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Environmental Values

Health and Disease as 'Thick' Concepts in Ecosystemic Contexts

James Lindemann Nelson

Environmental Values 4(1995): 311-322. doi: 10.3197/096327195776679420

In this paper, I consider what kind of normative work might be done by speaking of ecosystems utilising a 'medical' vocabulary - drawing, that is, on such notions as 'health', 'disease', and 'illness'. Some writers attracted to this mode of expression have been rather modest about what they think it might purchase. I wish to be bolder. Drawing on the idea of 'thick' evaluative concepts as discussed by McDowell, Williams and Taylor, and resorting to a phenomenological argument for a kind of moral realism, I argue that the project of developing a robust understanding of the moral significance of recognising the health or illness of ecosystems is definitely a starter.

KEYWORDS: Ecosystem health, intrinsic value, 'thick' evaluative concepts

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