Making and finding values in nature: From a Humean point of view

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 49 (2):123 – 147 (2006)
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Abstract

The paper advances a Humean metaethical analysis of "intrinsic value" - a notion fundamental in moral philosophy in general and particularly so in environmental ethics. The analysis reduces an object's moral properties (e.g., its value) to the empirical relations between the object's natural properties and people's psychological dispositions to respond to them. Moral properties turn out to be both objective and subjective, but in ways compatible with, and complementary to, each other. Next, the paper investigates whether the Humean analysis can support non-anthropocentric environmental ethical theories, which attribute intrinsic value to nonhuman natural entities. It argues that one of the most useful resources from Hume for non-anthropocentrism is his account of justice as an artificial virtue, which is a plausible model for the internalization of various environmentally friendly conventions and the creation of environmental values. Finally, the paper concludes that any Humean account of intrinsic value is empiricist all the way down. Moral questions about what things are intrinsically valuable, and to what extent they are so, are ultimately empirical questions about complex psychological capacities and dispositions of human beings, which cannot be single-handedly answered by philosophers a priori; and that ethics is more appropriately seen as an interdisciplinary investigation, requiring collaboration among the various psychological and social sciences, human biological and neurological sciences, and history and philosophy.

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