It is commonplace to say that the subfield of Environmental Philosophy began only in 1973. Quite independently, the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1973) published a widely-referenced scientific article that attempted to characterise the two dominant strands of the ecology movement. At the same time, the Australasian philosopher, Richard Routley (1973), delivered a much less cited though no less influential paper at conferences in New Zealand and Bulgaria which argued forcefully that what was in fact needed was ‘a new, an environmental, ethic’.

Whereas Naess (1973, 99) sought to articulate ‘a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium’ from within the prevailing ethical theories, Routley (1973, 205) called for the complete rejection of approaches that merely perform ‘a change in the ethics, in attitudes, values and evaluations’. Routley (1973, 207) identified as his target the ‘basic (human) chauvinism’ that has prevailed in the West, which he principally located in the ‘restrictive’ liberal (do no) harm principle that not only requires human interests for it to operate but also for those interests to be harmed in some way.[1]

For Routley then, the harm principle was the seed that could only give rise to human-centeredness. If there was to be a truly environmental ethic that afforded moral status to humans and the more-than-human world, Routley reasoned, then a harm principle was unlikely to be fertile ground for cultivating it.


[1]      The notion of human chauvinism is illuminated by the following example by Routley and Routley (1979, 57): ‘This [weak version of the human chauvinism thesis] has, among other unacceptable outcomes, the consequence that, if there is only room in one’s boat for one and one must choose between saving Adolf Hitler and a wombat which has lived a decent and kindly life and never harmed a living creature, one is morally obligated to choose the former. That would not be the choice of the authors.’