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Identity-Neutral and Identity-Constitutive Reasons for Preserving Nature

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Environmental ethicists will often say that in dealing with natural entities we need the guidance of an ethic rooted in ‘the intrinsic value of nature’. They will add that subjectivist value theories are unable to account for the normativity of intrinsic value discourse. This preoccupation with normativity explains why many environmental ethicists favour value objectivism.

As I see it, value theories must address not only the problem of normativity but also the problem of motivation. In fact, my approach to the question as to which type of value theory does most justice to our intuition regarding the value of nature is primarily in terms of the motivational perspective. I argue that neither the usual objectivist theories nor their subjectivist counterparts can accommodate and explain the fact that those who agree that nature has intrinsic value may well differ in motivation to support its preservation. I suggest that such difference in kinds of motivation is related to distinct kinds of value judgement in which belief in the intrinsic value of nature is expressed.

To clarify my view I discuss the subjectivist value theory of Gerald Gaus[1]. Gaus regards the distinction between personal and impersonal value judgements to be deeply embedded in his theory. His internalism about the relation between reason and motivation however, leads him to the mistaken conclusion that independent impersonal value judgements do not provide reasons for action. Next, I introduce the distinction between identity-neutral and identity-constitutive reasons. This distinction allows me to formulate more clearly the differences between the kinds of reasons provided by personal and impersonal value judgements.

The resulting theory explains how it is that people who do not (personally) value nature may still be motivated to support nature preservation. It also explains why not everyone who endorses natural values will join movements for the preservation of nature.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

Publication date: January 1, 2004


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