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The Ethics of Nature: Nature, Values and Our Duties Towards Animals

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In this paper, I will be focussing for the most part on three related topics: first, the values of life; second, the view that we humans have of nature; and, third, our duties towards animals. Before addressing these concerns directly, I would like to explain why they are of capital importance today. For a long time, I have felt that the assessment we have of the values of life is deeply inadequate, that we are frequently wrong regarding what really matters, and that we tend to view everything we encounter in the world solely from our own private and very narrow human vantage point. Furthermore, we have a tendency towards a certain self-centredness which invites the idea that we stand above and beyond all other living creatures: that as humans, we are such unique and remarkable beings that our interests should have absolute priority over the interests of other creatures, and that we have the right to manipulate other creatures as we please, guided solely by our own interests. According to this type of thinking, the interests and the rights of other living creatures must always give way to our interests and rights to enjoyment of the values of life.

In my mind, it is quite clear that this view violates the principles of true morality. One of the most important tasks of ethics consists precisely in showing why it is wrong to put such emphasis on especially human interests that, in the end, we cease to take the needs and rights of other creatures into account.

In this short paper, however, it will neither be possible to give a sufficiently thorough account of our human narrow-mindedness nor enter into a detailed analysis of just what it is that separates humans from other animals. Instead, I will let it suffice to specify some important things that all living creatures have in common and, in addition, point out some that set them apart.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • Art, Ethics and Environment: A Free Inquiry Into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature
    The aim of this collection is to bring together different trends in thinking about nature and value that are distinctive of these changing moods in art and philosophy and to juxtapose them with some other ways of thinking about these issues, such as economics and religion. The authors include Holmes Rolston III, Antje von Graevenitz, Roger Pouivet, Eric Palazzo and Emily Brady. The essays and artworks in this volume derive from the conference Nature in the Kingdom of Ends held in Selfoss, Iceland, on June 11th and 12th 2005.
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