Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: What (if anything) makes extinction bad?

Catia Faria, Pompeu Fabra University

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 Throughout history, countless species have come into existence only to later become extinct. Whether extinction is caused by natural processes or human agency, environmental scientists and the general public seem to agree that extinction is a bad thing and that, therefore, conservation efforts should be made to counteract, and perhaps revert, the losses. Resources are often devoted to the reintroduction of endangered species into ecosystems in which they have long been absent. In other cases, states implement measures to protect autochthonous species (that is, species which are native to a certain natural environment, as opposed to introduced as a result of human activity) which are threatened by the presence of a foreign species by eradicating the members of the latter. There are entire organisations dedicated simply to the aim of preventing the extinction of species whose continued existence is at risk.  However, these practices rely on rather controversial assumptions.

Sometimes it is claimed that:

(i) Species extinction is intrinsically bad

On this view, species are thought to have intrinsic value not in a person-affecting way, but impersonally. The idea behind this is that the existence of some things can be good or bad even if it is good or bad “for” no one. Species, some claim, are that kind of thing. When a species becomes extinct, it is argued, there is an irreplaceable loss of value such that the world becomes a worse place than it was before. That is, there is a decrease in the world’s overall value.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.