Virtue ethics in the face of the challenges of environmental ethics: the dispute about the limits of naturalistic ethical discourse

Diametros 9 (2006)
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Abstract

The notion of virtue has appeared in various forms in recent works on environmental ethics. In the article I first make use of the opposition between anthropocentrism and anti-anthropocentrism to recall a number of basic distinctions in understanding environmental ethics and to present three ways of understanding virtue in ethics: virtue as the habit of acting in accordance with norms, virtue as outstanding character traits, and virtue as a stable disposition of character leading to personal development and fulfillment. Next, I show that most authors who write about environmental ethics use the notion of virtue very loosely, basing themselves on superficial resemblances between virtue ethics and environmental ethics. I then point out that virtue ethics is based upon a peculiar kind of naturalism and therefore cannot go beyond the horizon of anthropocentrism. Virtue ethics is conceptually unsuited for considering the world of nature. Finally, I consider how virtue ethics might be expanded to enable it to include environmental issues. One way is by expanding the understanding of human needs; another is by extending the concept of society. I conclude that classical virtue ethics is unable to go beyond a paternalistic and anthropocentric understanding of moral issues connected with the environment. However, I do not consider this to be a fundamental flaw but a manifestation of common sense in defining the goals of general ethical theory

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