William Baxter addresses the issue of pollution, using a human-oriented method by which all value assigned to flora and fauna is dependent on each entity’s benefits to humans. In this essay I will briefly explain Baxter’s anthropocentric approach, attempt to show the flaws in Baxter’s arguments, examine his possible recourse after revisiting these points, and then conclude by restating my stance regarding the importance of flora and fauna and the immorality of environmental pollution. Pollution is immoral not only because we have a duty to preserve the environment, but because according to Baxter’s own argument it in humanity’s necessary interests. Overview of Baxter’s Anthropocentricity:
Baxter’s anthropocentric viewpoint hinges on four points: 1) Spheres of Freedom, 2) waste is a bad thing, 3) every human should be an end and not a means; and 4) both incentive and opportunity to improve a man’s satisfaction should be preserved (Timmons, 615). Spheres of freedom are such that a man can act as he desires as long as his actions do not interfere with the rights and intentions of another. He proposes waste is a bad thing because all resources are limited, and there is never enough of any one resource to appease the satisfaction of every human. Because his focus is that of humans solely, waste of any one entity that could limit human satisfaction is immoral.
He also postulates the Kantian humanity formulation in that all humans have essential intrinsic value and should therefore be elevated above any other alternative as the end to any goal rather than the means to satisfy another. Lastly, he favors redistribution of wealth in that every man should be given at least opportunity to better his life and satisfaction by preservations of these incentive values. He qualifies these criteria for moral action outlined in six basic principles: 1) however selfish, this how people think, 2) this method does not lead to the destruction of all flora and fauna, 3) what is good for humans is good for penguins, 4) individuals may still favor flora and fauna over themselves but not over other humans, 5) animals and plant life do not vote or voice preferences and we are unfit to elective volunteer to do so 6) questions of ought are meaningless. For Baxter there is no moral methodology involved in human choices unless the choice involves the fate of another human. He proposes even that pollution is not wrong, unless more or less pollution would lead to less human satisfaction.
Points of disagreement:
I agree with Baxter in that humans are more highly evolved animals and possess qualities unique to humans alone. Having self-awareness and the ability to conceive of an ordered system in which plants and animals are inferior, it follows that we as humans have an obligation, or the privilege rather, to decide the fate of such lower ordered creatures. We have the power to impact or even destroy those that are weaker. It is difficult for me to conceive of a world in which other animals and plants have no worth at all unless deemed vital or at least entertaining to humans. Animals and plants, fauna and flora, are essential however insignificant, in the larger picture. We depend on plants and animals for food and medicine, and tools, and they in turn depend on us to in a smaller capacity to tolerate these creatures and help maintain a suitable environment. It seems then, that plants and animals, including humans, all have worth based not solely on their usefulness to humans, but on the delicate balance of nature and that being’s usefulness to its biocentric complements.
Baxter suggests that animals and plants have no intrinsic value for their own sake, but can he account for the value an animal or plant may have that is yet undiscovered? He claims that his criteria lay out a methodology that prevents total destruction of all flora and fauna. I strongly oppose this position because, as stated above, the symbiotic relationship between humans and fauna and flora depends on a balance in which every being plays a role. The idea that an animal or plant which has little or no value has fulfilled its purpose, or rather failed in its purpose for humans, should become extinct is appalling. It is unjustified for the simple fact that the future ramifications for upsetting that necessary balance are unpredictable in our continual evolutionary adaptation.
We do not as evolved beings yet have the ability to see into the future, nor to anticipate ramifications that come with the extinction of any one species. Therefore even if fauna and flora exist only for the benefit of humans, an unknown benefit should be reason enough to preserve a particular habitat. If waste is bad and the purpose of an animal or plant is yet to be discovered, how can anyone assign its value or lack-there-of? The rare botanical that may just be the cure to cancer may have perished in the forest felled for that new parking lot in some new district just outside of town. In eliminating the value of a plant or animal and perhaps failing to preserve its existence, we may unintentionally forsake human existence.
Baxter seems to put a lot of faith in the intelligence and intentions of men in regard to the variable nature of one man’s preferences over another. Baxter admits that humans are selfish and egotistical by nature. If man’s desire in magnitude is by nature so unattainable, what is to stop him from squandering the Earth’s resources? The actions of animals are often self-limiting, but with technology and tools of massive industrial proportions, one man can exact boundless destruction. There is no check on the balance of unilateral power.
Baxter’s Possible Anthropocentric Objections:
Baxter would object that humans have no obligation to flora and fauna except to the extent that they benefit humans because we are the stronger, more highly, evolved species, and any species below us on the food chain should be at the mercy of our preferences. He would concede that humans are more dependent on plants and animals than such flora and fauna are on humans, as a push off point to further his agenda to prove that such beings only have value when useful to humans. He is complacent in his selfish and callus idea of humanity. Baxter would reiterate that such rare entities such as natural cures for cancer are just that…rare.
He would say that the fact that it may help us eventually is no more foreseeable than the fact that it would not. He would say that humans are free of the obligation to preserve any species of flora or fauna and that just because the rare botanical exists does not mean it could be discovered. As far as the checks and balances on the power and consumption of one greedy man, Baxter may have said that resources are limited and that it is impossible for man to exist outside his requirements for life, (e.g.: oxygen, food, water).
It is only natural as Baxter himself admits, to show preference and advocacy for your species over another. It is fact people tend to socialize with other people who possess similar qualities. However, the fact that Baxter prefers to value a man higher than any animal does not necessarily address its intrinsic value. The only value Baxter can assign is that particular person’s, animal’s, or plant’s value to William Baxter as an individual. Another man may assign value differently, given differing circumstances. Baxter rashly assumes that everyone thinks this way as he does, and states this in the short paper. Regarding the effects of technology in amplifying man’s potential to consume in astronomical proportions, it violates Baxter’s own principle of avoiding waste and conserving resources.
He says every man should be given the opportunity to explore higher satisfaction even if it requires redistribution of resources. Who enforces this redistribution? By what measure should a man be given a share of this supposed wealth of resources? Is a selfish and egotistical race willing to share such wealth? Baxter makes many assumptions regarding the behavior of humans. Most likely a man will not be willing to share the wealth so to speak and Baxter admits that an uneven distribution of wealth will lead to undesirable yields of coveted desirables.
Conclusion and Final Stance:
Baxter would not limit one man to an altruistic stance, by saying he is obligated to treat such flora and fauna with equal dignity, but he claims it is immoral not to choose human dignity over all other entities. As moral beings, we weigh the consequences of our actions in any situation, and we do this instantaneously and with little deliberation in most cases. It is wrong to pollute or damage the environment because it depends on us all, and we depend upon it. Humans should make moral decisions based on the consequences by which we are able to live and die; in which case all beings have immeasurable intrinsic value or lack-there-of until evaluated from any one being’s perspective. Baxter’s anthropocentricity is idealistic and cruel. But for humans to limit the worth of flora and fauna to our own ends, makes plants and animals a means and in turn makes humans a means to our own end.
* Timmons, Mark. Disputed Moral Issues: A Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011. Book.