One of the most important tasks of ethical analysis is to deliver us from our unrecognized prejudices about right and wrong. For ethicist Paul Taylor perhaps no prejudice is so deeply ingrained as speciesism, the view that members of the human species deserve treatment superior to that accorded members of other species.
In place of speciesism, Taylor proposes a new theory of environmental ethics based on "the biocentric outlook. " This outlook asserts that humans are equal members of the earth's community of life and that they and members of other species are interdependent. It further sees all organisms as teleological centers of life in the sense that each is a unique individual pursuing its own best interests by its own means and that "humans are not inherently superior to other living things. "
Taylor claims that the theory provides the foundation and justification for "respect for nature, " the only moral attitude suitable to have towards earth's creatures. Respect for nature requires both recognizing that wild plants and animals have inherent worth, and following the moral norm that "living things ought not to be harmed or interfered with in nature. " Taylor claims that human behavior toward nonhumans ought to be guided by the rules of nonmaleficence and noninterference, as well the rule of fidelity and the rule of restitutive justice. These rules prohibit, respectively: harming any entity in the natural environment; restricting the freedom of natural entities or ecosystems so that they cannot exist in a wild state; mistreating any wild animal, as often occurs during hunting or fishing; and failing to make amends when one wrongs a wild plant or animal in any way.
One problem is with Taylor's scheme that both accords "inherent worth " to all plants, animals, and humans, and then requires compensation for every intrusion, use, or control (done even for a good reason) affecting any living entity. If everyone has duties of compensation to virtually every other living entity, as indeed we must under Taylor's scheme, then applying Taylor's ethics is complex, cumbersome, and unworkable. There is also the problem with the applicability of Taylor's concepts and duties.
He claims repeatedly that "all wild living things in the Earth's natural ecosystems " possess inherent worth. Yet he admits that there are very few wild things in genuinely natural ecosystems—ecosystems wholly free from any human intrusion. This raises at least two problems. First, why does Taylor claim that we have duties only to wild living things in natural ecosystems? If we have only these duties, and if most living things are not wild and not in natural ecosystems, then Taylor may fail to deal with the bulk of problems arising in environmental ethics. Also, if natural ecosystems are those that have experienced no human intrusion or control, then Taylor seems to say that humans are not part of the "natural " world. This contradicts Taylor's claim that humans are members of earth's community "in the same sense " as plants and animals.
Taylor does deserve praise because he avoids many of the errors of earlier theorists of environmental ethics. For example, Taylor explicitly rejects Leopold's highly questionable belief that inanimate objects can be moral subjects; he also disavows an organicist or Gaia view of environmental ethics, as pursued by Leopold, Goodpaster, Lovelock, and others, and shows why organicism errs in giving no place to the good of individual organisms.
The author points out that Taylor argues that "humans are equal members of the earth's community of life and that they and members of other species are interdependent. " Based on information in the passage, which one of the following situations would NOT violate one of Taylor's four rules?[A] Going into a rain forest to collect rare plant specimens for medical purposes
[B] Getting rid of termites to improve the sales value of a residential property
[C] Keeping nearly extinct wild birds in captivity to ensure their survival as a species
[D] Picking berries off plants during a hike in a mountain wilderness
Which of the following statements reflects one of the author's criticisms of Taylor's theory?[A] The theory denies the claim that humans have moral responsibilities to inanimate objects.
[B] The theory fails to take into account the superiority of humans to other species.
[C] The theory is overly concerned with the welfare of individual organisms.
[D] The theory is not comprehensive enough to deal with many ethical issues.
According to the passage, which of the following behaviors is most likely to be exhibited by people who practice speciesism?[A] They take their family to see the wild tigers and elephants in the zoo.
[B] Their diet consists mainly of fruits and vegetables rather than meat and fish.
[C] They plant a new tree for every one that they cut down for their own use.
[D] They almost always live in rural areas where farming is necessary for survival.
Suppose that one is hiking in the Sierra Nevadas outside of Yosemite and is suddenly attacked by a mountain lion. One could save oneself from the attack, but only by seriously injuring or killing the mountain lion. According to Taylor's ethical scheme, what should one do?[A] One should kill the mountain lion in order to save oneself.
[B] One should not kill the mountain lion and thereby sacrifice oneself.
[C] One should attempt to seriously injure but not kill the mountain lion in order to save oneself.
[D] Taylor's scheme does not give a clear answer about what to do in this case.
In the context of the passage, the phrase biocentric outlook (second paragraph) refers primarily to:[A] viewing humans as subordinate to plants and animals in a natural state.
[B] the notion that inanimate objects have the same rights as living organisms.
[C] viewing life with a focus on an interdependent natural world.
[D] the idea that humans are not part of any natural ecosystem.
If Taylor were in a position of influence with regards to the government, he would probably give his greatest support to which of the following actions?[A] Restricting the use of domesticated laboratory animals in medical experiments
[B] Preventing commercial farmers from harvesting crops that they planted
[C] Outlawing the practice of strip mining in wilderness areas
[D] Stopping pet owners from putting their sick cats and dogs to sleep
Suppose that a family feared for the safety of their cat. To protect it, they prevented the cat from leaving the house because the cat would be unable to defend itself against neighborhood dogs. Would the family be violating one of Taylor's four rules?[A] No, because the cat is not a wild animal living in a natural environment.
[B] No, because the family is trying to protect the cat from harm.
[C] Yes, because the family is preventing the cat from living in its natural environment.
[D] Yes, because the cat has an inherent right to exist as a wild animal.
According to the author, all of the following are problems with Taylor's theory EXCEPT:[A] living ethically would be virtually impossible due to the inevitable danger humans impose on plants and animals.
[B] environmental ethics would not apply to the vast majority of living things.
[C] the Gaia view overlooks the importance of organisms as individuals.
[D] humans cannot be members of the natural world.