Drawing The Boundaries Of The Ethical Self
This paper evaluates some philosophical views regarding the self who is an ethical deliberator and agent-specifically the traditional atomistic individualist self and the expanded biocentric self of deep ecology. The paper then presents an alternative manner of thinking about the ethical self which avoids some of the philosophical difficulties of the foregoing views. This alternative draws on the recent work by Val Plumwood and Donna Haraway. Haraway's cyborg identity is a kind of self-in-relation (Plumwood's term) which allows for ethical deliberations that take relations with others seriously without losing individuality in problematic holism (as deep ecology does). Self-in-relation is defined by the relation of intentional inclusion. This relation is given a functionalist, non-mentalistic interpretation. The notions of ontological foresight and moral foresight are introduced to enable determinations of moral responsibility without falling back into the problematic universalism which otherwise results from the functionalist view of cyborg self-in-relation.
Ethical deliberation does not typically begin with an explicit articulation of the concept of self which underlies such deliberation. But a self is assumed, and usually in Western ethical thought it is an atomistic egocentric individual self. Ethical deliberation, whether deontological, utilitarian, or otherwise, assumed a self/other boundary of some kind, and such an assumption imports bias into our ethical conclusion. Ethical deliberations frequently focus on the interests or rights of individuals, without justifying the assumption of an egocentric individual self.
If the traditionally-assumed egocentric individual self circumscribes ethical deliberation, then might a more inclusive, expanded self be less prone to produce bias in our ethical conclusions? One possible such self conception is the biocentric self of deep ecology. Deep ecologists seek to expand the self not only beyond the atomistic individual human self but also beyond all human selves. As a way to insure an appropriate concern for all life on Earth, deep ecologists urge the adoption of a self which is identified with all earthly beings. This self-identification will result in the promotion of maximum self-realization for all beings. Since I am not a being among others, my status, interests, etc., are not privileged over any others, though they are still taken into account. Since the biocentric self allows all beings to achieve maximum self-realization, conflicts between egocentric individuals are minimized.
Deep ecology seeks to overcome individual/group conflict by expanding the individual self so as to encompass, as self-interest, the interests, rights or claims of other beings which might otherwise be considered alien or hostile. The goal of maximum self-realization is accorded to all beings, since no one being can claim primary importance for its own individual...