From conception to reality
Singer and Regan, Taylor and Callicott, Leopold, Naess and the new animists: all these theorists have tried to expand our moral universe, widening the circle of our duties and responsibilities to include animals, other living things, and even rivers and mountains. When queried about why we should care about rivers and rocks, Naess would often remark that everyone knew what was meant by saying “Let the rivers run free!”, even though he never espoused any animist or panpsychist views himself. Here is an interesting phenomenon, little discussed in the environmental ethics literature. Once we conceive, or entertain the idea, that dogs and cats are things to which we owe moral responsibility or some kind of respect, then it seems that an argument is required to show why we should not respect these things. Likewise, once we imagine the possibility of trees, flowering plants and fungi having some value in themselves, not just utility for us, then it is easy to conclude that they do have such value. In these cases, we argue from what we have thought about, to what is really the case.
Such arguments have a long history in Western thought, but are generally treated with suspicion. The most famous argument of this sort is the so-called ontological argument for the existence of a supreme being. In its simplest form, the argument goes like this.