To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Ecology and ethics: Is there a duty to nature?

Richard A. Gray (Senior editor at Pierian Press.)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 1 January 1994



Plato and Aristotle would have found the modern effort to fuse ethics and ecology to be incomprehensible. Despite the fact that oikos—meaning house or household—is a Greek word, Greek science did not entertain a concept of ecology. Nor did Greek philosophy regard nature as morally considerable. Etymology aside, the word ecology in anything like its modern sense of “biospheric house” did not appear in European thought until 1873 when Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, a German biologist and philosopher, used it, with the spelling “Oekologie,” in his The History of Creation. Furthermore, the words “ecology” and “ecological” always had exclusive reference, until quite recently, to a scientific discipline and not to a branch of philosophy. As with the Classical Greek philosophers, so it was also with modern thinkers. Ethics, they held, were concerned solely with interpersonal relations. They could not, therefore, recognize a duty to nature. That we do owe a duty to nature, however, is the carefully considered conclusion of most of the environmental ethicists.


Gray, R.A. (1994), "Ecology and ethics: Is there a duty to nature?", Reference Services Review, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 57-74.




Copyright © 1994, MCB UP Limited

Related articles