Environmental Ethics: Nonhuman’s Intrinsic Value

Does nature have intrinsic value? I will answer this question by articulating two opposing viewpoints regarding environmental ethics. A brief summary of each article and arguments against their weak premises will

be discussed. Based on the arguments presented, I will conclude that Devall’s premise is more rational and should be used over Baxter’s because his argument is more reasonable and sound.

The first article is written with an anthropocentric view by William F. Baxter. The author defends the idea that humans are the only creatures who have intrinsic values and that non-humans have instrumental values. He begins by introducing four testing criteria: liberty, waste is bad, all as ends-in-themselves (Kant moral theory) and incentive and opportunity. According to Baxter, whoever has these criterions has intrinsic value; otherwise, they just have instrumental values.

In the second article, Bill Devall discusses the idea of deep ecology. The deep ecology movement is based on the idea of self improvement and the defense of humans and nonhumans having intrinsic value. The deep ecology theory also describes humans and non-humans as different organizations having equal rights. A quote that best describes this idea is, “humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.” In addition, Devall mentions that “Flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.”

Main argument
In his article, William F. Baxter talks about his four testing criterions and argues that those who have these criterions hold intrinsic value. When he applies these criterions to nature, it does not satisfy the requirements and therefore nature does not have intrinsic value. In his argument, it appears that Baxter is begging the question. Through the use of circular logic, he comes to his conclusion by employing values that are solely inherent to humans. He introduces these humanistic values and mentions that humans hold intrinsic values. Baxter then comes to the conclusion that the ones who satisfy these criterions (humans) are the only ones who have intrinsic value; however, his interpretation does not include the paralyzed, mentally disabled, or comatose.

Baxter also states that, “What ought we to do. Questions of ought are unique to the human mind and world they are meaningless as applied to a nonhuman situation.” His statement implies that entities that do not have the ability to choose have no intrinsic value. Based upon his knowledge, he argues that the ability to choose is unique only to the humans and to no other form of intelligence. This premise has one missing step as he jumped from not being able to choose to not having intrinsic value. The Baxter argument is not valid unless he can demonstrate how the ability to choose is inherent to intrinsic nature.

In Devall’s article, he mentions that all humans and non-humans have equal rights and that “humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs” (3rd basic principle of deep ecology). He does not clarify, however, what he means by vital needs. The word “vital” certainly supports the idea of testing on animals to cure diseases and to save human life. On the contrary, it prohibits testing on animals to make cosmetics or other items used by humans for their own vanity. Devall fails to answer several cases because he does not provide enough clarification in his article. For instance, if an owl and a human want to occupy a piece of land, who does this land belongs to? What if there were 100 owls and only one human? What morality rules dictate which beings get the land since all individual beings supposedly have the same rights? Using Devall’s argument, the ants would receive the land unless it was vital to human life.

Devall’s arguments are indistinct when he states that the decrease in the non-human population is justified. He argues that it would ensure that the remaining population would flourish and maintain a better quality of life. A species will suffer from a scarcity of food and habitat as a result of overpopulation. This overpopulation not only hurts the species itself, but also decreases its’ value that the humans hold for them. If humans view a species as common and ordinary, the species existence will only hold instrumental value to them. They will only be valued for what it can provide for humans and its’ own significance will be trivial. On the other hand, pandas, who are in the verge of extinction, are valued not for its’ benefits toward human kind, but for itself. They hold more intrinsic value than other, more abundant species. Devall’s argument is vague because he does not explain how he plans on reducing the animal’s population and the methods of implementing his idea.

Estimating the value of an intelligent animal from our human perspective may be a mistake. Only members of a species might be able to assess the intrinsic value of individuals of their own species from their perspective. Only humans can determine the intrinsic value of a human in terms of human values. Similarly, only chimpanzees can determine the intrinsic value of a chimpanzee. In this case, our intrinsic values shouldn’t be able to help us make moral decisions about a chimpanzee’s intrinsic values or morality. Whatever answer you give to “in virtue of what feature (that humans have) is an organism of superior moral worth?” begs the question: rationality may be important for humans, but no more so than running quickly (much more quickly than humans) is for a cheetah.

A summary of both articles and an evaluation of each writer’s premise demonstrated that Baxter’s premise are full of assumptions and lacking in logic. On the other hand, Devall is also vague about certain points but in general, is superior because rational conclusions about non-human values and rights may be derived from his article.