sun without benefit of clock. They want to know the passing seasons when migrants return, or leaves fall, without benefit of calendar.

People like to recreate in the woods because they touch base with something missing on baseball diamonds and at bowling alleys--the signature of time and eternity.

Character-Building Value
It is no accident that many organizations that seek to form character use wildlands --Boy and Girl Scouts, Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School, church camps. Similar growth occurs in individuals independently of formal organizations. The forest provides a place to sweat, to push oneself more than usual, to be more on the alert, to take calculated risks, to learn the luck of the weather, to lose and find one's way. The forest teaches one to care about his or her physical condition. In the forest, one has no status or reputations; nobody is much or long deceived; nobody much has to be pleased; accomplishment and failure are evident. One is free to be himself or herself, forced to a penetrating sincerity.

It is no accident that forestry as a profession has a powerfully positive image; we do not expect a forester to be a sissy, lazy, complaining, naive, arrogant--certainly not one regularly in the field. Professional life and personal life overlap, and the probabilities are that a seasoned forester is genuine, competent, patient, wary. If, past any applied concerns, a forester has an admiring respect for the woods, we have yet the more evidence of the forester's character.

Nonhuman Intrinsic Values
Surrounded by politicians and economists, even by foresters at business, one gets lured into thinking that value only enters and exits with human preference satisfactions. Surrounded by the forest, a deeper conclusion seems irresistible. The forest is value-laden. Trees use water and sunshine; insects resourcefully tap the energy fixed by photosynthesis; warblers search out insect protein; falcons search for warblers. Organisms use other organisms and abiotic resources instrumentally.

Continuing this deeper logic, organisms value the resource they use instrumentally because they value something intrinsically and without further contributory reference: their own lives. No warbler eats insects in order to become food for a falcon; the warbler defends her own life as an end in itself and makes more warblers as she can. A warbler is not "for" anything else; a warbler is for herself. From the perspective of a warbler, being a warbler is a good thing.

Biological conservation is not something that originates in the human mind, modeled by Forplan programs, or written into Acts of Congress. Biological conservation is innate as every organism conserves, values its life. Nonconservation is death. From this more objective viewpoint, there is something subjective and naive (however sophisticated one's technology) about living in a reference frame where one species takes itself as absolute and values everything else relative to its utility.

True, warblers take a warblo-centric point of view; spruce push only to make more spruce. But no nonhuman organism has the cognitive power, much less the conscience, to lift itself outside its own sector and evaluate the whole. Humans are the only species who can see the forest for what it is in itself, objectively, a tapestry of interwoven values. Forestry ought to be one profession that gets rescued from this beguiling anthropocentrism through its daily contact with the primeval givers.

Religious Value
"The groves were God's first temples" (Bryant, A Forest Hymn). Trees pierce the sky, like cathedral spires. Light filters down, as through stained glass. In common with churches, forests (as do sea and sky) invite transcending the human world and experiencing a comprehensive, embracing realm. Forests can serve as a more provocative, perennial sign of this than many of the traditional, often outworn, symbols devised by the churches. Mountaintop experiences, a howling storm, a quiet snowfall, solitude in a sequoia grove, an overflight of honking geese--these generate experiences of "a motion and spirit that impels . . . and rolls through all things." (Wordsworth, "Lines Above Tintern Abbey").

Being among the archetypes, the forest is about as near to ultimacy as we can come in phenomenal experience. I become astonished that the forest should be there, spontaneously generated. There are no forests on Mars or Saturn; none elsewhere in our solar system, perhaps none in our galaxy. But Earth's forests are indisputably here. There is more operational organization, more genetic history in a handful of forest humus than in the rest of the universe, so far as we know. How so? Why? A forest wilderness elicits cosmic questions.

Deep Values
Such values are, it is commonly said, "soft" beside the "hard" values of commerce. They are vague, subjective, impossible to quantify or demonstrate. Perhaps. But what is really meant is that such values lie deep. The forest is where the "roots" are, where life rises from the ground. A wild forest is, after all, something objectively there. Beside it, culture with its artifacts is a tissue of subjective preference satisfactions. Money, often thought the hardest of values, is nothing in the wilderness. A dollar bill has value only intersubjectively; any who doubt this ought to try to spend one in the woods. Dollar values have in the forest (and therefore in pure forestry) no significance at all.

What is there that is objectively significant? The phenomenon of forests is so widespread, persistent, and diverse, appearing almost wherever moisture and climatic conditions permit it, that forests cannot be accidents or anomalies, but rather must be a characteristic, systemic expression of the creative process. Forests are primarily an objective sign of the ultimate sources, and only secondarily do they become managed resources. The measure with which forestry can be profound is the depth of this conviction.

This essay was originally delivered at the Society of American Foresters Convention in Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 1987, then published in American Forests, May/June 1988.