Throughout recent years, there has been an increasing concern for human beings to respect nature. This concern to respect nature has been made aware through environmental movements and also acknowledged in environmental ethics by philosophers who address the view of biocentric egalitarianism. To expand on this ethical concept, biocentric egalitarianism centers on the belief that all living organisms have inherent worth equally.
Specifically, an author that supports Respect for Nature by seeing it as a form of self-respect, but who disagrees with biocentric egalitarianism is David Schmidtz. Equally important to environmental ethics is Arne Naess who is the founder of the Deep Ecology movement. The essence of his Deep Ecology is based upon a holistic perspective that encompasses his theory of biospherical egalitarianism. Even though both authors might not agree on much, Naess would find Schmidtz’s anti-egalitarian viewpoint as a weakness based upon his biospherical egalitarianism.Order now
However, Naess might agree that Schmidtz is doing something deeper than Shallow Ecology by supporting Respect for Nature as a form of self-respect and self-realization. Ultimately, in the end I will show why I agree with David Schmidtz’s argument supporting Respect for Nature.
In David Schmidtz’s essay entitled Are All Species Equal?, he makes evident why he disagrees with biocentric egalitarianism, but also justifies why he supports Respect for Nature. Schmidtz is anti-egalitarianism because he believes that “biocentrism does not require any commitment to species equality” (Schmidtz, 174). For him, living things deserve to be given respect, however, not all living things deserve equal respect because each possess unique capacities, which can be valued and appreciated in diverse ways. Specifically, Schmidtz criticizes biocentric egalitarianism because it focuses on what makes living things the same, thus, it fails to respect the differences between them.
An example Schmidtz provides to clarify this point is if human beings were to treat a chimpanzee in the same way that they would treat a carrot. By treating a chimpanzee and a carrot equally, human beings are failing to respect the differences that make each a unique entity. Based on this example, biocentric egalitarianism is not a suitable view for Schmidtz because a chimpanzee cannot be compared to a carrot simply because they are different from each other. In essence, Schmidtz opposes biocentric egalitarianism because it fails to see the beauty in living things since it neglects the fact that everything has different characteristics.
Although Schmidtz does not agree with biocentric egalitarianism, he supports Respect for Nature. For him, being egalitarian is not the same as respecting nature. If human beings are species egalitarians, then they are focusing on how all living things are the same, which “not only takes humans down a notch…It takes down any species we regard as special” (Schmidtz, 180). However, Schmidtz supports Respect for Nature because he believes that human beings can respect nature from their point of view. In other words, he associates Respect for Nature as a form of self-respect.
To clarify this, Schmidtz presents the example of whether it would be okay for a person to cut down a tree. Regarding this, the reason a person should save the tree rather than cut it down is because cutting it down would result in a failure of their own self-respect and values. Moreover, if human beings have Respect for Nature it means that they are viewing living things such as a Redwood or a gazelle beyond their “instrumental value” (Schmidtz, 177), opposite of a means to an end, and identifying with them from their own perspective. Overall, Schmidtz affirms that it is not essential for human beings to be species egalitarians in order to respect nature.
In contrast to Schmidtz, an author who presents a holistic view through his theory of biospherical egalitarianism is Arne Naess. He is the founder of the Deep Ecology movement which seeks to reconstruct the connection between human beings and nature, but also to analyze the interconnectedness of both. In his essay entitled The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement, he begins by differentiating between Shallow and Deep Ecology.
According to Naess, Shallow Ecology strives to combat resource depletion and pollution. It focuses on how humans are impacted, is based on first world dilemmas, and it lacks an examination of the environment as a whole. On the contrary, Deep Ecology has an emphasis on holism that rejects “the man-in-environment image in favor of the relational, total-field image” (Naess, 247) where all ecosystems are interconnected. This notion of holism goes along with Naess’ theory of biospherical egalitarianism because it holds that in principle all are equal to everything.
