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An Ethical Basis for Nature Conservation: Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

In the last chapter of  the book edited by me “The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013″, we, i.e.  Klaus Rohde, Hugh Ford, Nigel R.Andrew and Harold Heatwole”  deal with “How to Conserve Biodiversity in a Nonequilibrium World”. The first section of the chapter discusses economic, esthetic and ethical arguments for conserving biodiversity. We conclude that in the modern world people are most impressed by economic arguments, whereas the ethics of the problem is very rarely considered. Are there ethical reasons for conserving biodiversity? We point out that there indeed are, convincingly demonstrated by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His philosophy is particularly suitable, because it appeals not only to philosophically educated Westerners, but also to all those who have a Buddhist or Hinduistic background, i.e. a very large proportion of mankind. Schopenhauer was the first Western philosopher who taught that ethical (moral) behaviour must be based on compassion with humans and animals. 

I have given a concise outline of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of ethics and justice earlier:

Here I mention a few important points in excerpts taken from my earlier essay:

Schopenhauer’s ethics and theory of justice follow from his epistemology, according to which the world as it appears to us, as we perceive it, is to a large degree shaped by our mental apparatus. Following Immanuel Kant, he assumes that time, space and causality are not characteristics of the thing-in-itself (“Ding an sich”) but categories of our mind. All distinctions between individuals disappear once these categories are taken away. In other words, all beings are in essence One.

Schopenhauer’s ethics has had a deep influence on many philosophers and writers after him. Albert Einstein, for example, mentions Schopenhauer as an important influence on his views. Schopenhauer was the first who arrived at conclusions similar to those in Eastern philosophy, in particular Hinduism and Buddhism. And he was the first in Western philosophy who based ethics on compassion with man and animals.

………  Schopenhauer develops a theory of ownership, of natural justice and law in general. Injustice is the original and positive, justice the derived and negative concept. “The only purpose of law is determent from encroaching on others’ rights”. Schopenhauer considers Kant’s thesis that humans should always be considered to be the end (“Zweck”) and never as means, as vague and problematic, because “a murderer sentenced to death must with full justification be used as means”, as a determent and for the re-establishment of public security. However, this applies only to justice in time (“zeitliche Gerechtigkeit”), eternal justice which applies to the entire world (that is, lies in its essence) and does not depend on human constructions (“Einrichtungen”), cannot be retaliatory, because it lies not in time unlike justice in time which is based on retaliation. “Punishment must here (in eternal justice) be connected with the crime in such a way that both are one.” If one wants to know what humans as a whole and in general are worth from a moral perspective, one only has to look at their fate as a whole and in general. This is indigence (“Mangel”), misery, agony and death. Eternal justice at work…..”. However, the “crude individual” has a different view, since he knows only the temporally and spatially separate appearances: he sees tormentors and murderers on the one side and sufferers and victims on the other, who are really only One. Nevertheless, in the depth of his consciousness he sometimes has the “somewhat dark hunch” that “all this is not entirely foreign to him”. Horror (“Grausen”) is founded on this sometimes appearing hunch. All evil in the world derives from the Will which is the real essence of each single person. Hence (Schopenhauer quotes Calderon’s “Life as Dream”, in which the Christian dogma of original sin is expressed: “Since the greatest guilt of man is that he was born”). – Esoterically depicted in the Vedas and especially in the Upanishads, the myth of transmigration expresses the cognition of eternal justice in an easily understandable form for the people. You must not kill an animal, because at a time in eternity you will be born as such an animal and suffer the same death”. This is the meaning of “tat twam asi” (This is you), which is the foundation of Hindu teaching. – In the same sense Christian ethics forbids retaliation of evil with evil and submits to eternal justice (“Revenge is mine, I shall retaliate, says the Lord”).

Our discussion to this point permits a description of the ethical significance of action. According to Schopenhauer, genuine virtue can come only from the insight which recognizes in a foreign being the same being as one’s own. “In principle (“an sich”) all deeds…. are just empty images, and only the attitude (ethos, “Gesinnung”) that leads to them, lends them moral significance.” The principle of justice (based on the negation of evil) commands that one must not hurt others.” Genuine goodness goes much further and leads to love of mankind  (“Menschenliebe”): one distinguishes much less than usually between oneself and others, one sacrifices one’s property and even oneself to one’s neighbour (“Nächster”) and one does not torture an animal. Love is based on the recognition of foreign suffering and pure love is therefore by its nature compassion. All this is in direct contradiction to Kant’s view that any truly good and virtuous deed is based on abstract reflection, on the concept of duty and the categorical imperative.

