Individualist Biocentrism vs. Holism Revisited

Les ateliers de l'éthique/The Ethics Forum 9 (2):130-148 (2014)
  Copy   BIBTEX


While holist views such as ecocentrism have considerable intuitive appeal, arguing for the moral considerability of ecological wholes such as ecosystems has turned out to be a very difficult task. In the environmental ethics literature, individualist biocentrists have persuasively argued that individual organisms—but not ecological wholes—are properly regarded as having a good of their own . In this paper, I revisit those arguments and contend that they are fatally flawed. The paper proceeds in five parts. First, I consider some problems brought about by climate change for environmental conservation strategies and argue that these problems give us good pragmatic reasons to want a better account of the welfare of ecological wholes. Second, I describe the theoretical assumptions from normative ethics that form the background of the arguments against holism. Third, I review the arguments given by individualist biocentrists in favour of individualism over holism. Fourth, I review recent work in the philosophy of biology on the units of selection problem, work in medicine on the human biome, and work in evolutionary biology on epigenetics and endogenous viral elements. I show how these developments undermine both the individualist arguments described above as well as the distinction between individuals and wholes as it has been understood by individualists. Finally, I consider five possible theoretical responses to these problems.

Similar books and articles

Social Groups, Explanation and Ontological Holism.Paul Sheehy - 2003 - Philosophical Papers 32 (2):193-224.
How to Circumscribe Individualist Explanations: A Reply to Elder-Vass.Julie Zahle - 2014 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences (6):0048393114530857.
Reduction, explanation, and individualism.Harold Kincaid - 1986 - Philosophy of Science 53 (4):492-513.
Ten Modes of Individualism—None of Which Works—And Their Alternatives.Mario Bunge - 2000 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 30 (3):384-406.
Ethics without reasons?Roger Crisp - 2007 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 4 (1):40-49.
Moderate holism and the instability thesis.Henry Jackman - 1999 - American Philosophical Quarterly 36 (4):361-69.
Phenomenal Holism.Barry Dainton - 2010 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 67:113-139.
Schemata in social science. Part two: Metatheoretical.J. O. Wisdom - 1981 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 24 (1):3 – 19.
For the sake of the whole.J. G. Merquior - 1990 - Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society 4 (3):301-325.
Teaching Holism in Environmental Ethics.Michael P. Nelson - 2010 - Environmental Ethics 32 (1):33-49.


Added to PP

713 (#21,888)

6 months
151 (#20,335)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Katie McShane
Colorado State University

References found in this work

Functions.Larry Wright - 1973 - Philosophical Review 82 (2):139-168.
A matter of individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
On being morally considerable.Kenneth E. Goodpaster - 1978 - Journal of Philosophy 75 (6):308-325.
The teleological notion of 'function'.Karen Neander - 1991 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (4):454 – 468.

View all 19 references / Add more references