Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Ecological libertarianism: The case for nonhuman self-ownership
by Nelson, Zachary, M.A., Colorado State University, 2016, 104; 10138975
Abstract (Summary)

The field of environmental political theory has made great gains in its relatively short existence as an academic discipline. One area in which these advancements can be noticed is the strong discussion surrounding the foundations, institutions, and processes of Western liberalism and the relationship of these elements to issues of environmentalism. Within this discussion has manifested the bedrock assumption that the underlying components of classical liberalism – namely individualism, negative liberties, and instrumental rationality – preclude or greatly hinder progress toward securing collective environmental needs. This assumption has great intuitive strength as well as exhibition in liberal democracies such as the United States. However, in using this assumption as a launchpad for reconsidering elements of liberalism scholars have inadvertently closed alternate routes of analysis and theorization. This thesis aims to explore one such alternate route.

Libertarianism, the contemporary reincarnation of classical liberalism, has been generally disregarded in policy and academic realms due to its stringent and inflexible adherence to self-interest, instrumental rationality, and individualism; in discussions of environment, these complaints are only augmented. These criticisms have been validated by a libertarian scholarship that emphasized nature as a warehouse of resources specifically suited for human use. But from where in libertarianism does this ontology develop, and is it correct? This thesis carries this investigation through its overarching research question: can nonhumans have self-ownership within libertarian theory, and what would that mean for libertarian theory?

Part I of the thesis introduces us to the foundation, tenants, and overall logical structure of contemporary libertarian theory. Finding autonomy to be the key to moral standing, and finding autonomy to be a contested criterion, we discover the shaky ground on which the totality of libertarianism stands. After identifying the relationship of libertarianism and the environment – one of atomistic, instrumental, and anthropocentric utilization – we connect the current non-standing moral status of nonhumans in libertarian theory directly to criteria of autonomy. With autonomy acknowledged as a contested subject, we thus arrive at the conclusion that the lack of moral status awarded to nonhumans has arisen not through logical derivation but the reification of tradition.

Part II centers on the establishment of a proper framework for the task of evaluating libertarianism’s main criteria of autonomy. This framework is grounded foremost in the recognition of the inherent social embeddedness within libertarian theory; this embeddedness is founded in the necessary reciprocation of liberty protections through the principles of non-aggression and non-interference and, while acknowledged by libertarian theorists, remained a largely undernourished portion of libertarian theory. To counter anthropocentric bias – in effort to ward off the influence of tradition – additional ecological criteria are added to this framework, culminating in an open, non-anthropocentric framework. Afterward, the chapter examines the Naturalistic Fallacy. Finding our answer in the naturally morally pragmatic nature of Man, this discussion finalizes our analytic framework by emphasizing the practical importance of moral reasoning.

Part III sets about the task of examining the criteria of autonomy utilized within libertarian theory. Two conceptions of autonomy – minimalist and prudentialist – are defined, with discussion showing libertarianism to rely, inherently and explicitly, on prudentialist forms of autonomy. The two primary criteria of prudentialism used, life-planning and reason, are then analyzed in turn; this analysis manifests the critique that in the practical usage of morality both criteria rely on and collapse into minimalism. Prudentialism as a standard is then examined to show its paradoxical reliance on pre-formulated conceptions of human lives, to the detriment of logical consistency and the virtues of negative liberty. Singer’s criterion of suffering is then briefly examined, with discussion outlining its inapplicability within libertarian theory. Narveson’s question of the moral egoist completes the chapter, with the linkage between nonhuman domination and human domination solidifying the argument that full nonhuman moral standing will reduce both to the advantage of libertarian society. From these critiques, then, we observe the critical failure of prudentialism to hold in praxis and see minimalist autonomy as the necessary foundation for libertarian theory.

Part IV outlines some consequences of minimalist autonomy within libertarian theory. The questions of reciprocity and nonhuman violence are examined, with discussions of complications and critiques following. These complications comprise the intersection of ecological libertarianism with extant issues within libertarian theory, such as Nozick’s Principle of Rectification, the moral allowance of self-defense, and the question of the moral standing of children. Afterward, the broader conversation is considered along with specific consideration of the potential environmental impacts of an ecological libertarian theory. Lastly, some doors for future theorizing are opened – namely the conceptualization of nonhuman labor and nonhuman property rights – for future critical investigation. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McIvor, David
Commitee: Davis, Sandra, Hempel, Lynn
School: Colorado State University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: MAI 55/05M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Environmental philosophy, Political science, Environmental Justice
Keywords: Animal rights, Autonomy, Environmental justice, Libertarianism, Nonhumans, Political theory
Publication Number: 10138975
ISBN: 978-1-339-94530-9
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