PHI value. This type of ethical system is based


PHI 2620

Fall 2017

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2, 2017


Transformative Value Environmental Ethic Evaluation


In his book “Why Preserve Natural Variety?” Philosopher
Bryan Norton proposes an environmental ethic based on transformative value. Which
Norton describes as the ability of nonhuman natural entities to change, or
transform, instrumental value. In Norton’s delineation of his proposal, it is
suggested that using transformative value as a basis for an environmental ethic
effectively precludes the problems that arise when intrinsic and instrumental
value are used as the basis for making decisions regarding environmental ethics.

In this essay, I will analyze the context and meaning of transformative value,
as well as evaluate the viability of conceiving an environmental ethic based on
the concept of transformative value.

In their efforts to formulate a systematic and reliable
environmental ethic, philosophers have run into many common problems. “Traditionally
the opposition between instrumental value and intrinsic value has been posed in
this form: How can means, or a sequence of means, relate to an end, to
something that is not itself the means to another end. (cf. Plato’s Republic, Book 2, and
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book
1) If there are instrumental values that are means to ends, then there must be
ends that have, by contrast, intrinsic value – ends that are not means to other
ends but are ends in themselves.” (source: Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics
and Philosophy)

Popular proposals for environmental ethics generally skew
toward one of two ways. The divide between the use of intrinsic or instrumental
value, and how to achieve an accurate midpoint between the two, has always been
a relevant topic in environmental ethics ever since its’ consideration as a field
of study.

One common basis for environmental ethics proposals is
instrumental value. This type of ethical system is based around the amount of value
that an entity has the capacity to provide to other entities, or the “Valuer.”.

Instrumental value based ethics commonly use economic value and aesthetic value
as the main factors for ethical decision making. Aesthetic
value considers the beauty of something found in nature and its capacity to
elicit visual pleasure or displeasure when it is observed. An example of this
is the case about whether or not to commercialize Niagara Falls. In the argument
against turning Niagara Falls into a show for more tourist appeal, a point can
be made that doing so would compromise the natural beauty and aesthetic value
to those who appreciate the falls for their untouched, natural aesthetic.  Norton offers his opinion, appealing to
preservationist and aesthetic values by saying, in short, that nature can have
aesthetic value in addition to being a source of raw materials. Whereas economic
value is the value of something that is found in nature as measured in units of
the currency that it would provide to a consumer in a free market economy.

Norton illustrates an example of the power of economic value in his essay about
the little girl on beach collecting sand dollars with her family, so they can
sell them to make a profit. This example of economic value seems to make it
difficult to argue against the use of instrumental value based ethics.

Transformative value requires a world view that highly values experiences of
nature. It also contains a strong belief that experiences of nature change over
materialistic demand values of nature.

The problem that arises when using these instrumental values
as the basis for an environmental ethic is that it seemingly ignores the concerns
and preferences of environmental preservationists, taking an anthropocentric-like
view. “Norton observes that the debate between anthropocentrists and
nonanthropocentrists is futile insofar as the major concept of “human
interests”, or human utility, on which the whole discussion turns, is left
undefined. (source: Encyclopedia of Environmental
Ethics and Philosophy) The anthropocentric argument is solely centered
around the valuation of things by human beings and those things that serve
humankind. Whereas non-anthropocentrists deny this premise that things only
have value if they are valued by humans. Non-antropocentrists would also state
that the existence of humans depends highly on the existence of other non-
human species and ecosystems.


On the other hand, there are proposals for environmental
ethics that are based on intrinsic value. These intrinsic value based
environmental ethics are centered around the value that something has
independent of other entities or “Valuers” (intrinsic value). These proposals
attempt to create a more ethically-equal system, asserting that there is value
in those entities that do not directly benefit humans. This idea is illustrated by the example of the island
with the goats and endangered plants. Intrinsically focused ethics would argue
for the extermination of the common goats as opposed to letting the endangered,
rare plant go extinct at the mouths of the goats, due to the plants’ great
intrinsic value. The criticism of this
concept is that many believe that it encourages ethical decisions that oppose
many human demand values and objectives.


Just as the task of creating a flawless and all-encompassing
environmental ethic is one of extreme complexity, so too is the concept of
transformative value. Transformative value incorporates many ideas of
philosophy. Norton proposed this concept as a dynamic value “i.e. a value
capable of transforming preferences in accord with a higher ideal. It is
remarkable that this is neither an instrumental, nor a non-instrumental (or
intrinsic) value, but rather a value which cannot be reduced to either of these
categories, which are therefore revealed as unable to express the entire range
of values that humans can attribute to nature. Rather than be forced into
accepting this bipartite classification of natural values, Norton suggests an
acceptance of their essential plurality and situating them in a kind of
continuum, ranging from the values of consumer society to aesthetic, spiritual
and other similar values.” (Afeissa)


