Ecologists formulate their scientific theories influenced by ethical values, and in turn, environmental ethicists value nature based on scientific theories. Darwinian evolutionary theory provides clear examples of these complex links, illustrating how these reciprocal relationships do not constitute a closed system, but are undetermined andopen to the influences of two broader worlds: the sociocultural and the natural environment. On the one hand, the Darwinian conception of a common evolutionary origin and ecological connectedness has promoted a respect for all forms of life. On the other hand, the metaphors of struggle for existence and natural selection appear as problematic because they foist onto nature the Hobbesian model of aliberal state, a Malthusian model of the economy, and the productive practice of artificial selection, all of which reaffirm modern individualism and the profit motive that are at the roots of our current environmental crisis. These metaphors were included in the original definitions of ecology and environmental ethics by Haeckel and Leopold respectively, and are still pervasive among bothecologists and ethicists. To suppose that these Darwinian notions, derived from a modern-liberal worldview, are a fact of nature constitutes a misleading interpretation. Such supposition represents a serious impediment to our aim of transforming our relationship with the natural world in order to overcome the environmental crisis. To achieve a radical transformation in environmental ethics, we need anew vision of nature.
Ecological theories and environmental ethics are reciprocally and dynamically linked. Inquiry into this thesis can provide epistemological and ethical insights for ecologists and environmental philosophers. First, for ecologists it clarifies that environmental ethics is not purely a normative corpus that we should adopt under the pressure of an environmental crisis. Ethicalconceptions participate in the genesis and evaluation of ecological theories. Second, environmental philosophers have tended to focus on how ecological sciences could inform environmental ethics. I emphasize, in turn, that it is valuable to analyze and to discuss how ethical conceptions can and do inform ecological sciences.
Ecologists approach nature with the aim ofunderstanding it. Environmental ethicists approach nature asking how we should relate to it, or live in and with it. Two disciplines: ecology looking for the is of nature, environmental ethics seeking for an ought in respect to it. How to bridge these discrete, but parallel courses? How to link the is of ecologists and the ought of eco-philosophers?
I propose a circle of continuous reciprocalinfluences between ecological theories and ethical norms respecting nature. This is an open circle taking place within two broader environments: the socio-cultural and the natural worlds. I want to illustrate these proposed reciprocal relationships looking at the Darwinian theory of evolution, and then discuss their implications for ecologists and ethicists. I want to make clear, however, that Darwiniantheory represents only an illustrative case; similar analyses could be done for other ecological theories, such as ecosystem theory or vegetation succession.
I have chosen the case of the Darwinian theory of evolution because: 1) the examination of the social influences and circumstances that led Darwin to formulate his theory of natural selection form one of the most studied and debated areasin the history of science; 2) Darwinian theory constitutes a foundational basis for major strains of both ecology and environmental ethics; 3) it presents contrasting connotations in respect to Modern values and attitudes that have promoted an abuse of human society over the natural environment. Darwinian theory diminishes this "abuse" by weakening anthropocentrism with metaphors like the...