ISHPSSB 2001 || Quinnipiac University, July 18-22, 2001

Understanding Environment: Biology, Values, Policy (I and II)

A central problem for environmental studies is to articulate a foundation for the intersection of environmental science, values, and policy. Differently put, what are current, basic conceptual problems at the intersection of environmental science, values, and policy and how can those problems be solved? Part I of the symposium asks and answers the following three questions:
  1. Why should environmental science be used to ground environmental policy?
  2. How might the boundaries between environmental science and policy be stabilized?
  3. In what sense might the environment have moral and/or political standing?
Part II of the symposium instantiates some of the more general problems in Part I into foundational work in philosophy of ecology on the nature and preservation of species. Part II asks and answers the following three questions:
  1. Are there ecological laws/kinds?
  2. Is the US Endangered Species Act of 1973 self-defeating?
  3. How might sub-species preservation be morally and/or politically justified?

Organizer and Chair (Part II): Robert Skipper
Chair (Part I): Roberta Millstein

Heather Douglas, University of Puget Sound
"The Objectivity of Science in Environmental Policy"
One of the most standard and ready answers for why one should use science in environmental policy-making is because science is objective. This paper will examine what sense can be made out of this answer. By looking at the complex aspects of objectivity, and attempting to separate them out, it becomes clear that not all of the aspects are either applicable or desirable for environmental sciences, and that holding science to the standard implicit in some of aspects of objectivity is either unrealistic or harmful for the science. I will illustrate this counter-intuitive claim with examples from science used in environmental policy-making. Just because some aspects of objectivity must be abandoned, however, does not mean that the idea is completely useless for environmental policy. I will describe which aspects of objectivity remain useful for environmental policy-making and some of the difficulties in implementing those aspects.

Esther Turnhout (with Matthijs Hisschem–ller and Herman Eijsackers), Vrije Universiteit
"Assessing Nature Quality: The Role of Ecological Indicators and Expert-Judgement Between the Boundaries of Science and Policy"
Ecological indicators are used to assess nature-quality and evaluate nature-policy. Developing ecological indicators requires both scientific and policy input. This is potentially problematic because (1) science and policy have different criteria for useful indicators of ecosystem-quality and (2) due to the complexity of ecosystems and the normative aspects involved, assessing ecosystem-quality with a selection of parameters can never be solely science-based.
The development and use of ecological indicators and their place in the science-policy arena is studied with a combination of Social Studies of Science and Policy Science. The analytical framework used, integrates the concepts of knowledge-utilisation, boundary-work and boundary-objects.
The role of ecological indicators, science and expertise in the policy process was studied in two Dutch nature areas: (1) the Wadden-Sea (wetland/tidal-area) and (2) the Veluwe (terrestrial forest/heath-area). Results show that the indicators used, reflect the dominant nature-vision: Is the area perceived dynamic, wild or fragile? Indicators and nature-visions in turn also influence the development of the area's policy and management. Expert-involvement is crucial in communicating scientific knowledge and stabilising the boundaries between science and policy. However, in the (highly interest-laden) implementation of more concrete policy and measures, boundaries often destabilise again. The role of science shifts from accommodation to advocacy and scientific knowledge becomes ammunition in the debate.

Robert Skipper, University of Cincinnati
"Toward an Anthropocentric Environmental Ethic That's Not So Anthropocentric"
The seminal and, I think, hard philosophical problem in environmental ethics is the construction of an ethic that grounds the moral considerability of the environment objectively rather than instrumentally. However, it is my view that the nonanthropocentricism that is typically demanded in environmental ethics is impossible because intrinsic value is a relational property. That is, the environment does not have value independent of agents who can be properly said to confer value upon things, but instead has value in relation to those agents. A main view in environmental ethics is that if the environment does not have intrinsic value in the sense typically demanded, then it has value only as a means to the ends of moral agents: If intrinsic value is relational, then it is instrumental. Valuing the environment as a means to the end of moral agents makes the value of the environment derivative and, further, entails an unjustifiably chauvinistic anthropocentrism in environmental ethics. As such, for many environmental ethicists, an anthropocentric environmental ethic is no genuine environmental ethic. However, as I see it, chauvinistic anthropocentrism is not a consequence of viewing the intrinsic value of the environment relationally. Indeed, an anthropocentric environmental ethic properly understood need not be so unpalatable, at least not in the way that so many environmental ethicists claim.

