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13.8.05

Deep Ecology Vs. Ecology

Deep ecology seems to have a somewhat contradictory relationship with ecological science. It draws for support on an older form of ecology based on ideas of climax, equilibrium, and linear systems theory. One of the key elements of this view is that nature is "tightly coupled" -- that is, everything is connected to everything else, every organism and process has a vital role to play in upholding the stability and flourishing of the entire system. The concept of tightly coupled nature is used as a rationale for extending moral consideration beyond humans, and beyond even thinking animals that can be conceptualized as moral persons in the conventional sense, to all parts of the ecosystem. Ecology, we're told, shows that all things on the Earth form a sort of great community, which in turn implies that they have inherent moral worth. But it's an odd sort of community, since the inherent telos which natural objects and processes are said to be entitled to follow is defined as what they would do in the absence of humans. In other words, because nature and humans are tightly coupled, nature has rights. And the primary right that nature has is to be de-coupled from humans (or at least as de-coupled as is feasible). This is consistent with the classical liberal tradition of sovereign individualism, but not with our ordinary concepts of what constitutes a (human) community.

Deep ecology offers a second, intuitionist rationale for granting inherent moral worth to nature. We start with the premise that nature needs to be protected. Many people would argue that enlightened self- or human-interest would lead us to protect nature, since degradation of nature utimately hurts humans. Deep ecologists respond that such an anthropocentric rationale will not be sufficient to justify full protection of nature. They maintain that we could get away with a significant degree of degradation of nature before it created a net harm to humanity, and thus the only way to morally rule out that degradation is to give nature itself rights. Yet this justification for deep ecology presumes a more loosely coupled system. The more tightly coupled the system, the less able we would be to escape the consequences of our degradation, and thus the more environmental protection would be mandated by an anthropocentric view.

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