M. Andrew Sanford

The Ethical Dimensions of Water Usage and Aquatic Invasive Species in the Great Lakes Ecosystem

In The Land Ethic, Aldo Leopold argues that in order to have effective ecology and conservation programs we must begin to recognize the land and natural environment as having ethical value. He asks us to add the land to our list of morally considerable entities. There will always be economic concerns that impact environmental decision-making but Leopold asks that economic considerations should not be the driving force of decisions related to the environment.

What is the value in ecosystems? How is value determined? Is there intrinsic value in the Great Lakes Basin? The economic value of the Great Lakes is well known. This economic value can be found in all of the commercial and recreational uses of the Great Lakes. However the intrinsic value of the Great Lakes as a unique ecosystem does not seem to be as well known. It seems clear that the intrinsic value of the Great Lakes can be affected by the economic use of these inland seas. At the same time the economic viability can be affected by measures taken to protect the intrinsic value. The search for or development of an understanding of intrinsic value is a complex philosophical inquiry. Australian philosopher Peter Singer argues that sentience is a necessary characteristic of something we recognize as having value. But this does not seem to help us when we realize that ecosystems, in our case the Great Lakes Basin, do not have sentience.  Our ethical relation to, and the value we discover in the Great Lakes is critical to addressing environmental threats that face this unique ecosystem.  Leopold recognizes as valuable the natural environment and suggests that we must preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  I am investigating the meaning of Leopold’s suggestion and using it to illustrate and illuminate questions of how we should understand and respond to the coming of invasive species in the Great Lakes and to some questions of water usage.

Faculty Mentor: John Uglietta, Philosophy

Page last modified July 15, 2010