Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?

Philosophy 3: Ethics in the Modern World
Prof. C. Kaufman
Copyright © 1996, 2000 B. Collie Collier
This paper is the product of a class assignment to write either an agreement or disagreement with Huber's "Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?" This meant we were supposed to critique the paper solely on the issue of whether the use of deception was sound or no. I must admit, I would have liked to further critique his arguments, as I found his "either/or" treatment of biodiversity and bioengineering a tad unrealistic... but here's the paper nonetheless. ;-)

"[T]here are still transcendentally important esthetic reasons for treating life here on earth with gentle respect. ... We should revere life on earth not because we expect it will profit us economically, nor because it is very likely to cure cancer, but because life is a good that requires no further justification. ... When the economic case for biodiversity collapses, ... the more fundamental truth about the beauty and spiritual qualities of nature may be swept away as well."
--Peter Huber, Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering?

The issue addressed by Peter Huber in his essay Biodiversity vs. Bioengineering? is whether or not we should lie to achieve a greater good. It is his, and my, belief that the answer is no. In this case he refers to the question of whether we should lie about the economic advantages of biodiversity. One might say that the ends justifies the means, and that in order to gain the support of the masses one must use a reason they are interested in. However, as Mr. Huber plainly says, "When the economic case for biodiversity collapses, ... the more fundamental truth about the beauty and spiritual qualities of nature may be swept away as well."

In other words, if we lie about the economic uses of biodiversity, and the lie is discovered, our credibility will be non-existent, and people might then believe biodiversity is of no use to us whatsoever. After all, why should they believe our assertion that we can gain from biodiversity, when we've lied about its applicability? To be caught in such a lie means that most people will not look past that discovered lie to any possible deeper truths. They would therefore miss the emotional and spiritual gains biodiversity could offer us. If people believe biodiversity is a waste of time and effort, they will not attempt to maintain it, and a priceless and irreplaceable treasure will be forever lost to us.

It is true that a lie might for a while influence people to act in a manner we believe is beneficial. There are, however, several problems with using lies to achieve laudable goals. Firstly, no one likes being lied to. They tend to react with anger and rejection. Therefore, if we lie, we do not only risk losing all the benefits we have accomplished to date. We will also create in people a distrust in any future statements we may make. Secondly, if we assume it is okay to lie, we should not be surprised if lies are used on us. Nor should we be dismayed by finding that we are being manipulated into doing things we may not agree with. After all, it was our initial lies about economic uses of biodiversity that established the premise that lying was acceptable behavior to get what we want; that the ends justifies the means.

The solution is simple -- don't lie. Once we have established a habit of truth, people will be more willing to listen to us the next time we issue a warning or statement. Furthermore, the truth will cause far less fanfare perhaps, but its effects will be longer lasting and hopefully more beneficial to us all. Mr. Huber states this eloquently in his essay.

Last Updated: Fri, April 21, 2000