Gregory Mikkelson, Rice University
"Ecological Kinds and Ecological Laws"
Many philosophers doubt the existence of any distinctly biological laws of nature. One reason for such doubt is the idea that the best-known biological kinds - taxonomic categories like Homo sapiens, Archaebacteria, and Angiosperm - are not really natural kinds. Natural laws must of course range over natural kinds. Other philosophers have noted that many biological generalizations range over categories based on structure or function, rather than over taxa. Waters has argued that such "causal regularities" about structural or functional kinds are lawlike, even if "contingent distributions" about taxa are not.
Sterelny and Griffiths seem to have cut against the grain, then, by contending that in ecology, "generalizations about groups of species linked by common descent" - i.e., taxa - are more "useful" and "robust" than generalizations about functional kinds. In ecology, functional kinds, such as "grazers, predators, scavengers, seed eaters, dungivores, and so on", are defined in terms of relationships between organisms and their environments. Sterelny and Griffiths' claim is all the more surprising, given that relationships between organisms and their environments are the explicit subject matter of ecology. Nevertheless, they extended their thesis to also cover whole ecological communities, where "vicariant processes dominate". Vicariant processes affect the taxonomic composition of communities, but may be quite independent of environmental conditions.
The above thesis is compatible with Waters' argument, if lawlikeness does not entail usefulness or robustness. However, I will argue that the thesis is false. As an example, I will show that carving up the world into categories based on current environmental conditions explains geographic variation in species richness, better than categorizing areas according to vicariant processes/evolutionary histories/taxonomic composition. In retrospect, it is perhaps not too surprising that ecological generalizations about ecological kinds turn out to be more useful than ecological generalizations about evolutionary kinds.

Mark Madison, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Conservation Training Center
"Better Dead Than Red?: Red Wolf Recovery and Its Discontents"
The case of red wolf reintroduction questions the popular and scientific understanding of the term "species" in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The red wolf (Canis rufus) once ranged widely over the southeastern United States yet by the 1970s it was considered America's most endangered mammalian species. In the wake of the 1973 Endangered Species Act the Red Wolf Recovery Program was implemented. However, successful reintroduction was thwarted by new more rigorous definitions of species. Interbreeding with coyotes led to difficulties in identifying "pure" red wolves and DNA analysis began to call into question the legitimacy of the entire species. Failing to meet the guidelines for a biological or a phylogenetic species, the red wolf found itself outside clear protection of the Act. Biological essentialism (or speciesism) seems to have rendered the ESA impossible to enforce. Ironically the stresses that may have led the red wolf to adapt a hybrid survival strategy are the same environmental stresses that created the ESA in the first place.

Roberta Millstein, California State University, Hayward, and Jeffrey L. Ramsey, Smith College
"On Using the Golden Rule to Preserve Sub-Species"
This paper addresses the topic of species preservation. In "The Golden Rule -- A Proper Scale for Our Environmental Crisis," Stephen Jay Gould argues that the Golden Rule should be applied on a case by case basis to justify the preservation of sub-species. While we find his end admirable, we find his means murky. Gould wishes to use the Golden Rule non-anthropocentrically. However, the criteria he uses to apply the rule are largely anthropocentric. In addition, Gould uses the criteria to offer justifications which can be read both anthropocentrically and non-anthropocentrically. These confusions make it difficult to understand the ethical basis of Gould's system and make his recommendations difficult to employ consistently. We make Gould's implicit ethical reasoning explicit and try to resolve what tensions we can. This analysis will provide us with a clearer basis on which to make judgments about the preservation of sub-species.

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