Intellectual Virtues in Environmental Virtue Ethics

Environmental Ethics 32 (4):339-352 (2010)
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Intellectual virtues are an integral part of adequate environmental virtue ethics; these virtues are distinct from moral virtues. Including intellectual virtues in environmental virtue ethics produces a more fine-grained account of the forces involved in environmental exploration, appreciation, and decision making than has been given to date. Intellectual virtues are character traits that regulate cognitive activity in support of the acquisition and application of knowledge. They are virtues because they further the human quest for knowledge and true belief; possessing these traits improves us epistemically. Five intellectual virtues illustrate the nature and relevance of intellectual virtues to environmental ethics: thoroughness, temporal/structural sensitivity, flexibility, intellectual trust, and humility. While these virtues share many features of the moral virtues, there are differences between them that have practical implications and give sound reasons for considering these two types as distinct kinds. Intellectual virtues bear a structural relation to knowledge that moral virtues do not, and it is this epistemological stamp that sets them apart. Additionally, the two types of virtue can be possessed independently of one another. Ideally, intellectual virtues will combine with moral virtues such as respect, compassion, and humility to facilitate environmentally respectful behavior. The moral and intellectual virtues are thus importantly distinct and mutually reinforcing. Both should be present in a truly excellent human being, and both have a role to play in fully developed environmental virtue ethics.



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