In Schopenhauer’s time (the first half of the 19th century), destruction of the environment had not become the important issue it is today. Hence, he does not deal with conserving the environment as such. However, his conclusion that moral behaviour of humans must be based on compassion with fellow humans and animals should be interpreted as meaning that animals must be protected and therefore also their habitats and the environment in general. In other words, we must not preserve organisms and the environment as a whole because they are of economic benefit to us, we must conserve them because we have an ethical responsibility towards nature, i.e., not only to the next generations of humans, but also to other living beings.






Don’t support science but obscurantism!

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

If you don’t know the meaning of obscurantism, here it is (from the source of all wisdom, Wikipedia): “Obscurantism (/ɵbˈskjʊərəntɪsm/) is the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or the full details of some matter from becoming known.”

This is what the Australian government is doing, in this case represented by the Minister of Education Christopher Pyne. See here:

It cut many millions of Dollars in funding from the budget of CSIRO, the foremost research organisation in Australia which has done much work on the science of climate change, and many other science projects, but is quite happy to invest four million in a centre to be located at the Business School of the University of Western Australia and devoted to misleading the public (officially “The new centre will focus on applying an economic lens to proposals to achieve good for Australia, the region and the world,” said a statement from UWA).

An extract from the article:
“The government would cover roughly a third of the cost for an Australian iteration of Dr Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre at the University of Western Australia (UWA), confirmed Mr Pyne’s office following an investigation by The Guardian Australia.

The news comes on the heels of the Danish economist’s move to the UWA’s school of business and his appointed as Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s advisors on foreign aid.

Labor and environmental activists heavily criticised the appointment, questioning why someone who played down the effects of global warming should be advising on policy concerning developing countries in the Pacific that were exceptionally vulnerable to climate change.”

Dr.Lomborg is not an environmental, but a political scientist and is highly sceptical of the importance of climate change. He has lectured on statistics and the new centre at UWA is in the business and not the science school. He does not deny that climate change is real and human-induced, but thinks it is “not the end of the world”. Climate scientists do not claim that climate change is necessarily “the end of the world”, but Dr.Lomborg’s views differ sharply from those of the vast majority of climate scientists who take the risks much more seriously and want to do something about it. The establishment of the Consensus Centre and the appointment of Dr.Lomborg can only mean that the Liberal-National Government will continue its politics based on the denial of the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change, and shown by the reduction in the clean energy target, the abolishment of the carbon tax, etc.

More about the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the Danish equivalent of the Australan version and run by Dr.Lomborg, and the donors supporting it here:

The State of the Earth and the Reaction of France and the Western World to Terrorist Attacks

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (about 2.2million, 10% of the total ice mass of Antarctica) has begun to collapse and may already have passed the point of no return. If all the ice in it will melt, sea levels will rise by about 4.6 m, and this may happen within the next few hundred years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, flooding large coastal areas, coastal cities and even some cities far inland, such as Washington D.C. For details see here:

Overfishing, effects of climate change such as acidification, pollution particularly by plastics, etc., threaten the health of our oceans. Effects will be on the world’s food supply, air quality, climate stability, etc. The Global Oceans Commission has outlined a “rescue package” including a limit to gas and oil exploration, capping subsidies for commercial fishing, and creating MPAs, marine protected areas. For details see here:

What is largely responsible for all the mess? Our present economic system, in other words neoliberal capitalism with its overexploitation and little consideration of environmental impacts. See here:

“That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth”

However, why worry about all this, humans apparently cannot wait and are trying to speed things up even more.

Consider the recent attacks by some Muslim fanatics on the French satirical magazine Charlie and the reaction of Western governments to it. It seems that the proper reaction of the French government would have been to play things down and not up. But it did exactly the opposite, it played things up thus demonstrating “strength” to the electorate (President Hollande’s ratings went up by about 15%!!) and demonstrated to potential terrorists how to successfully challenge the west. It seems that the reaction was exactly what the terrorists wanted. Things were made even worse by millions of copies of the magazine with a cartoon of Mohammed on the front page distributed in various languages, causing uproar among muslims in many if not all countries (see attacks in Niger, planned attacks in Belgium, and the reaction of governments of various Muslim countries). Even the Pope, in strong terms, objected to the obvious insults against the Prophet and indeed any religion. – We are seeing, it seems to me, an ever increasing disregard for the rights of others, of the future of mankind, all in the name of short-term gains for the few who own the riches, and the political class which is trying to hold on to power whatever the long-term costs.

