Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2008


As planetary environmental crises advance toward us like an enormous oil spill, the call of Earth Jurisprudence has arisen, suggesting that a shift is necessary in the way that we think about law, governance, and nature. A predicate to rethinking law, however, is to reconsider the moral status of nature. This article posits that, to preserve a healthy planet for future generations of human beings - and for Earth itself - it is necessary to recognize Earth as the center of the moral community. As an ethical endeavor, the article turns the question of the moral status of nature through the lenses of four moral questions: what is good?; what is fitting?; what is true?; and what is right? This inquiry into the moral status of nature from the perspective of four moral languages makes several significant departures from contemporary legal and moral discourse. First, the philosophical heritage of the West place nature outside of the moral community. With human beings at the center of law and morality, nature is viewed as a collection of objects to be used as property owners see fit. As a consequence, the earth has suffered degradation. Moreover, some philosophers and scientists have called into question the continuation of the human species. The article proposes that acknowledging the moral status of the Earth community may also save humanity from itself. Second, to engage the question of the moral status of nature, the article unfolds a metaethical moral conversation that tests the premises and conditions of each of the four moral languages. In addition, the article will hatch a normative line of reasoning within each moral domain and will suggest bases for widening the moral circle to include nature. Third, in posing moral questions, the article asks how science informs or deforms the inquiry. Science has become increasingly important to legal and moral thought. Western legal philosophy is linked to the scientific findings of sixteenth and seventeenth century Enlightenment thinkers. However, climatologists and quantum physicists, among other postmodern scientists, are proffering challenges that completely undermine the premises of early modern legal and moral philosophy. It is time for law and morality to fast forward into twenty-first century post-modernity.