Reverence for life as a viable environmental virtue Essay

Similarly, Albert Schweitzer treats reverence for life as foundational for all morality, even with respect to our interactions with other human beings:

Reverence for life affords me my funda- mental principle of morality, namely that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and that to destroy, to harm, or to hinder life, is evil.

I focus on reverence for life especially as it applies to nonhuman life. More broadly, of course, I agree that this virtue concerns humans insofar as they are living things, but I do not wish to embrace Schweitzer’s emphasis on reverence for life as foun- dational. Again, I see it as one virtue among many.

Finally, in this paper I do not discuss the issue of why we should treat living things as intrinsically valu- able. Many authors have developed promising justi- fications for such valuations. Instead, I focus on a second prominent set of objections to such views— that they would either be so demanding as to be impracticable or so watered-down as to be empty.


We can begin by considering whether attributing intrinsic value to all life is too radical a departure from ordinary moral intuitions in the West; if the clash of intuitions is too extreme, we might worry that the position is too far removed to be viable in the West. Even writers who defend individualistic biocentrism suggest that the position will clash radi- cally with current common sense morality. I here present a thought experiment that shows that even those in the West who would deny attributing intrinsic value to all living things in fact share cer- tain common intuitions that would support such value attributions.

Consider the following situation: you are walk- ing along a sidewalk and notice that there is a small insect just ahead of you. You can easily avoid killing it by slightly adjusting your step, and at no expense to yourself. Most of us will hold that in this sort of case you ought to avoid stepping on the insect. It is not an overwhelming moral duty, but it does seem

like a simple good thing to do. We thus have a straightforward case in which most people (who don’t consider themselves biocentric individualists) attribute some degree of intrinsic value to a creature simply in virtue of it being a living thing.

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