The end of the university?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

This is what Terry Eagleton, the noted Catholic-Marxist literary critic, has to say about the university today in an interview in Times Higher Education

“What I would say about the university today,” he says, “is that we’re living through an absolutely historic moment – namely the effective end of universities as centres of humane critique, an almost complete capitulation to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.”

He sums it up in a nutshell!

Unusually heavy flooding in parts of Malaysia not due to illegal logging, according to the Kelantan government. Australian bush fires not due to climate change

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

The recent flooding in large parts od Southeastern Asia (Sri Lanka, southern Thailand, Malaysia, western Indonesia) were unusually heavy, although floods are common during the monsoon season. In Malaysia, more than 250,000 people were displaced and about two dozen killed. ‘The National Security Council (NSC) confirmed the massive flood that hit Kelantan (in the Northeast of peninsuar Malaysia) was the worst in the history of the state.’ – See more at:

A number of reasons have been given, illegal logging,”God’s wrath or climate change or PAS or Umno Baru”……. “neglect and under-investment by the government – both state and federal. It is also the people’s lack of will to force Putrajaya to provide the badly needed national funds to build flood defences and develop the state.”

According to, uncontrolled logging is the major cause of the excessive flooding. However, according to

“KOTA BAHARU, Jan 4 (Bernama) — The Kelantan government has denied uncontrolled logging in Hulu Kelantan as a major cause of the massive flooding in the state.

Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob said the disaster was due to continuous heavy rain in Gua Musang from Dec 21 to 23.

“I firmly refute the allegation as logging has been frozen in the Lojing Highlands since 2006.

“The unusually heavy rain for three days which recorded the highest rainfall distribution at 1,295mm was equivalent to the distribution of rainfall for 64 days,” he said in a statement, here, today.

“It is the power of Allah to bring such heavy rain in such a short time.

“I am calling on the people in the state to take this as a sign from Allah,” he said.

Ahmad said at the present stage, all parties should help to restore all areas destroyed and assist the flood victims who lost their homes and belongings.”

It seems that the Kelantan authorities use the same logic as the Australian Prime Minister, who said that particularly strong bush fires in Australia were not due to climate change but the Australian way of life. Did it occur to the Kelantan authority who made above claim that particularly heavy rains might be a consequence of logging? Concerning the reference to Allah, there are disturbing similarities with some Australian reactions as well. Cardinal George Pell, as Archbishop of Sydney (a good friend of the Prime Minister and self-declared climate expert), wrote in one of Murdoch’s tabloids that “some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness…belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect…In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans to placate capricious and cruel gods.Today they demand reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.” (for further details see K. Rohde ed. 2013: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press).

A footnote, unfortunately not from a comic strip: the Australian government has replaced “climate change” by “climate variability” in its official terminology.

Climate change politics after the Australian elections

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

We now have a new government (for those from overseas:”Liberals” plus “Nationals”, i.e., right-wing) under Prime-Minister Tony Abbott, a practising Catholic and apparently friend of Cardinal George Pell, both climate change “sceptics” (see my post “On the road to fascism? Climate change and media concentration“). Abbott is on record as having earlier referred to climate change science as “crap”, although he now says that he believes in climate change and human contribution to it. Among the first actions of this new government was the dissolution of the Climate Council headed by Professor Flannery, a scientific body that had advised the previous government and the Australian public on climate change. Further actions were funding cuts to public services leading to the reduction by hundreds of staff of the CSIRO, the major Australian research organisation which – among many other projects of vital importance to the country – has done much work on climate change.

Miranda Devine in the Murdoch tabloid Sunday Telegraph November 10, 2013 illuminates the attitude of he new government on climate change politics very well. She writes in an article headed “Change is in the wind on climate”: “What a delicious decision of the Abbott government not to send a minister to the latest UN climate-change conference… Environment Minister Greg Hunt can’t go to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talks in Poland. He’ll be too busy…repealing the carbon tax! Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the other end of the RSVP.”……. “Howard’s” (an earlier liberal Prime Minister of Australia) “takeaway is that politicians should not allow themselves to be browbeaten by the alleged views of experts….laws affecting the daily lives, including sensitive social issues, should never be made other than by politicians.” (Devine’s comments are not meant to be sarcastic, they reflect what she has expressed in numerous earlier articles in the Murdoch press).

