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Environmental ethics rose to prominence in the socially committed atmosphere of the early 1970s, an era beset by social and political uncertainties quite different from our own, and yet an era which has proved instrumental to the ongoing tenor of much of our social, politicaland ethical debate today. Since the time of its inception, when activistsbegan to demand a philosophy of the environment, environmental ethics has naturally laid its emphasis upon practice, upon the need for practical solutions to the very real and present ecological dangers we now know so well; pollution, the depletion of our natural resources, our treatment of nonhuman species and overpopulation to name but a few. At the same time however, the challenges posed by environmental damage and the call to positive action have instigated a number of challenges at the theoretical level, compelling the renegotiation of a number of longstanding metaethical and indeed broader epistemological attitudes, towards rights and entitlements, the nature of humankind's moral responsibilities to the nonhuman world for example, and towards the philosopher's relation to empirical research, the bearing of scientific enquiry, and the very nature of ethical discourse. To this extent environmental ethics has proved itself a resolutely open and mixed discourse, one which has welcomed the challenges of global politics and scientific research as much as it has the general moral support of the wider intellectual community. The temptation of course, is to suppose that it could never have been otherwise, since environmental ethics must by its very nature be a reflective discipline, to an extent dependent upon the economic and ecological scrutiny of hard science and the shifting allegiances of the international community. Still, the blueprint for environmental ethics today cannot not be associated with the spirit of the age in which it first came to prominence, or with the overriding commitments of its founding voices. It is surely this overwhelming consensus which has enabled otherwise partisan representatives, theists and atheists for example, to participate in fruitful exchanges—regarding the compatibility of evolution and creation, or the compossibility of a beneficent God, of natural suffering and human wrongdoing—that are of equal principled import to all philosophers, regardless of one's environmental or ethical credentials?
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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