Extinction and biodiversity: A historical perspective

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Why care about biodiversity? This is a question that could be answered from many perspectives – economic, philosophical, pragmatic, aesthetic, ethical, etc. – and many of the essays in this volume explore those arguments that can be and have been mustered in favor of preserving the diversity of life on Earth. But it is also a question that demands a historical answer: not so much why should we care about biodiversity so much as why do we now, why has biodiversity preservation only emerged as a fairly recent topic of global political and scientific concern, and what has changed over the past 150 years or so in cultural awareness and biological understanding that has brought this about? It would be tempting to think that concern for the diversity of life is a self-evident value, requiring little justification. It may well be that arguments can be made that biodiversity has just such intrinsic value from a philosophical standpoint, but the simple historical fact is that Western society has not always recognized this. That is to say, the past 200 years or so of biological thought reveals a shifting landscape of opinion concerning the value and even the very existence of the category we would now call “biodiversity.” It is only in the past fifty years or so that scientists have recognized that the study of biological diversity merits special attention and methods – whether in ecological or geological context – and even more recently that its current preservation has become a political issue.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Biodiversity
EditorsJustin Garson, Anya Plutynski, Sahotra Sarkar
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781315530208
ISBN (Print)9781138827738
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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