reply to post by needlenight
Consider an uninhabited planet - say, Jupiter. Nothing bad or good happens there...climatological and geological processes unfold according to the
physics that govern them - there's no right or wrong, better or worse, good or evil. It wouldn't even make sense to try and evaluate the events on
Jupiter in those terms. Clearly, in order for concepts like right and wrong, better or worse, or good or bad to be applicable, there has to be some
additional component to the system, which Jupiter doesn't have. I'm pretty sure that the missing component is a conscious mind. With minds in the
picture we have intentions, beliefs, desires, and positive and negative experiences. Beliefs can be correct or incorrect, desires can be cruel or
kind, actions can induce pleasure or pain. These are the components of the system which make the concepts of right and wrong meaningful and relevant.
If there's no right and wrong without conscious minds, then right and wrong are purely psychological phenomena. The "goodness" or "badness" of
individuals or activities is totally dependent upon and contained within the mental realm, and it doesn't make sense to evaluate events or scenarios
as being right or wrong or better or worse unless there is some living being involved or effected.
If you accept that, then I think you have to conclude that ultimately, we have no duty to care for the Earth, we are totally justified in acting in
our own best interest, and we're not something that is evil and out of control. What happened on Earth that makes value judgments applicable here
but not on Jupiter? Conscious minds developed with a psychology that includes values and the ability to make value judgments (i.e. right/wrong,
better/worse, good/evil). But, minds and brains are the product of evolution. Before life, Earth was just like Jupiter - no values and no place for
value judgments. Even once life began here, it took billions of years for the first conscious minds to evolve. Then, the structure of those minds
and the corresponding psychology developed according to selective pressures, just like every other evolved trait. The reason we have intelligence,
self-awareness, and a moral compass is because this basic psychological architecture inferred an evolutionary advantage on our ancestors. Perhaps
those individuals that were too selfless were taken advantage of by others, and perhaps those who were too selfish were banished from the group.
Whatever the case, humans as we exist today are the product.
Everything living on Earth today evolved to get to this point. We're all developed to maximize reproductive success. If a species has a purpose,
it's to succeed evolutionarily. That's how all living things got to be the way they are, and it is what will shape the development of life for the
rest of time. We have no moral obligation to shoot ourselves in the foot - our existence and the existence of all living things is perpetuated by
this race we're all in called evolution. In fact, those who decide to stop trying to act in their own best interest will simply lose out to those
who do try to act in their own best interest. The excessively selfless will lose out to the moderately selfish, and the subsequent generations simply
won't have this conversation.
While I do think that the evolution argument is correct, and is the ultimate answer to your question regarding the extent to which we have an
obligation to other species or the Earth, I think there are two other points worth making. First, I personally don't believe that what's going on
on Earth is any different at all from what's going on on Jupiter... objective, external value judgments are senseless in either case. The same
physics governs the activity on Jupiter as does here, and we're made of the same kinds of atoms found there...the same thing is happening here as
there, it's just more interested and complicated because Earth is wet. Life is just chemistry on geological time scales. Value judgments have no
objective validity, we just feel that certain things are right or wrong because that's a useful psychological architecture. I honestly don't even
think free-will is a sensible concept, but that's a discussion for another time. I think our moral duty to stop destroying the rain forest is
conceptually about on par with a hurricane's moral duty not to destroy homes. Second, the practical consideration is that billions of people are
alive today because we've burned fossil fuels, killed animals, and cut down trees. It's one thing to think abstractly that it would be nice if we
stopped polluting, but there are real individual people who would not be alive if we hadn't burned fossil fuels. I don't think you could go up to
one of those individuals and tell them they don't have the right to be alive because humanity has a duty to the Earth.