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The Ethics of Species.

Ronald L. Sandler

The Ethics of Species

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012

ISBN 978-1107658707 (PB) [pounds sterling]18.99. 245 pp.

In The Ethics of Species Ronald Sandler analyses a range of positions related to ethical and metaethical issues surrounding biological species. Sandler ultimately argues for the view that all and only individual living beings have goods of their own and, therefore, have objective final value. That is, while we might consider some subset of species valuable for what they can do for us (instrumental value) and another subset valuable for what they are (what Sandler calls subjective final value, following Christine Korsgaard's distinction), Sandler argues that no species has moral worth apart from that which moral agents accord it: no species has objective final value.

The volume is framed in two parts. The first works through the gamut of conceptions concerning the moral value of species in support of the mitigation of species loss, and the second examines conceptual boundaries of species to support the claim that the moral value has to do with particular capacities and not particular origins. Sandler works methodically in the first chapter to explicate a taxonomy of concepts related to moral value. He carefully differentiates between types of objective and subjective value and between types of instrumental and final value (Sandler argues against the use of the popular term 'intrinsic value', claiming it fails to sufficiently differentiate between conflicting positions) in support of his claim that objective final value requires a thing have a good-of-its-own, something that species lack. In the second chapter, Sandler utilises this taxonomy to support his claim that while objective moral worth is denied to species, it is offered up to all naturally evolved living organisms based on a capacities account. Nonetheless, Sandler argues that some species have instrumental and subjective final value--value that pushes us to consider how best to defend them against loss.

Having established his position regarding species and individuals, Sandler considers its ramifications for conservation biology in light of climate change. In chapter three, he proposes that restoration-based conservation is significantly undermined by climate change. As a result, in-situ preservation, native species prioritisation and restoration have become poor standards to guide conservation biology. In their place Sandler considers two alternative proposals to conserving species: assisted colonisation and Pleistocene re-wilding. On the assisted colonisation model, the conservation biologist would assist species in adapting to a more suitable ecosystem. However, Sandler concludes, this model fails for a variety of reasons. Likewise, Pleistocene re-wilding, or the reintroduction of extinct predator and prey megafauna into vast geographic territories, is a poor alternative model of species conservation. Sandler concludes that the parks-and-preservation model of conservation no longer fits ecological conditions: to sufficiently conserve species, one can neither move them, nor keep them intact, nor restore them.

In response to this quandary, Sandler presents a positive account of how to deal with a loss of biodiversity in his fifth chapter: we need to develop relevant mitigation, adaption and compensation strategies that protect against species loss and support the instrumental and subjective final value of species and biodiversity but that are not too interventionist. The mitigation strategy of geoengineering, for example, is too 'hard'--too interventionist.

Sandler next tackles the problem of species boundaries related to transgenic species, genetic hybrids and biological chimeras. Here, he concludes that nature is not normative and that transgenic species have no clear normative significance. Thus, we needn't refrain from developing and utilising transgenic species. Instead, we should focus on nonintrinsic concerns on a case-by-case basis. His argument regarding the species Homo sapiens follows cleanly from the preceding: if moral obligation and worth is based on capacities and relations rather than genetics, there is no objective basis for considering Homo sapiens, as a species, a unique moral community.

In a final extension of this line of argument, Sandler considers the potential normative weight of artefactual species, species created as part of a synthetic biology or genetic manipulation by human researchers. We might think, Sandler posits, that we are obligated to stand against the creation of artefactual organisms. However, such arguments fail, given that Darwinian natural selection, an intact natural history and a biological continuum--all factors that might affect the moral significance of a species--are unaffected by the distinction between artefactual and natural species. Sandler reiterates that even living but nonsentient organisms have an aetiological (ends-directed) good-of-their-own on Sandler's view, which is a necessary condition of a thing's being accorded inherent moral value. Thus it is aetiology and not composition that matters, morally; and, so, artefactualness is discarded as a criterion of moral worth. While we might think that Sandler's position compels us to accord moral status to rocks as well as rabbits, Sandler attempts to avoid such sticky consequences by the addition of a second necessary condition: that some moral agent be obligated to consider the thing's own good. Thus moral status depends on both relevant capacities and relevant relations. In the end, then, synthetic, transgenic and artefactual individuals might well be morally relevant--not because of what they are, but because of their impact on morally-relevant capacities.

Throughout the book, Sandler's careful exposition orients the philosopher interested in metaethical and metaphysical arguments surrounding the concept of species toward Sandler's own conclusion that although some species may have instrumental and subjective final value, no species has objective final value, value in-and-of-itself. Since his metaethical exposition is situated in the contemporary applied settings of climate change, ecosystem management and transgenic biology, a reader might expect such an argument to conclude with the passionate advocacy that is often characteristic of applied environmental philosophy. However, advocacy does not emerge as the purpose of this volume. While it does justify mitigation of species loss, it merely anticipates broader questions of policy and practice. Additionally, the volume leaves unexplored consideration of how Sandler's aetiological account of a thing's good-of-its-own might also make an impact in policy and practice. The rich analysis Sandler offers in The Ethics of Species provides a strong foundation to the philosopher interested in the normative standing of biological species.


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Author:Beever, Jonathan
Publication:Environmental Values
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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