Herlinger on human valuation and environmentalism

12 PM. Nick Herlinger presents his paper “Human Valuation and Environmental Practice.” Nick discusses anthropocentric eco-pragmatism, intrinsic value, and value monism.

Nick’s abstract:

I argue that attempts to dissociate environmental management from anthropocentric valuations in favour of appeals to Intrinsic Value (IV) are both theoretically misguided and potentially debilitating to ongoing democratic and environmental practices.  IV theory is theoretically incoherent due to, among other things, the circular justifications it depends upon and IV’s metaphysical inaccessibility to us.  Furthermore, IV theory presents several impediments to encouraging practices that represent broadly held values; a particularly pernicious problem in this regard is the polarizing effect of IV theory’s influence in politics and practical deliberation, and I argue that these practical problems should also count against IV theory.  Eco-Pragmatism, with its focus upon consensus-building and its rejection of the value monism at the heart of such polarization, avoids IV theory’s debilitating theoretical and practical burdens.  Nevertheless, there are lingering issues not satisfactorily addressed by an anthropocentric eco-pragmatism, and I argue that these problems can be best contextualized in terms of similar problems found in democratic processes generally.

Nick’s paper occasioned a lot of discussion, even while lunch (and cupcakes) were being brought in and set up. While many in the audience were convinced by his criticisms of intrinsic value theorists, several different questioners asked about the need for a pragmatist to argue about the metaphysics, and whether the IV theorist had the metaphysics wrong. Williston asked about the connection between pluralism and pragmatism, and questioned how tightly these two commitments stand or fall together. Finally, Cristi and others engaged Nick’s closing thoughts about democratic processes and value—what if we don’t value highly enough what it takes to shape up environmentally?  Unfortunately, this possibility hardly seems an unrealistic scenario; Nick agreed, as this was a question his own paper suggested, but argued pragmatism our best option.

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