History of the Origins of Environmental Ethics
The inspiration for environmental ethics was the first Earth Day in 1970 when environmentalists started urging philosophers who were involved with environmental groups to do something about environmental ethics. An intellectual climate had developed in the last few years of the 1960s in large part because of the publication of two papers in Science: Lynn White’s “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (March 1967) and Garett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” (December 1968). Most influential with regard to this kind of thinking, however, was an essay in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, “The Land Ethic,” in which Leopold explicitly claimed that the roots of the ecological crisis were philosophical. (Although originally published in 1949, Sand County Almanac became widely available in 1970 in a special Sierra Club/Ballantine edition, which included essays from a second book, Round River.
Most academic activity in the 1970s was spent debating the Lynn White thesis and the tragedy of the commons.
These debates were primarily historical, theological, and religious, not philosophical. Throughout most of the decade philosophers sat on the sidelines trying to determine what a field called environmental ethics might look like. The first philosophical conference was organized by William Blackstone at the University of Georgia in 1972. The proceedings were published as Philosophy and Environmental Crisis in 1974, which included Pete Gunter’s first paper on the Big Thicket. In 1972 a book called Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology, written by John B. Cobb, was published.
It was the first single-authored book written by a philosopher, even though the primary focus of the b. .n environmental phenomenology.
On the theoretical level, Taylor and Rolston, despite many disagreements, can be regarded as objective nonanthropocentric intrinsic value theorists. Callicott, who follows Aldo Leopold closely, is a subjective nonanthropocentric intrinsic value theorist. Hargrove is considered a weak anthropocentric intrinsic value theorist.
Sagoff is very close to this position although he doesn’t talk about intrinsic value much and takes a Kantian rather than an Aristotlian approach. At the far end is Bryan Norton who thought up weak anthropocentrism but wants to replace intrinsic value with a pragmatic conception of value. The anti-intrinsic value pragmatic movement includes such philosophers as Anthony Weston and Andrew Light, although Ben Minteer has recently indicated that intrinsic value could be included in an environmental pragmatism.