However, when it comes to the actions of human beings, they might need to exploit the land or kill for survival. Specifically, biospherical egalitarianism looks at living things, but also what human beings need to survive such as air, land, and water. In essence, Naess’ biospherical egalitarianism is a turning point in the Deep Ecology movement because it has brought attention to matters that are greater than just resource depletion and pollution.
Even though both authors have different stances on egalitarianism, one weakness that Naess would find regarding Schmidtz is that his anti-egalitarian viewpoint goes against his own holistic view of biospherical egalitarianism. For one thing, Schmidtz is not a holist. He focuses on the individual parts that make living things different, rather than seeing nature and the species that inhabit ecosystems as an integrative network like Naess does. With this in mind, Schmidtz believes that living things deserve respect, but not all living things should be given equal respect because doing so is not a way of respecting them for the differences that make them special.
The main weakness that Naess would find against Schmidtz is that he does not believe that “all living things have equal value” (Schmidtz, 174), which violates his biospherical egalitarianism because according to this theory all are equal to everything. Furthermore, Naess finds this to be a weakness because Schmidtz fails to recognize how everything is interconnected. This is a problem for Naess because with his biospherical egalitarianism, everything is equal and forms a unit of interlocking ecosystems that work together as a whole. Thus, Naess would find that Schmidtz’s weakness is mainly due to the fact that he does not perceive the individual differences between living things as parts of something larger (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts), which need to be understood within the context of how they function as a whole.
Given that Schmidtz’s view is anthropocentric and that his Respect for Nature goes beyond Shallow Ecology, Naess would not find him to be a Deep Ecologist. Despite his weakness, Naess would say that he is not being shallow because he is talking about how human beings should treat trees and animals, whereas Shallow Ecology would not care about either. Schmidtz’s view of Respect for Nature goes beyond issues such as pollution and resource depletion that Shallow Ecology is concerned with; to covering matters that are beyond recycling as a way to respect nature.
Even though they might not agree on much, one strength that Naess would find of Schmidtz is the way he links Respect for Nature with self-respect and self-realization to the extent that human beings should respect a tree as a tree because by doing so they are respecting their human values. Rather than simply stating that human beings should have Respect for Nature because their survival depends on it, Schmidtz goes a step further.
He suggests that Respect for Nature is essential because if human beings fail to respect it, then they are actually exhibiting a failure of their own self-respect and values. Furthermore, if human beings do not have Respect for Nature then they are not living up to their human potential. In light of this, it is the fact that Schmidtz recognizes that there is a “basic connection between self-respect and respect for the world in which one lives” (Schmidtz, 177) as the main reason for why human beings should respect nature. Therefore, Naess would agree that Schmidtz goes beyond Shallow Ecology because rather than focusing on conservation efforts as a way to respect nature, he takes a deeper approach such that when human beings have Respect for Nature it means that they are caring for it from their own perspective and seeing the value in living things.
In essence, I agree with David Schmidtz’s view of Respect for Nature because it is a more suitable way to respect nature and the differences between living things than egalitarianism. I think it is effective as a concept in the sense that if we see living things from our own perspective, it allows us to identify with them in a way that we could not with just egalitarianism. I believe that Schmidtz’s theory is compelling when it comes to respecting nature because if we obliterate living things, then we also are obliterating ourselves too. An example that exemplifies this point is building a cabin in an area of a forest where bees are known to live.
A common ethical response would be that I should not build the cabin because doing so is morally wrong since it would destroy the bees’ ecosystem, but also lead to deforestation. However, if I am applying Schmidtz’s Respect for Nature to this example, then I should not build the cabin because doing so would not only be disrespecting nature for not seeing the beauty of the trees and bees, but also it would be a failure of my own self-respect and values as a human being. Given this point, Schmidtz’s view is successful at explaining why I should not build the cabin because doing so would not only affect nature, but it would also affect me. Thus, I agree with Schmidtz’s Respect for Nature because even though human beings do not compare to nonhumans, it is still imperative to recognize what makes them different so that we are not disrespecting nature.