This thesis defends the possibility and plausibility of an elemental ethic. An elemental ethic, like any other ethical system, requires some metaphysical and epistemological foundations. Delineating the character of an elemental ethic is the central task of the inquiry. The idea of value as the measure of the valuable is outlined and defended in Chapter One. A conception of knowledge in the value domain is sketched which parallels that in the domains of the spatially extended and perceptual.
Arguments for anthropocentric and instrumental theories of environmental value are examined and their deficiencies identified in Chapters Two and Three. The adoption of a plausible precautionary principle in value considerations, together with a rejection of arbitrary delimitation, or reduction of value objects, including value attributes and criteria, demands the rejection of chauvinistic, human-centred ethics.
The value of an object may vary with features of context and, therefore, there is no one, single characteristic of an object which alone is enough to distinguish value in all circumstances and, hence, guide the demands for our ethical considerations. The sets of characteristics which can inform our knowledge of the valuable are diverse and, sometimes, complex. In Chapter Four, a conception of emotional presentation is elaborated which provides the analogue in the value domain of sense perception in the domain of the spatially extended. For example, just as visual perception provides access to the colourful, emotional presentation provides the means of access to the valuable.
When we undertake evaluations, those evaluations employ concepts developed and held by human beings. It is a mistake, however, to reduce what is valued, the valuable, to the evaluation. Our evaluations are constrained, not only by the affective and conceptual frameworks we apply, but also by the objects of evaluation themselves. It is argued that objects have both subjective and objective elements. One aspect cannot be reduced to the other. In Chapter Five, it is argued that objects are conjective. In this chapter it is explained how they are subject both to the multidimensional constraint matrix of the frameworks we apply and the object itself.
Subjective responses are an essential part of evaluation. Our affective frameworks and dispositions provide opportunities for access to the value domain but, as a result, they also limit or constrain what we are able to access. In Chapters Six and Seven, it is argued that it is an error to conclude from this, that what is valuable is simply a function of our subjective responses, or the dispositions which underpin those responses. There is a non-subjective sense in which we can be wrong in our ascriptions of value. Nevertheless,there are no absolutes, or the one best way that items are. There are better or worse elaborations. Some are more successful, for example, coherent and useful, than others.
An examination of arguments purporting to provide a refutation of environmental ethics is undertaken in Chapter Eight. It is argued that these arguments succeed only if one arbitrarily limits value considerations to environmental objects. I argue that arbitrary demarcations of value and the valuable are to be rejected.
Consistency demands the application of an elemental ethic which recognises that we need reasons and justification before we assume that objects subject to our actions do not instantiate some intrinsic value. There are plausible analogies which suggest value in many sorts of objects: not only human beings, sentient creatures, and natural objects, but also objects which are the result of human intervention and creativity.
The processes we employ, whether in the domain of the spatially extended, the perceptual or the evaluative, are human processes, for human creatures. Human ingenuity and creativity are essential for the generation and maintenance of these frameworks but how well they work is not simply a function of that creativity. There is, nevertheless, as I argue in Chapter Nine, an essential role for creativity and imagination in underpinning affective frameworks and evaluative processes.