Many environmental thinkers maintain that environmental theory, including theories of environmental ethics, and political power have one thing in common: they need to be disaggregated and decentralized. The craving for generality, so disparaged by Wittgensteinian philosophers, becomes a punchbag all over again for many defenders of biodiversity, whether pluralists, situationists, or postmodernists. “Show me a principle,” they effectively say, “and I will show you an exception.” While this sounds like a generalization itself, many apply it undaunted, for example, to purported principles of environmental obligation, stressing that environmental studies are characteristically if not essentially contextual, and are nothing without sensitivity to situations.
A praiseworthy example of this is provided by David Schmidtz's well-argued essay in Environmental Values, “Why Preservationism Doesn't Preserve.” Schmidtz's essay belabors conservationist (or wise-use) principles as well as targeting preservationism in the way that the title leads the reader to expect, and shows how easily the pure pursuit of principle can in both cases undermine the environmental purist's objectives (Schmidtz 1997). The phenomenon is certainly widely recognized of principled people unintentionally undermining their own objectives, whether as efficiency experts, as librarians, or as parents; in the field of biodiversity preservation, a further example might be found in the refusal to countenance the extinction of any species anywhere, whatever the costs to humanity, including its poorer members, the stance that Wilfred Beckerman (1994) has labeled “Strong Sustainability,” and Herman Daly (1995), “Absurdly Strong Sustainability.”