Ever since environmental ethics began to emerge as an academic discipline in the early 70’s, critical voices have been raised against what by many has been considered its project, namely to establish the direct moral importance of some non-human, non-sentient, non-conscious natural entities. We can distinguish between two main lines of this critique; one that is practical, or pragmatic (claiming that there are pragmatic reasons – given certain practical, “environmentalist” goals – to avoid this project), and one that is theoretical. Here I am interested in the latter, theoretical critique. This critique has appeared in many different forms, but all versions that I know of suffer from one of three flaws: (1) They apply only to some versions (not the most plausible ones) of the environmental ethics project (or they do not apply to any actual version of it); (2) they are not critiques against this project specifically, but against any normative ethical view (i.e. any view according to which there are moral reasons to do (or refrain from doing) this or that); (3) they simply beg the question against those who defend some version of this project. Among the critiques that suffer from (1) we find, e.g., allegations of misanthropy and “ecofascism” (or more generally, various critiques according to which the environmental ethics project has unacceptable normative implications). Among those that suffer from (2) we find, e.g., the critiques according to which the very notion of intrinsic value is untenable and ought to be abandoned. And among those that suffer from (3) we find, e.g., the critique according to which the central notion of moral importance is not intrinsic value, but moral standing (which is supposed to pertain only to sentient creatures). I give examples of each of these critiques and explain why they fail. My conclusion is that it is very doubtful that a successful critique of the environmental ethics project can be formulated, and that each environmental ethical theory, therefore, should be judged on its own merits.
Athens: Ionia Publications, 2014. 303-319 p.