Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

John Nolt

Committee Members

Jon Garthoff, David Reidy, Dan Simberloff


Environmental philosophers allege that philosophical views supporting the animal liberation movement are theoretically and practically inconsistent with environmentalism. While it is true that some animal ethicists argue that we ought to intervene extensively in nature such as the prevention of predation, these views take controversial positions in value theory and normative theory: (i) hedonism as a value theory, and (ii) a view of normativity which places the good before the right, e.g. maximizing utilitarianism, or a rights theory that includes strong positive rights, i.e. animals are entitled to a certain level of welfare or protection from harm. Importantly, environmental philosophers’ critiques mistakenly assume that sentience-based ethics must take these forms. I argue that there are least two angles for progress and reconciliation: (i) countenance values other than pleasure and the absence of pain, such as the value of “free” beings, come what may, or (ii) embrace a view of normativity where, unlike utilitarianism, the right is prior to the good, constraining the scope of obligation from the outset. Together or individually, these angles give shape to a workspace of animal ethical theories amenable to environmentalism. In short, I argue that a sentience-centered notion of moral considerability is correct, that several plausible views about the good and its relation to the right compatible with sentiocentrism can reconcile animal ethics with environmental ethics, and that a sentiocentric ethic constitutes an adequate environmental ethic. If this argumentative arc is on track, it provides a broad justification for the core goals of environmentalism and promises greater consilience between considered judgments about the value of wild animals and the rest of the environment.

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