Virtuous Attitudes Towards Nature

How a Good Person Views Plants

Within the field of environmental ethics, there is a growing resistance against the classical strategy of grounding moral consideration of non-human nature in an ever-growing circle of moral patients, i.e. the so-called "moral status". Plant ethicists in particular are sceptical of this method, partly because the extension of the moral status to plants seems to depend more strongly on dubious anthropomorphisms (i.e. unwarranted ascriptions of characteristically human properties to non-human entities) than this is elsewhere the case. Here, environmental virtue ethics offers an alternative that enjoys increasing popularity.

As one of its main proponents argues, virtue ethic's predominant concern with the agent's character permits refraining from moral status ascriptions entirely:

  • Hursthouse, Rosalind. 2006. "Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals." In The Practice of Virtue. Classic and Contemporary Readings in Virtue Ethics, edited by Jennifer Welchman, 136-155. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company.

See also Hursthouse's less animal-focussed article on the topic:

  • Hursthouse, Rosalind. 2007. "Environmental Virtue Ethics." In Working Virtue. Virtue Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems, edited by Rebecca L. Walker and Philip J. Ivanhoe, 155-171. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Further seminal readings in environmental virtue ethics are Louke van Wensveen's early contribution Dirty Virtues, which has played a particularly important role in the formation of the field, as well as Ronald Sandler's monograph Character and Environment:

  • Wensveen, Louke van. 2000. Dirty Virtues. The Emergence of Ecological Virtue Ethics. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books.
  • Sandler, Ronald L. 2007. Character and Environment. A Virtue-Oriented Approach to Environmental Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press.

Finally, here are two essential anthologies that add further substance to the field:

  • Sandler, Ronald L. and Philip Cafaro, eds. 2005. Environmental Virtue Ethics. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
  • Sandler, Ronald L. and Philip Cafaro, eds. 2010. Virtue Ethics and the Environment. Berlin: Springer Netherland.