Keeping a Place for Metaethics: Assessing Elliot's Dismissal of the Subjectivism/Objectivism Debate in Environmental Ethics

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Robert Elliot claims that the metaethical distinction between subjectivism and objectivism is unimportant in environmental ethics. He argues that because a sufficiently sophisticated subjectivist can accommodate all the intrinsic value an objectivist can, even in apparently problematic situations where humans either do not exist or do not have the relevant values, and because metaethical commitments fail to have any normative or motivational impact on rational debate, it makes no difference whether an environmental ethicist is a subjectivist or an objectivist. Elliot's dismissal, however, is unjustified. As it turns out, objectivists argue differently from the way subjectivists do, are motivated differently from the way subjectivists are, and are able to make a greater range of intrinsic value claims than subjectivists are. If Elliot's arguments have any appeal at all, it is only because he blurs the fundamental metaethical distinction in the first place and defends a subjectivism so objectivist that it is almost unrecognizable as subjectivism.

Keywords: environmental ethics; intrinsic value; objectivism; subjectivism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Auburn University, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2004

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