Exploring the Concept of Environmental Exploitation

Wednesday 24 May 2017

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Distinguishing between wrongful exploitations of nature, and morally acceptable patterns of use

Debates over environmental issues and movements have long distinguished and analysed conservationism and preservationism as two different philosophical perspectives on the human use and significance of nonhuman nature. Yet strikingly little work has been done on the other side of the fence: what is it to exploit nature? Economists habitually refer to the exploitation of natural resources as habitually positive, whereas the term “exploitation” has very different resonances and meanings in environmental philosophy and political theory.

In this presentation, Piers Stephens aims to give a brief overview of the complexities involved and their practical implications. Stephens will draw upon and develop the past work of Robert E. Goodin in this area, subdividing the concept of exploitation so as to focus primarily on the indirect implications for parties with interests (e.g. future generations, current nonhuman animals) of various ways of using nature. In the process he shall work towards distinguishing “wrongful exploitation”, the boundaries of which will vary depending upon the model of “interests” deployed, whilst “legitimate exploitation”, by contrast, will denote some form of sustainable or morally acceptable pattern of use. As part of this distinction, Stephens will trace back the underpinnings of the idea of exploitation into different forms of instrumental orientation embedded in perception, reflection and praxis, distinguishing “strong instrumentalism” from “weak instrumentalism”, with the intention of shedding light upon the intuitions that inform conservationist, preservationist and economistic approaches to the use and value of nature.

Piers H.G. Stephens (PhD University of Manchester) is an environmental philosopher with a background in the history of ideas in moral and political philosophy as well as in literature. He serves as the philosophy reviews editor of the international interdisciplinary academic journal Environmental Values and is a member of the International Society for Environmental Ethics, the American Philosophical Association, the Society for Advancement of American Philosophy, and the William James Society. His primary research interests center upon the environmental turn in political and moral philosophy but extend into the philosophical mainstream, particularly in relation to the history of ideas with special concern for ideas of freedom, nature and the good in the liberal and pragmatist traditions.