Two cultures? Working with moral dilemmas in environmental science

Reynolds, Martin and Blackmore, Chris (2013). Two cultures? Working with moral dilemmas in environmental science. AWERProcedia Advances in Applied Sciences, 1 pp. 233–240.



Grappling with ethical issues in environmental studies is notoriously challenging, particularly for those working in the scientific/technical domain. The divide between humanities and science was famously expressed in terms of two cultures by C.P.Snow in his 1959 critique of the prevailing dismissive attitude towards science within Government. An ensuing rebuke to Snow in the 1960s suggested that it was scientists that worked in a moral vacuum. Calls for more responsible science have since become even more urgent with increasing environmental risks. The paper describes a simple adaptable heuristic for professionals coming from a more scientific background to work with ethical issues of environmental responsibility. The heuristic, arising from over fifteen years of experience in teaching environmental ethics to mature part-time study fellows at The Open University mostly from a technical professional background, provides a practical means of bridging the divide between science and humanities. Three recurring and interrelated questions of responsibility are addressed – (i) what matters, in terms of issues, (ii) who matters (and how), in terms of agency, and (iii) why some matters and issues of agency are prioritised over others, in terms of justification. The heuristic can be adapted for dealing with moral issues of responsibility where caring for the environment whilst demonstrating accountability are regarded as important for developing professional and/or personal capacity. Some of the challenges that remain in using such a device for bridging the cultural divide are discussed.

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