Biodiversity, uncertainty, and ethics

Last changed: 18 January 2018

The project addresses environmental and moral philosophical discussions on biodiversity. This will provide a framework for analyzing how biodiversity is valued in policy.

The project consists of two parts:

  1. Ethical perspectives on biodiversity, and
  2. Ethics, planning, and uncertainty
(1) Ethical perspectives on biodiversity

In the research project I will categorize and analyze policies on international and national levels from environmental ethical perspective. Solid ethical foundations can strengthen the reasons to preserve biodiversity. The absence of solid normative reasons may partly explain increasing rates of biodiversity deterioration. Through ethical analysis the level of blameworthiness if failing to protect and promote biodiversity be explicated. The project is also relevant for the issue on the relation between ethical and normative ideals and practical limitations, being a central aspect of societal planning under uncertainty.

In this part the following issues will be analyzed:

a) What value is it ethically motivated to ascribe biodiversity, and which ethical and environmental ethical perspective can provide tools for such reasoning?

b) What value of biodiversity is expressed in policies in international, national, and local levels


(2) Ethics, planning, and uncertainty

To set a goal normative desirability and practical feasibility has to be put in relation to each other. A moral obligation or demand has to be possible. If something is impossible to achieve it is not motivated to blame failure. But does the principle of ‘ought’ implying ‘can’ holds when it is uncertain whether a certain state of affairs, or obligation, can be fulfilled? If it is determined that X has a value and consequently should be promoted or protected, but it is uncertain if X can be promoted or protected, should one from a policy perspective still strive towards the promotion or protecting of X?

Uncertainty can be substantial when it comes to understanding the dynamics of an ecosystem, making it uncertain exactly what effects a policy will have. This is an epistemic and empirical uncertainty regarding knowledge about feasibility and the outcomes of policies. Ecosystem often cross the areas of different political authorities, and can require coordination of multiple actors, who may ascribe different value to the same area. This is an uncertain of governance and collective action. Even if the true value of biodiversity would be determined from a moral philosophical perspective, being investigated in the first part of the project, such uncertainties remain. A question thus becomes what am oral obligation or value that is uncertain (due to uncertainty of empirical or governance reasons) if an agent can achieve or protect remains, and how moral blameworthiness can be attributed if an agent fails to fulfill a moral obligation.

The following issues will be analyzed:

a) What empirical and governance uncertainties regarding feasibility of biodiversity are morally relevant?

b) Under which circumstances may a moral obligation remain despite uncertainty regarding feasibility or when feasibility becomes increasingly unlikely?

c)  Moral demands to preserve biodiversity, despite increasing deterioration; does ‘ought’ imply ‘can’ or does ‘ought’ imply ‘maybe’