The moral status of nature : reasons to care for the natural world

Abstract: The subject-matter of this essay is the moral status of nature. This subject is dealt with in terms of normative reasons. The main question is if there are direct normative reasons to care for nature in addition to the numerous indirect normative reasons that there are for doing so. Roughly, if there is some such reason, and that reason applies to any moral agent, then nature has direct moral status as I use the phrase. I develop the notions of direct normative reason and direct moral status in detail and identify and discuss the two main types of theory according to which nature has direct moral status: analogy-based nature-considerism (AN) and non-analogy-based nature-considerism (NN). I argue for the plausibility of a particular version of the latter, but against the plausibility of any version of the former.The theory that is representative of AN claims that nature has direct moral status in virtue of possessing interests. Proponents of this theory fail to show (i) that nature has interests of the kind that they reasonably want to ascribe to it, and (ii) that interests of this kind are morally significant. In contrast to AN, NN comes in a variety of different forms. I elaborate a version of NN according to which there are direct normative reasons to care for nature in virtue of (i) its unique complexity, and (ii) its indispensability (to all moral agents). I argue that even if these reasons should turn out not to apply to any moral agent, they are still genuine direct normative reasons: there is nothing irrational or misdirected about them.Finally, I show how the question of whether there are direct normative reasons to care for nature is relevant to private and political decision-making concerning nature. This is exemplified with a case from the Swedish mountain region.