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Discussion on Environmental Ethics

Tanida: This session is on environmental ethics. Are there any questions for Dr. Kyung Sik Kwang?

Singer: First of all, thank you for a very interesting paper, with various important issues, I think. I found some different strands in your argument. And I wanted to ask you about that. On the one hand, there's an argument about what kind of being has intrinsic value. As you know of course, I think I agree with you on this because you allow that other sentient beings have intrinsic value. So as far as that goes I would say that anthropocentric is the wrong word for what you are presenting, because it is really sentient-centric, if you like. I see in your paper arguments for an ethic that is based on sentient beings and not the preservation of non-sentient beings. But that is not anthropocentric if you recognize that there are other non-human sentient beings. So that's the first point. At the end of your paper, reading the written version, you have arguments that are based on the idea that it is the human mind that constitutes the world. If we were to take that seriously, I guess it would be a basis for anthropocentrism but I can't find it in my thoughts to believe that there is no external world beyond the human mind. So I don't find that second trend specifically persuasive to make me think that I have to be anthropocentric.

Kwang: I'm not certain about your question. My point is that only human beings can be moral subjects. Other sentient beings can be moral objects. That is my point and my version of "anthropocentric".

Singer: If animals could be moral subjects then we can have duties towards them, I would think that is enough to say that it is not an anthropocentric ethic. It is an ethic addressed to human beings. But it calls on human beings to take note of the interest of non-human animals.

Kwang: I cannot agree with your point.

Rei: At some point I clearly tend to argue that animals do not have a moral right, because they can not assert their rights. The whole legal system or the regime of the rights depends on that. But at some point I wonder why we would believe that animals shouldn't have moral rights because I think there's a difference between whether one has the capacity to assert rights and whether we should give them that right. For instance infants and children do not have the ability to assert rights, but still we designate guardians to guard their rights. So I was wondering what is your opinion on this point and could you elaborate on it more?

Kwang: I think there is a big difference between a children and other animals. I think a child has potential for moral right. But I think other animals can't have the potential for the same kind of right. We can be the guardians of it.

Rei: Could you elaborate more on the word "potential"? How do you judge potential for children and other animals, and say that other animals cannot.

Kwang: Children can become autonomous persons; but animals can not.

Azariah: We do not have a way of knowing what an animal thinks. We can not tell whether they have moral minds or not.

Doering: My question is about your point on humble ignorance. I sympathize with that. However I think you limit your whole argument by referring only to present ignorance. I think that you should fundamentally argue for a more epistemological statement, which we have. I think you draw a borderline with Kantian ethics. And it could help you if you could avoid placing your objection against that . That cannot be confused with Kantian philosophy. But if you make it clear that this does not go into a kind of intellectual positivism, which Kant didn't have in mind. Then you could argue that our ignorance is part of our humanness. So I think to stress your point about humble ignorance, you could argue more about the epistemological issues.

Gupta: Following up Prof. Singer's comments, and Prof. Azariah. I do not know if they have a moral mind. I think that animals have the right to exist as a species. And we should honor that right.

Tanida: The next paper is by Mary Ann Chen Ng. Are there any questions or comments?

Daniels: Did the Philippine Tourist Bureau pay your fee to come here and advertise their work?

Ng: I think the paper was critical of the state of tourism. So they wouldn't have funded me at all.

Azariah: Do students visit these places and collect animals as specimens for research? In that sense, it would upset the ecological balance of the area.

Ng: Right. Actually one of the photos I showed you are of a Marine Institute that is to assess the biodiversity. I agree with your point. But if people don't live in that area, they would rather not go due to many logistical difficulties, not to mention the geographical distance . One of the photos I showed was taken as part of the Marine Science Institute of the Philippines project to map the biodiversity in the Tubbataha Reef Atoll. In order to reach Tubbataha, this would entail a 15 hour journey from Manila by plane and boat. This costs a lot of money. Students wouldn't be able to afford that.

Tanida: The next paper is by Dr. Anil Gupta. Are there any questions?

Leavitt: I was especially fascinated by the taboos against eating certain foods on certain dates. Because I always thought that we were the only people who have this. In Israel, we have one week a year in spring time that we don't eat or drink any fermented grain. No bread or whiskey. However, I wonder why you have to look for anthropocentric reasons. This specific commandment is an example of a commandment for which no practical reason has ever been found. In other words, we don't eat pig, but we could say that is to prevent atherosclerosis. You can give a reason. But for this no reason has ever been found. Couldn't there be a spiritual or mystical reason without a rational explanation?

Gupta: I don't disagree with you. Maybe in certain cases there could be three broad reasons. One could be health reasons. In a certain season, you don't take certain things because it may have adverse effects. That is one reason. Earlier when these decisions were taken, they were not based on scientific experiments. But they were just based on observation. Later on they acquired a mystical value. I mean, it could be the other way around. It could be the other way around, first a mystical reason became a health reason; later on they were given spiritual dimension. Many communities in North East India are expert hunters but they don't kill a deer during mating season. Tamils don't kill a female deer with specks because they know she is pregnant.

Leavitt: There's a story about not killing a deer while they are mating in the Mahabharata, right?

Gupta: Yes. It is a provision in India for species preservation.

Singer: I have a question. I'm interested in the population interest here. Is there population pressure in this area? Is the population growing and what is it doing to the preservation of the protected area?

Gupta: Yes, that could be one of the reasons. Because the valley area is surrounded by hills, and the valley is not very large. And the valley saw the population increase in the 17th to 18th centuries before that. The increasing population put more pressure on the land, and the valley started getting barren. Perhaps some people started conserving some greenery in area. There are some areas where the natural forest was earmarked. People are trying to preserve whatever they can, as things become in short supply.

Azariah: In Tamil culture, we don't marry during one month. One full month, there are no marriages at all. In another month we don't move our houses. So if we don't marry, during that month the population pressure goes down. In what you have mentioned, are there any similar taboos?

Dua: I can answer Prof. Azariah's question. From 13 December to 13 January, no marriage can take place, because it is not considered a good religious season. That is one place. In Uttar Pradesh, they say that for three months we all sleep. That means that there are no marriages that take place from July to October. This may help. But still the population of our country is quite big.

Tanida: Thank you, and the next paper is by Fumi Maekawa and Darryl Macer. Are there any questions?

Leavitt: I heard a lecture about a year ago about GM foods in the United States. And the F.D.A. guidelines say that a new food has to be proven to be safe before it is permitted. However, their policy with respect to genetically modified food is the opposite; they will approve it if it is not proven to be dangerous. Apparently because of pressure from the food industry. What is the policy in Japan? Does it have to be proved to be safe or not dangerous?

Maekawa: The principle used is that of substantial equivalence. If it is proven to be substantially the same as commonly eaten food, then it is given approval.

Gupta: At what age do schoolchildren in Japan learn ideas about the environment? In which class?

Maekawa: There is no separate subject specifically on the environment. But children from the elementary level, from about the age of six, are taught to value nature by going around their areas during social studies class. They go around the schools to look at trees or biodiversity there.

Tanida: Thank you very much.

Kim: There will be an Asian Bioethics Association (ABA) General Meeting at the end of this session. So please don't forget.

Macer: There is the agenda for the ABA meeting at lunchtime. So for people who are interested in attending, please bring your lunchboxes with you.

Kim: Some of you may find some tension between environmental ethics and biomedical ethics. As a concerned bystander and a historian, I recognize there is some impact on environmental issues caused by some postmodern technology. The concept and nature of the balance of nature needs to be discussed.

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