 “The definition of
transformative is something, such as a lesson or experience, that inspires
change or causes a shift in viewpoint.” (source: Norton
proposed the concept of transformative value as a fluid state of mind. He
formulated his theory of transformative value as a sort of hybrid explanation
that is inclusive of and incorporates the premises of intrinsic value and
instrumental value, a nonconsumptive valuing of nature that can transform
unself-critical preferences into expressions of higher ideals.” (example from class)


“Transformative value system arms preservationalists a
vehicle to question overcomsumption and species endangerment. It argues the
premise that the existence of the human species is dependent upon the survival
of other species and healthy ecosystems.” (source: Encyclopedia of
Environmental Ethics and Philosophy) This point has particular relevance in the
issues currently being debated regarding proposed political policies. Many of
the current administration’s proposed policies are forcing the conversation
about the valuation of the range of experiences of nature and clearly exemplify
an extreme anthropocentric point of view. For example, in addition to
threatening to disband the Environmental Protection Agency, many of the current
administration’s proposed policies deregulate laws that were created and
established to prevent the exhaustion of natural resources, as well as lifting
the ban on national parks and other protected lands in order to preserve nature
for its aesthetic value. :…the environmentalist’s task, when entering the
public arena, will be to defend and command the respect— to the fullest extent
possible—of the above principles, while seeking to define an environmental
policy capable of the fullest and most harmonious integration of the entire
range of natural values. Norton’s belief on this point, is that programmes for
the protection of the environment are perfectly justifiable on the basis of a
sufficiently broad interpretation of anthropocentric instrumental values and,
better still, that this point of view has an undeniable practical advantage, on
the one hand because it is the mode of justification which is the most current
among environmentalists and therefore constitutes an immediately recognized
forum for debate and, on the other hand, because by neutralizing the
axiological controversy between intrinsic value and human utility, it allows
for individual subjectivity to choose between the various philosophical
options. As a result, the debate is moved to the area of rational modes of
environmental action.” (source:


The transformative value proposition is a cornerstone of
environmentalists’ case for several important reasons. Of paramount
significance is the argument that “to the extent that environmentalists can
show that values are formed and informed by contact with nature, natures takes
on value as a teacher of human values.” (Norton, B., 1984, p. 135) (source: (example
from class)


Additionally, “…to the extent that environmental ethicists
can make a case for a world view that emphasizes the close relationship between
the human species and other living species, they can also make a case for
ideals of human behavior extolling harmony with nature. These ideals are then
available as a basis for criticizing preferences that merely exploit nature.”
(source: (example from class)


And finally, because it argues that as humans, our
subjectivity “…places value on human experiences that provide the basis for
value formation,” and that “the process of value formation embodied in the
criticism and replacement of felt values with more rational ones, it makes
possible appeals to the value of experiences of natural objects and undisturbed
places in human value formation. (source: (example from class)


Furthermore, Norton’s proposed concept of transformative
value addresses many of the conflicts previously discussed and suggests a
practical application. “…Norton argues, satisfying human interests does not
necessarily involve the irreversible destruction of the object of desire; he
make a distinction between a utility that is satisfied by the immediate
consumption of natural goods and a utility that implies the conservation of the
useful object, conservation being a prerequisite for the continued satisfaction
of human interests.” (source: Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and
Philosophy) This notion should appeal to all debate participants with a vested
interest as it suggests a compromise instead of one extreme or another. “Norton
insists that programs for the protection of the environment are perfectly
justifiable on the basis of a sufficiently broad and long-range interpretation
of anthropocentric instrumental values – broad enough to transcend the
traditional division of human values into only two categories; instrumental and
intrinsic.” (source: Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy)

In an effort to further define transitional value for
practical applications, “Norton proposes a plurality of human values situated
on a continuum ranging from the consumptive and self-oriented to nonconsumptive
concerns such as aesthetics and spirituality.” (source: Encyclopedia of
Environmental Ethics and Philosophy)


Ultimately, Norton surmised that “…what actually matters as
regards the environment, is not so much taking principled stances, but rather
developing rational aids to decision-making, so that the various actors can
agree on what should be done and develop the concrete policy measures which need
to be implemented. In this sense, petty in-fighting between anthropocentrists
and non-anthropocentrists, humanists and ecocentrists, “shallow” and
“deep ecologists”, etc., are all the more damaging that they divide
environmental ethicists and stifle efforts for concerted and effective action.”
(source: (example from class)

 After my analysis of
transformative value and its ability to be the basis for environmental ethics, it
is evident to me that transformative value is truly a great attempt to combine
many philosophical ideas and theories in order to formulate a dynamic system to
base ethical decisions off of. It is also clear to me that this transformative
value proposal is meant to advocate for a more positive ethics view. With all
that being said, I ultimately believe that even with the support provided, that
it is unclear and inconclusive whether the use of transformative value as a basis
for an ethical system will provide reliable and ethically correct guidance in
making decisions regarding environmental ethics.



Word Count: 1902



Works Cited:

Encyclopedia of environmental ethics and


Afeissa ,Hicham-Stéphane,