Environmental philosophy’, or as it is sometimes referred to, ‘environmental ethics’, has been characterized by a variety of theoretical disputes about the best way to provide a philosophical basis for engagement with the environmental problems facing us, now and in the future. Many of the early writers hoped that a new environmental ethics would emerge, embodying a set of principles that could help us deal with our relation to animals and the natural world in a way that traditional ethical theories seemed to have overlooked. Environmental ethics should focus on systems and not just on individual things. Our human dependence on nature cannot be understood without a deep ecological study of the interconnectedness of life. Rachel Carson’s famous 1962 book Silent Spring, which was so important in stimulating environmental awareness, is a good example of this approach to conservation.
We want to highlight three challenges faced by environmental philosophy which have emerged from recent debates. The first is the struggle to overcome an anthropocentric view of nature – the view which sees all of nature as serving human interests, and overlooks what has been called the ‘intrinsic value’ of nature. The second challenge is the question of how to define the place of humans in nature; are we to be regarded as equal to other natural beings, with no special privileges or rights, or do we have a higher role in shaping and managing nature? The final challenge is saying on what basis we should assign moral status, or what is sometimes called moral considerability, to animals and natural objects.