Volume 32, Issue 1, Spring 2010
Michael P. Nelson
Teaching Holism in Environmental Ethics
Students who enroll in my environmental ethics courses often come with a background in ecology and natural resources. Moreover, they often point to this background when they express their frustration with, or outright rejection of, individualistic or atomistic moral theories that simply strive to include individual living things within the purview of a moral community. They ultimately evoke the concept of holism as the source of their frustration. Addressing this concern requires trying to make sense of both the concept of holism generally and the supposed connection students sense between their training as young scientists and the attempt to ground a worthy environmental ethic. Many theories within the field of environmental ethics either evoke or rest upon the concept of holism. To date, however, the concept of holism has not been unpacked in any detail. To begin such an unpacking teachers need (1) to demonstrate how and when holism appears within the field of environmental ethics, (2) to explain the core idea underpinning holism and compare it to reductionism, and (3) to provide a general classification of how holism is employed in both a metaphysical and ethical sense within environmental ethics.