How Ecology Can Edify Ethics: The Scope of Morality

Lantz Fleming Miller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Over the past several decades environmental ethics has grown markedly, normative ethics having provided essential grounding in assessing human treatment of the environment. Even a systematic approach, such as Paul Taylor’s, in a sense tells the environment how it is to be treated, whether that be Earth’s ecosystem or the universe itself. Can the environment, especially the ecosystem, as understood through the study of ecology, in turn offer normative and applied (environmental) ethics any edification? The study of ecology has certainly increased awareness of the fact that it is not possible for a moral agent within the ecosystem to step outside its intricate mesh of actions and events, of causes and effects. That is, absolutely everything that an agent can do can have some, often unforeseeable, outcome in the environment. An incompletely snuffed-out match tossed out a car window can cause a forest fire, which causes biome destruction, which causes x, y, and z. In sum, the ecosystem can edify ethics in terms of the scope of ethics, which remains an unsettled, if too-often ignored, matter. By such an inclusive view of moral scope, as derived in part from ecology and as presented here, the scope of moral behavior would include—whether or not adventitiously—every action an agent may do. By this view, moral scope is, in essence, unlimited. The article offers some ramifications of this view of moral scope.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-454
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • Dewey
  • Ecology
  • Environmental ethics
  • Habits
  • Moral scope
  • Moral value
  • The ecosystem

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