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Ethics & the Environment 7.1 (2002) 124-137

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Katz's Problematic Dualism and Its "Seismic" Effects on His Theory

Wayne Ouderkirk

There is much to admire in Eric Katz's Nature as Subject. 1 Many aspects of his theory strongly resonate with dominant themes in environmental ethics and with my own theoretical predilections. In addition, he applies his theory to several major environmental issues (ecological restoration and the Amazon rainforest, to name two), simultaneously testing it against other views and tracing out its implications. Impressive, non-ivory tower philosophizing. The array of issues he covers is impressive too, from the place of animal rights in an environmental ethic to the relation between environmental destruction and genocide; from the tension between holism and the rights of individuals to intrinsic value; from anthropo- centrism to Judaism and the environment; from the history of environmental thought to the convergence hypothesis. And more.

In light of this tremendous range and of my own attraction to such of his major themes as ecocentrism, it might seem unappreciative to criticize, [End Page 124] to dissent. But despite all the positives I find in Katz's writings, I also find faults there, faults which, when pressed, cause major fissures in the whole. The central, major problem is Katz's dualism; and I think it ultimately undoes his whole theory, since it is so intimately connected with the other parts. Within Katz's own essays, there are, I think, resources to begin a reconstruction; but as with any other such effort, the first task is to discard the parts that are no longer useable. Before doing so, however, I want to review some positive aspects of Katz's theory, lest I convey the mistaken impression that my initial praise for his work is mere courtesy.

The Solid Geological Features

To begin with the most general: Katz's concern for, commitment to the natural world is obvious to any reader. He suffuses every essay with a determination to seek out clear and cogent philosophical rationales for its protection. More important perhaps is his obvious personal connection to that world. His references to Fire Island's deer and beaches, for example, amply demonstrate what the rest of his writings imply: that his theoretical efforts are more than armchair musings about a current philosophical issue. Katz's efforts are both professional and passionate.

On a more specifically philosophical level, I regard his anti-anthropocentrism as a significant strength. Though one can, of course, be an anthropocentrist and be an environmental philosopher—Bryan Norton (1984) and Eugene Hargrove (1989) come to mind—I think Katz's arguments showing that anthropocentric views can only offer contingent justifications for protecting the environment are cogent and valid (3-11). An important part of those arguments is Katz's demonstration that different theories in environmental philosophy do indeed result in different environmental policies. In other words, Katz offers a strong counterargument to Norton's convergence hypothesis (Norton 1991), the idea that, given environmentalists' shared commitment to the environment, the various philosophical theories offered in justification of that commitment will converge on similar policy recommendations (149 ff.). I agree with Katz's refutation of that hypothesis, and I offer my critique of his theory because I think that theory's faults will ultimately undermine sound policies.

Another big asset of Katz's theory is his communitarianism, the idea that we are part of an ecological community, an ecosystem, to which we have moral obligations. Not surprisingly to anyone familiar with environmental ethics, the source of this idea is Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic (Leopold 1966), [End Page 125] which has been debated, analyzed, praised, and critiqued more than extensively in the literature. Katz pretends to no originality here; he simply adopts and vigorously defends an ecocentric ethic that counts the integrity, stability, and beauty of the system—including, not incidentally, abiotic components—as central criteria limiting human interference with nature. Unlike, for example, the total ecocentrism of J. Baird Callicott's (1980) early writing, however, Katz tempers his communitarianism with another dimension, qualifying his holistic...


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