International Conference 2012

Abstracts Detail

Consulting biodiversity policies: How ethics can improve communication.

Birgit Benzing & Uta Eser

Nürtingen-Geislingen University

Communication, participation and education are considered to be important prerequisites for a successful implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the respective national biodiversity strategies. To reach the goals of the strategies, all relevant societal groups have to be convinced that it is right and worthwhile to change their daily practices in favour of biological diversity. An important means by which people can be convinced is communication – and communication means giving reasons. The biodiversity strategies give a wide bundle of reasons; but which reasons are good reasons? Are successful arguments right arguments?

We present an example of how philosophy may contribute to real world problems. Our expertise studies in policy consultancy analyse the ethical foundations of arguments used within the German as well as European strategies and give recommendations for biodiversity communication.

We developed an analytic tool discriminating between three types of arguments: prudential arguments (Prudence), moral arguments (Justice) and eudemonic arguments (the Good Life). The three categories are no clear cut distinctions, but conceptual representations of different kinds of argumentation which in daily communication often merge. Through all biodiversity strategies we found a preference for prudential argumentation. Conservation as well as biodiversity politics is presented as a matter of self-interest, although moral and eudemonistic arguments may provide stronger binding character.

Philosophy can question this current strategic communication. Generally, the term “communication” can be used in two different ways: either with a direct object (to communicate something to someone) or with an indirect object (to communicate difference in the meaning of the term itself. Communication can be understood as either a unidirectional or a reciprocal process. From the distinction between one-way and two-way communication follows another important distinction: the distinction between strategically and essentially good arguments. From a strategic point of view, an argument is good if it is effective. From a philosophical point of view, an argument is good if it is plausible and coherent.

The emphasize of communication as mutual process of exchanging reasons and the distinction between prudential, moral and ethical arguments – well-established in philosophy but less among environmentalists – turned out to be quite instructive for people engaged in biodiversity communication. The expertise seemed to have met the demands of practitioners as well as concerned citizens.

However, the influence of ethics on politics tends sometimes to be overestimated. Politics is generally not guided by ethical considerations but by the quest for a balancing of interests that depends more on the power of interest groups than on the power of arguments. Nevertheless, the quest for good arguments is a matter of veracity as well as of credibility. Obstacles in discipline-crossing applied ethics include how to make philosophical insights more understandable to non-philosophers without sacrificing the philosophical acuteness of thought.