Some articles by various commentators in other newspapers on recent events illuminating the government’s approach to climate change and related environmental issues in the following.

Southeastern Australia recently experienced particularly wide-spread and seasonally early bushfires that caused considerable damage. Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change negotiations, was in Australia at about that time. She drew a link between the strength of the bushfires and climate change. The Sydney Morning Herald (25.10.13), a Fairfax newspaper, reported about the reactions of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to this statement as follows: “Hunt taps Wikipedia for bushfire backing…Greg Hunt says” (in an interview with the BBC World Service)” Wikipedia, the online answer to everything, provides evidence that the unseasonal bushfires plaguing NSW are not linked to climate change…..Mr Hunt has been at the centre of a storm about climate change since Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the head of the United Nations’ climate change negotiations, Christina Figueres, of talking “through her hat” on the issue.” “The fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they are a function of life in Australia, Mr.Abbott said.”…”The rebuke prompted Ms.Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, to release another statement in which she pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already found a causal link between climate change and bushfires and its next report in 2014 would build on that.” … In the Sydney Morning Herald October 26-27: “Professor Will Steffen, who co-authored the soon-to-be-released bushfire report by the Climate Council, was responding to Mr. Abbott’s assertion in a newspaper interview with the leading climate sceptic Andrew Bolt that drawing a link between the savage bushfires now plaguing NSW and climate change was “complete hogwash”…”The Climate Council report, a summary of which was revealed by Fairfax Media on Friday, found a clear link between rising temperatures and a longer, more dangerous bushfire season in south-eastern Australia”….”The Climate Council, which was reformed as an independent body after Mr.Hunt abolished it on his second day in the job, will release the report in full next month”….

Interesting that Peter Hatcher, the international editor of the SMH, concluded in the same issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, that Tony Abbott really meant the same thing as Christina Figueres. (???? difficult to believe).

In the election campaign, Abbott made abolishment of the carbon tax, which was introduced by the previous Labour government, a key issue. He wants to replace it with a “direct action” policy, paying polluters to pollute less. The Sydney Morning Herald contacted 35 economists and found that 33 of them supported carbon pricing, rejecting the Direct Action policy. However, Abbott rejects any form of carbon pricing and will not make any binding commitments above a 5% reduction by direct action by 2020 “in he absence of very serious like-binding commitments in other countries….” (SMH 13.11.13).

The Silence of Animals

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

John Gray’s Godless Mysticism: On “The Silence of Animals”, as interpreted by Simon Critchley, see here:

A conclusion? “What will define the coming decades? I would wager the following: the political violence of faith, the certainty of environmental devastation, the decline of existing public institutions, ever-growing inequality, and yet more Simon Cowell TV shows. In the face of this horror, Gray offers a cool but safe temporary refuge.”

Can science explain everything?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Among many scientists and the general public the view is widespread that the only justifiable approach to solving problems in nature is the scientific one. Is there a role for philosophy? What is the evidence for the multiverse approach to cosmology and for evolutionary explanations of why our universe seems to be fine tuned to the evolution of life? Can questions of ethics be resolved by science alone? Professor Austin L. Hughes, a distinguished biologist at South Carolina University, has given a penetrating analysis of the problems. See here:

Cardinal George Pell and Richard Dawkins

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

These two personalities had a discussion on Australian TV on religion and God. I did not see it but read various comments on it in newspapers. Good to hear that the CardinaI would admit atheists into Heaven, if he had a say in it. I have discussed The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins earlier, as well as views on religion by Heisenberg, Max Planck, Karl Marx and some others. See the attached link:

Ethics and the responsibility for animals and nature

Friday, April 13th, 2012

In the current debate on climate change and other human induced effects on the environment it is important to reflect on the moral justification for large scale destruction of habitats and animal species by man. Do we have to consider only the well-being of fellow humans or of animals as well? Schopenhauer was, to my knowledge, the first Western philosopher who spoke out for the rights of animals.
For details see here: