The scope of Nature Nature is universal and inescapable



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NATURE


For evidence relating to the Naturalistic Fallacy, see the section on Ethics. For evidence on related issues, see Animal Rights, Biotechnology, and Science.



The scope of Nature


Nature is universal and inescapable

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 108

“Nature, then, in this its simplest acceptation, is a collective name for all facts, actual and possible; or (to speak more accurately) a name for the mode, partly known to us and partly unknown, in which all things take place.”
We can admire the natural world all we like, but we still find Nature itself elusive

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), “Nature” in Essays: Second Series, 1843, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 275

“There is in woods and waters a certain enticement and flattery, together with a failure to yield a present satisfaction. This disappointment is felt in every landscape. I have seen the softness and beauty of the summer clouds floating feathery overhead, enjoying, as it seemed, their height and privilege of motion, whilst yet they appeared not so much the drapery of this place and hour, as forelooking to some pavilions and gardens of festivity beyond. It is an odd jealousy, but the poet finds himself not near enough to his object. The pine-tree, the river, the bank of flowers before him, does not seem to be nature. Nature is still elsewhere.”
Nature is sufficiently broad as to include “art,” the works of man

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 108

“For in the sense of the word Nature which has just been defined, and which is the true scientific sense, Art is as much Nature as anything else; and anything which is artificial is natural — Art has no independent powers of its own; Art is but the employment of the powers of Nature to an end. Phenomena employed by human agency, no less than those which as far as we are concerned are spontaneous, depend on the properties of the elementary forces, or of the elementary substances and their compounds.”
The laws of nature cannot be violated

Westel W. Willoughby (1867-1945; American political scientist and prof. at Johns Hopkins Univ.), in Morals and Values, ed. by Marcus G. Singer, 1977, p. 371

“Indeed the very idea of violating a law of nature is an improper one. The so-called laws of nature are but statements of uniformities of experience in the phenomenal world. As such they are not in any true sense commands, and are not possible of violation by men. Certain results, as far as our experience goes, are known to follow from certain causes. That is all. There is no law-giver to be offended.”

Nature is good


Nature is a delight to the senses

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), Essay on Nature, 1836, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 531

“First, the simple perception of natural forms is a delight. The influence of the forms and actions in nature, is so needful to man, that, in its lowest functions, it seems to lie on the confines of commodity and beauty. To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone. The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. In their eternal calm, he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough. But in other hours, Nature satisfies by its loveliness, and without any mixture of corporeal benefit. I see the spectacle of morning from the hill-top over against my house, from day-break to sun-rise, with emotions which an angel might share. The long slender bars of cloud float like fishes in the sea of crimson light. From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind. How does Nature deify us with a few and cheap elements! Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous”
America has embraced the idea that wild nature is a sublime esthetic experience

Jedediah Purdy (Associate Professor of Law, Duke University; Visiting professor, Yale Law School), The Politics of Nature: Restoring Democracy to Environmental Law. Duke Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 237, March 2009, Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1370646, accessed April 15, 2009, p. 13-14

“Between Governor Bradford’s Plymouth and Tocqueville’s Michigan, the same terms that Bradford applied to unwelcoming Massachusetts had become the keys to the aesthetic concept of the sublime. Sublimity, as Edmund Burke described it, arose in response to enormous power, vast size, and profound obscurity — whatever tended toward infinity. Arising from innate terror of death, it was literally overwhelming, a surrender of mental self-control to the power of encounter with nature’s extremes. Yet the sublime was, in its terror, ‘delightful,’ a kind of recreational awe, an experience of one’s own impending obliteration without the dire consummation. Immanuel Kant turned Burke’s account to a different end, claiming that the resistance the mind offered to sublimity’s terror provided a symbol of freedom, a hint of the noumenal will, which enabled rational beings to choose and legislate for themselves. Sublimity thus edified by inspiring rational independence from the same instinctual terror it excited. William Wordsworth sounded similar themes, describing sublime nature as both source and symbol of the potential sublimity of the mind. Vitality, moral knowledge, and spontaneous love all coursed through nature. Access to them was concentrated in the most spectacular places, and to find the mutual consummation of those currents with the corresponding forces in one’s own mind ‘alone is genuine liberty:/... one perpetual progress smooth and bright[.]’ In the United States, Ralph Waldo Emerson had proposed a view close to Kant’s and Wordsworth’s: the human mind and the natural world bodied forth the same organizing principles. To apprehend nature directly was to encounter one’s self in external form. That self-knowledge, in turn, enabled freedom of a certain sort: life lived only by the constraints indigenous to one’s own being. In Walden, Henry David Thoreau tried to perform what Emerson had urged, setting out a practice of attentiveness to nature’s places and processes as a path to self-awareness.” [Ellipsis and brackets in original text]
The ancients made Nature the foundation of moral thinking

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 109

Naturam sequi (follow Nature) was the fundamental principle of morals in many of the most admired schools of philosophy. Among the ancients, especially in the declining period of ancient intellect and thought, it was the test to which all ethical doctrines were brought.”
Reverence for nature is the keystone of ethics

Albert Schweitzer (European physician and humanitarian, 1875-1965), Civilization and Ethics, 1923, p. 255

“A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to help all life which he is able to succor, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred. He shatters no ice crystal that sparkles in the sun, tears no leaf from its tree, breaks off no flower, and is careful not to crush any insect as he walks.”
Religious leaders condemn human exploitation of nature

Rod Dreher (columnist at the Dallas Morning News), “The conscience of a carnivore,” The American Conservative, April 21, 2008, p. 31-32

“In his 1991 encylical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II condemned as ‘anthropological error’ the common modern assumption that human beings are free to exploit the natural world without respect to its ‘God-given’ purpose.”
Nature provides us with moral lessons

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), Essay on Nature, 1836, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 541

“It has already been illustrated, that every natural process is a version of a moral sentence. The moral law lies at the centre of nature and radiates to the circumference. It is the pith and marrow of every substance, every relation, and every process. All things with which we deal, preach to us. What is a farm but a mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects, sun, — it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of spring to the last stack which the snow of winter overtakes in the fields. But the sailor, the shepherd, the miner, the merchant, in their several resorts, have each an experience precisely parallel, and leading to the same conclusion: because all organizations are radically alike. Nor can it be doubted that this moral sentiment which thus scents the air, grows in the grain, and impregnates the waters of the world, is caught by man and sinks into his soul. The moral influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it illustrates to him.”
Actions in consonance with nature are generally good

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 110

“That any mode of thinking, feeling, or acting, is ‘according to nature’ is usually accepted as a strong argument for its goodness.”
Cooperation, not competition, is the hallmark of nature

Oren Harman (assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Program on Science Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University), “Nice Genes,” The New Republic, November 5, 2007, p. 51

“Wherever Kropotkin had looked in Siberia, he saw animals struggling together against the elements by sacrificing for each other and building societies of mutual aid. Wolves hunting in packs, horses forming defensive rings against predators, kittens huddling together to stay warm, selfless (and usually solitary) beetles coming together to bury the corpse of a small animal so that some of their kind might live off its decaying organic matter and lay their eggs within — all these made plain to Kropotkin what had escaped Malthus and Huxley and even Darwin himself: cooperation, not competition, was the rule of nature.”

[Reference is to Prince Pyotr Kropotkin, Russian political theorist 1942-1921]


Human survival requires respect for nature

Burke K. Zimmerman, Ph.D. (special assistant on policy to Director, National Institutes of Health; formerly resident scientist, U.S. House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment), Biofuture: Confronting the Genetic Era, 1984, p. 8

“If our survival — and, indeed, a purely constructive survival — is to determine our societal ethic, we must reject the arrogance of many human cultures and religions that view man as somehow apart from and superior to the rest of his environment. An inseparable element in man’s blueprint for survival, if he to prove himself a competent architect, must be respect, not contempt, for the remainder of the animals and plants and the immediate environment, as well as the recognition that we must live in harmony with them.”
Nature is as vital as humanity

Jackson Lears (Professor of History, Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief, Raritan Quarterly Review), “The Usefulness of Cranks,” The New Republic, October 7, 2009, p. 42

“The poet Gary Snyder puts the central issues in powerfully understated language: ‘where our civilization goes wrong is the mistaken belief that nature is something less than authentic, that nature is not as alive as man is, or as intelligent, that in a sense it is dead, and that animals are of so low an order of intelligence and feeling, we need not take their feelings into account.’”
Spinoza implicitly equates God and nature

Anthony Quinton (Chairman of the British Library) in The Great Philosophers, edited by Bryan Magee, 1987, p. 102

“I suppose it is because of God’s perfection that, in Spinoza’s view, nature cannot be understood as a passive byproduct of God’s activity. Nature is the totality of what there is, the most self-explanatory thing; and so, to a certain extent, it is a perfect being, the most perfect thing there could be; and therefore it deserves the name God. The only God Spinoza was prepared to countenance is a God who is identical with the whole array of natural things.” [reference is to Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, 1632-1677, also called Benedict Spinoza]
Some have even approved of the cruelty in nature

Tzvetan Todorov (Franco-Bulgarian philosopher, 1939-; visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities), “The Surrender to Nature,” The New Republic, April 27, 1998, p. 32

“But then a question arises: Is everything that is natural good? Sade gave an extreme answer: cruelty is natural, and therefore good; to kill is natural, and therefore good. It was an answer that was completely consistent with the premises of naturalism.”
The value given to nature is key to American civic identity

Jedediah Purdy (Associate Professor of Law, Duke University; Visiting professor, Yale Law School), The Politics of Nature: Restoring Democracy to Environmental Law. Duke Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 237, March 2009, Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1370646, accessed April 15, 2009, p. 55

“Ideas about the value of the natural world are and have always been integral to the repertoire of arguments by which Americans try to persuade one another of the character and implications of common commitments. How we understand nature is part of our civic identity. It has developed through interaction with changes in the other, better-trodden themes of American public language: national purpose, civic dignity, and the role and appropriate scale of government, to name those that have figured most prominently in this paper.”

Nature is bad


The attractiveness of nature is ultimately unsatisfying

Ralph Waldo Emerson (American transcendentalist philosopher, essayist, and poet, 1803-1882), “Nature” in Essays: Second Series, 1843, reprinted in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Black’s Readers Service: 1928, p. 274

“In like manner, there is throughout nature something mocking, something that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere; keeps no faith with us. All promise outruns the performance. We live in a system of approximations. Every end is prospective of some other end, which is also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. We are encamped in nature, not domesticated.”
We are constrained by natural law, but need not look to nature for moral guidance

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 113

“Man necessarily obeys the laws of nature, or in other words the properties of things, but he does not necessarily guide himself by them. Though all conduct is in conformity to the laws of nature, all conduct is not grounded on knowledge of them, and intelligently directed to attainment of purposes by means of them.”
To act according to nature denies all human innovation, even the simplest

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 114

“If the natural course of things were perfectly right and satisfactory, to act at all would be a gratuitous meddling, which as it could not make things better, must make them worse. Or if action at all could be justified, it would only be when in direct obedience to instincts, wince these might perhaps be accounted part of the spontaneous order of Nature; but to do anything with forethought and purpose, would be a violation of that perfect order. If the artificial is not better than the natural, to what end are all the arts of life? To dig, to plough, to build, to wear clothes, are direct infringements of the injunction to follow nature.”
Nature is cruel to humanity

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 119

“Nature impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations, and has hundreds of other hideous deaths in reserve, such as the ingenious cruelty of a Nabis or a Domitian never surpassed. All of this, Nature does with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy and of justice, emptying her shafts upon the best and noblest indifferently with the meanest and worst; upon those who are engaged in the highest and worthiest enterprises, and often as the direct consequence of the noblest acts; and it might often be imagined as punishment for them.”
Nature is guilty of monstrous crimes

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 119

“In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature’s everyday performances. Killing, the most criminal act recognized by human laws, Nature does once to every being that lives; and in a large proportion of cases, after protracted tortures such as only the greatest monsters whom we ever read of ever purposely inflicted on their living fellow-creatures.”
Nature is brutal and bloody

Bryan Magee (Senior Research Fellow in the History of Ideas, King’s College, London Univ.), The Great Philosophers, 1987, p. 222

“Animal nature is red in tooth and claw: at every moment of every day, in all five continents, thousands upon thousands of animals are tearing each other to pieces alive, devouring each other alive; the world of nature is a world of perpetual screaming.”
Pre-civilization societies are murderous and violent

James Q. Wilson (professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, professor emeritus at UCLA), The Moral Sense, 1993, p. 166

“Some people with a romanticized notion of primitive cultures imagine that before men were corrupted by civilization they lived in harmony with one another, but this is scarcely the case. One review of the archeological evidence suggests that in the state of nature, about one-quarter of all the human males died in fights, a rate of violent death that is about the same as the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon found to be true among Yagnomamo men now living in the Amazon basin.”
The state of nature allows for no security and no true ownership

Thomas Hobbes (British philosopher, 1588-1679), Leviathan, 1651, Part One, Chapter 13

Under a state of nature, without government: “And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only) endeavor to destroy or subdue one another. And from hence it comes to pass that where an invader hath no more to fear than another man’s single power, if one plant, sow, build, or possess a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossess and deprive him, not only of the fruit of his labor, but also of his life or liberty.”
The prescription to follow Nature leads to the horrors of de Sade

Peter Brooks (Sterling Prof. of Comparative Literature, Yale; formerly prof. in the Department of English and School of Law at the Univ. of Virginia), “Liberty, Equality, Pornography,” The New Republic, July 17-24, 1995, p. 52

“This tradition reaches a kind of paroxysm during the Revolution itself, in the Marquis de Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir, which interweaves the most outrageous sexual acts with disquisitions on morality and society and the need to make political revolution lead to a true revolution in sexuality and the psychic life. Sade’s greatest political tract, ‘Frenchmen, one further effort if you want to become republicans,’ is inserted during a pause in the erotic action. And the point is that it carries the same message as the continual violations of ‘normal’ sex: free yourself from convention, from inherited rules, from everything that is not found in ‘nature,’ which is ultimately a kind of non-principle, since nature permits everything and forbids nothing.”
If biology impels us toward a moral rule, the validity of that rule becomes dubious

Peter Singer (prof. of philosophy, Monash Univ., Australia), The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, 1981, p. 158

“Seeing that an ethical principle has a biological basis does not support that principle. If anything, it undermines it, by showing that its widespread acceptance is no evidence that it is some kind of absolute moral truth.”

Nature is neutral


How humanity relates to the concept of nature has been distorted for 300 years

Lucien Scubla (anthropologist, Honorary Professor of philosophy, and researcher at Centre de recherche en épistémologie appliquée [CREA] Ecole Polytechnique), “Nature, norms and democracy,” translated from the French by Jean Burrell, Diogenes, Fall 2002, p. 61

“An error that has been widespread for three centuries is the one that identifies the natural world with the extremely partial image of it that classical physics gives us. And so human beings seem either to be intruders in it whom we try vainly to ‘naturalize’ by reductionist methods, or else to be demigods with extraordinary technical powers that raise hopes or fears that are to a large extent illusory. Despite these unfortunate intellectual consequences our contemporaries find it extremely hard to rid themselves of this error, which is based on a mistaken interpretation of the revolution triggered by Galileo and Descartes. We make the mistake of thinking that this revolution entirely superseded Aristotle’s physics, where it merely destroyed his mechanics and the cosmology flowing from it.”
Since humans are part of nature, the advice to act according to Nature is a tautology

John Stuart Mill (British philosopher, 1806-1873), “Nature” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 112

“When it is asserted, or implied, that Nature, or the laws of Nature, should be conformed to, is the Nature which is meant, Nature in the first sense of the term, meaning all which is — the powers and properties of all things? But in this signification, there is no need of a recommendation to act according to nature, since it is what nobody can help doing, and equally whether he acts well or ill. There is no way of acting that is not conformable to Nature in this sense of the term, and all modes of acting are so in exactly the same degree.”
Nature is morally neutral

Joshua Halberstam (prof. of philosophy, New York Univ.), Everyday Ethics, 1993, p. 177

“Humans always act to change nature, sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their detriment. It’s natural for us to act this way. Nature is morally neutral. We are not.”
Nature is not properly a source of moral authority

Lorraine Daston (director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science; honorary professor at the Humboldt University, Berlin), “The Morality of Natural Orders: The Power of Medea,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Harvard University, November 6, 2002, p. 373; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/volume24/daston_2002.pdf, accessed April 30, 2008

“The milder form of this critique argues that nature does not qualify for moral agency, much less moral authority: nature neither deliberates nor dictates; the natural and the moral belong to different ontological categories. Even environmental ethicists who have argued that nature should be the object of moral solicitude have stopped short of making it the subject of moral authority.”
Nature provides no moral lessons

Michael Shermer (adjunct prof. of history of science, Occidental College), “The Unlikeliest Cult in History,” Skeptic, Vol. 2 Number 2 (1993), p. 81

“Morals do not exist in nature and thus cannot be discovered. In nature there are just actions — physical actions, biological actions, and human actions.”
Acts which are not natural are not automatically wrong

Peter Singer (prof. of philosophy, Monash Univ., Australia), The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, 1981, p. 69

“Obviously there are many things, from curing diseases to using saccharine, that are unnatural but not therefore wrong. Moreover, to argue that because something is unnatural it is wrong, is to argue from a fact to a value — a move which, for reasons I shall give in the following section, is invalid.”
Nature has both positive and negative effects on human life

Joshua Halberstam (prof. of philosophy, New York Univ.), Everyday Ethics, 1993, p. 176

“Nature sustains life, and we’d be foolish to disrupt a system that has been around for billions of years. But nature also destroys life, bringing us earthquakes, floods, and germs that cause slow, painful deaths. It would be suicidal to disrupt nature’s fine balance, but it also would be suicidal to become nature’s willing victims.”
Deriving moral rules from Nature is now obviously a dead end

Lorraine Daston (director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science; honorary professor at the Humboldt University, Berlin), “The Morality of Natural Orders: The Power of Medea,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Harvard University, November 6, 2002, p. 373; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/volume24/daston_2002.pdf, accessed April 30, 2008

“There are few Enlightenment projects that now seem more obsolete, even archaic, than the attempt to ground moral order upon natural order. Long before our current debates over evolutionary ethics and the morality of genetic technologies, philosophers found the appeals of Jacques Turgot, the Marquis de Condorcet, the Physiocrats, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many other lesser eighteenth-century lights to the moral authority of nature almost incomprehensible. Circa 1850 John Stuart Mill, for example, wrote that invocations of nature and the natural were among ‘the most copious sources of false taste, false philosophy, false morality, and even bad law.’”
It is not necessarily true that what is not natural is not moral

Joshua Halberstam (prof. of philosophy, New York Univ.), Everyday Ethics, 1993, p. 176

“What’s unnatural? Deviations from the norm? In that case, married couples who have sex more than three times a week — the average frequency — are engaged in unnatural and, therefore, immoral sexual behavior. People with IQ’s higher than 100 are statistically above average. Are they unnatural? Immoral? If unnatural means everything that isn’t found in nature, then T-shirts are unnatural, ice cream is unnatural, and so is a pair of eyeglasses. Are these artifices immoral?”

Environmentalism is ethically good


Environmentalism is fundamentally sound as a belief system

Freeman Dyson (professor of physics, Institute for Advanced Study), “The Question of Global Warming,” The New York Review of Books, June 12, 2008. Online: www.nybooks.com/articles/21494, accessed June 3, 2008

“Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists-most of whom are not scientists-holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay.”
In the emerging biocentric ethics, all living things have intrinsic value

Bart Gremmen (Director, Centre for Methodological Ethics and Technology Assessment and Associate professor in Ethics and Philosophy of Science & Technology, Wageningen University), “Genomics and the Intrinsic Value of Plants,” Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol. 1, No. 3 (December 2005), p. 2

“With the rise of environmental ethics at the end of the sixties the term intrinsic value was also applied to the so called ‘higher’ animals that also have a conscious awareness because they can experience pain. The claim that nature has intrinsic value is the cornerstone of environmental ethics. In the terminology of Henk Verhoog this second step in the development of the concept of intrinsic value is called zoo-centric ethics because humans only need to show respect to sentient animals. Verhoog argues that in the zoo-centric approach concepts developed in the anthropocentric tradition are extended to those animals that are closest to humans. In the zoo-centric view traditional animal husbandry violates the intrinsic value of animals, but it is also in this view impossible for plant genomics to violate the intrinsic value of plants because plants are not sentient animals. The third step in the development of the concept of intrinsic value, the biocentric view, is an enlargement of the domain of intrinsic value to all living beings. In the biotic view intrinsic value is an absolute value, without degrees, and not connected to subjective human experience. This means that all activities of traditional agriculture violate the intrinsic value of all living beings in those activities.”

Environmentalism is ethically weak


Radical environmentalism demeans people

Phillip W. De Vous (Public Policy Manager at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan), “The Moral Case for Human Ingenuity: Protecting Human Dignity and Promoting Public Health and Safety” in The Wages of Fear: The Costs to Society of Attacks on the Products of Human Ingenuity, The Lexington Institute: August 2002, p. 15-16

“So as not to unfairly single out just the organized environmental lobby groups as the sole purveyors of this anti-human ideology, a few examples of those within the theological academy deserve a mention. Theologians are not immune from the radically antihuman portrait painted by the radical environmental establishment. In the estimation of Fr. Sean McDonagh, for example, humans appear as a ‘cancer on the rest of the biosphere.’ Not to be outdone in making outrageous claims, Fr. Thomas Berry asserts in an article that humans are a ‘demonic presence.’ While such outrageous assertions would fit nicely at a Green Party summit, they are not representative of orthodox Christian anthropology — to say the least. Sadly, the cumulative effect of this extremist rhetoric has been the systematic desensitization of policy makers to the absolute worth, dignity, and creativity of the human person. In such a desensitized environment it has become possible to regard people of whom one personally disapproves as a low or degenerate form of life. Logically, the drastic solutions necessary to deal with the ‘problem’ of ‘those’ people in relationship to the inviolable ‘natural environment’ seem acceptable. I am afraid that on many fronts, most especially within the realm of public health, such a situation is upon us. The broad coalition of radical environmental lobbyists, leftist religious leaders, and green politicians have succeeded in dislodging the preservation and defense of human dignity as a primary driving force in national public policy debate.”
The environmental movement’s attitudes frustrate attempts to solve crisis conditions

Jedediah Purdy (Associate Professor of Law, Duke University; Visiting professor, Yale Law School), The Politics of Nature: Restoring Democracy to Environmental Law. Duke Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 237, March 2009, Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1370646, accessed April 15, 2009, p. 2-3

“The second conventional assumption is that ‘environmentalism,’ which we might otherwise imagine as a source of such values, is unhelpful in significant ways. In one account, environmentalism comprises an essentially negative politics: suspicious of human agency, always on the defensive against incursions into natural systems, and temperamentally associated with sacrifice, austerity, and guilt. It is athwart, or at best apart from, the projects of progress and justice. In another, frequently overlapping view, environmentalism is nostalgic and ontologically naïve, inseparably attached to an essential ‘nature’ which environmentalists insistently contrast with the intruding human species. In the face of problems on the scale of climate change, the argument goes, a negative and defensive stance cannot inspire the public energy and commitment that might drive a political response. Similarly, a politics premised on a nostalgic contrast between human beings and the natural world is conceptually rudderless in the face of the thorough interpenetration and mutual constitution of people and the planet. This holds most markedly of climate change, in which human action and natural systems have joined in irreversible symbiosis.”
Environmentalism challenges both progress and anthropocentrism

Jackson Lears (Professor of History, Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief, Raritan Quarterly Review), “The Usefulness of Cranks,” The New Republic, October 7, 2009, p. 36

“Previous naturalists, from William Bartram to Thomas Jefferson, may have distrusted cities but rarely drew a bead on modernity itself. They were men of the Enlightenment, believers in progress. Thoreau was not. He questioned the fundamental American faith, and became the first of many environmental writers to risk being labeled a tree-hugging wacko. His intellectual progeny include John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, and Robinson Jeffers, among others — outsiders who have challenged utilitarian definitions of well-being and indeed the very notion of a human-centered cosmos. This is the critique, the philosophical standpoint, at the core of ecological thought; and part of its strength derives from its crankiness, its refusal to compromise with the common sense of the larger society.”
Emotional appeals to environmentalism now promote shallow liberalism

Charles R. Kesler (Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College; editor, Claremont Review of Books; editor, Signet Classic edition of The Federalist Papers), “The New New Deal,” Imprimis, May-June 2010, p. 7

“And, of course, he [President Barack Obama] is never so much a citizen of the world as when defending the world’s environment against mankind’s depredations, and perhaps especially America’s depredations. In general, the emotionalist defense of the earth — think of Al Gore — is now a vital part of the liberalism of our day. It’s a kind of substitute for earlier liberals’ belief in progress.”

Environmental management fails


Commitment to environmentalism is shallow

Jackson Lears (Professor of History, Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief, Raritan Quarterly Review), “The Usefulness of Cranks,” The New Republic, October 7, 2009, p. 34

“In contemporary public discourse, concern for ‘the environment’ is a mile wide and an inch deep. Even free-market fundamentalists strain to display their ecological credentials, while corporations that sell fossil fuels genuflect at the altar of sustainability. Everyone has discovered how nice it is to be green”
America has too easily forgotten its commitment to environmentalism

Jackson Lears (Professor of History, Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief, Raritan Quarterly Review), “The Usefulness of Cranks,” The New Republic, October 7, 2009, p. 34

“After all, we have been here before. The pragmatic, ethical, and aesthetic arguments for conservation are roughly the same as they were in the 1970s — the only difference being that they have acquired even more urgency in the face of depleted oil reserves, fished-out oceans, and ‘climate change,’ the current euphemism for global warming. Yet contemporary politicians and pundits treat green concerns as if they were fresh discoveries. Their amnesia is an understandable response to recent history. For the last thirty years — despite the absorption of environmentalist slogans and sentiments into our popular culture, the frequent legal skirmishes on behalf of endangered species, and the spread of serious ecological thought into many academic disciplines - broad environmental concerns all but disappeared from mainstream political debate. Noble green intentions left little impact on everyday life. Quite the contrary: for most Americans it was as if the 1970s — the decade of the ‘energy crisis,’ Small Is Beautiful, and presidential commitments to solar energy — never happened.”
Pollution-control legislation has been too inflexible and has ignored market realities

Jedediah Purdy (Associate Professor of Law, Duke University; Visiting professor, Yale Law School), The Politics of Nature: Restoring Democracy to Environmental Law. Duke Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 237, March 2009, Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1370646, accessed April 15, 2009, p. 46

“The regulatory devices of the anti-pollution statutes were rigid: deadlines, emission limits, uniform permits. The drafters and sponsors of the statutes, however, seem to have imagined this rigidity as a way of pressing forward a fluid process: the country’s adoption, definition, and pursuit of new commitments. This project was fluid in empirics, engaging the question of just what could technology and civic mobilization could accomplish, and normatively, asking what it meant to acknowledge the moral importance of the natural world. Legislators rejected more flexible instruments because they understood those as tending to fix values that were in flux and neglecting the novelty and importance of the commitments the country was undertaking. In hindsight, these objections seem to rest on false binaries and an unsophisticated sense of the reach and power of market-based instruments. In one sense this is plainly true: no such inhibitions meaningfully constrain today’s discussions of climate change, in which environmental values and market instruments figure as mutually reinforcing. Nonetheless, efficiency is an instrumental quality, necessarily relative to purposes. The public power of arguments that an instrument fails to achieve its ends efficiently is partly relative to the recognized importance of those ends. In this respect, the criticism of the anti-pollution statutes takes some of its force from the very features that the drafters believed they were defending in rejecting more market-based instruments.”
Capitalism and consumer culture are deadly foes of environmentalism

Jackson Lears (Professor of History, Rutgers University; Editor-in-Chief, Raritan Quarterly Review), “The Usefulness of Cranks,” The New Republic, October 7, 2009, p. 35

“This need to recognize limits and loss is what makes serious thinking about ecology so difficult for Americans. With respect to our secular religion of progress, ecological thought is deeply sacrilegious. By insisting on the interdependence of the human and nonhuman worlds, it challenges the sacred tenets of commodity civilization - the drive toward mastery of nature, the obsession with economic productivity, the deep utilitarianism that dismisses spiritual and aesthetic concerns as mere decoration and defines human advance as more things for more people. Consider how often ‘housing starts’ are listed as an index of economic health, and how directly this reveals the American version of creative destruction: not renovating housing stock but making a mess and moving on, gobbling up land as we go.”

The environment must be managed for human needs


The U.S. viewpoint has been that ownership best guarantees custodianship of natural resources

Jedediah Purdy (Associate Professor of Law, Duke University; Visiting professor, Yale Law School), The Politics of Nature: Restoring Democracy to Environmental Law. Duke Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 237, March 2009, Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1370646, accessed April 15, 2009, p. 11-12

“A signal exception highlights the rule. Congressional discussion of Yellowstone National park, established in 1872, and the 1864 Congressional grant of Yosemite Valley to California ‘for public use, resort, and recreation,’ involves places that are today’s paradigms of public-minded preservation. In these debates, even defenders of the parks treated them as anomalies in a general practice of use and disbursement, and the aesthetic value they associated with the parks was much narrower than later Romantic ideas. In an 1883 debate over administration and funding of Yellowstone, the threshold issue was whether any portion of federal public lands should remain in government hands or, as Senator Ingalls of Kansas put it, ‘The best thing that the Government could do with the Yellowstone National Park is to survey it and sell it as other public lands are sold.’ Ingalls’s position was a representative fragment of the general view that government’s role was to disburse public lands to citizens and corporations that would use them productively.”
American environmentalism is premised on management, not untouched nature

Jedediah Purdy (Associate Professor of Law, Duke University; Visiting professor, Yale Law School), The Politics of Nature: Restoring Democracy to Environmental Law. Duke Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper Series No. 237, March 2009, Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1370646, accessed April 15, 2009, p. 48

“Neither the utilitarian nor the Romantic strain of American environmentalism has relied on an essential idea of undisturbed nature. Even the leaders of the wilderness movement, who would seem the most promising targets of this charge, explicitly proposed to manage nature for a specific kind of landscape and experience.”

Humans have a duty to preserve animal species


Man has a special duty to perfect and improve nature

Adam Schulman (Tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis; Senior Research Consultant at the President’s Council on Bioethics), “Bioethics and the Question of Human Dignity,” in Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics, 2008, p. 8

“One part of that dignity, suggested by the Book of Genesis, has to do with the special position of man in the natural world: within that realm man is like God not only in having stewardship or dominion over all things, but also because he alone can comprehend the whole and he alone concerns himself with the good of the whole. In light of this suggestion, ‘being made in God’s image’ could even be taken to imply a special responsibility on our part to perfect nature in order to finish God’s creation.”
In the emerging biocentric ethics, all living things have intrinsic value

Bart Gremmen (Director, Centre for Methodological Ethics and Technology Assessment and Associate professor in Ethics and Philosophy of Science & Technology, Wageningen University), “Genomics and the Intrinsic Value of Plants,” Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol. 1, No. 3 (December 2005), p. 2

“With the rise of environmental ethics at the end of the sixties the term intrinsic value was also applied to the so called ‘higher’ animals that also have a conscious awareness because they can experience pain. The claim that nature has intrinsic value is the cornerstone of environmental ethics. In the terminology of Henk Verhoog this second step in the development of the concept of intrinsic value is called zoo-centric ethics because humans only need to show respect to sentient animals. Verhoog argues that in the zoo-centric approach concepts developed in the anthropocentric tradition are extended to those animals that are closest to humans. In the zoo-centric view traditional animal husbandry violates the intrinsic value of animals, but it is also in this view impossible for plant genomics to violate the intrinsic value of plants because plants are not sentient animals. The third step in the development of the concept of intrinsic value, the biocentric view, is an enlargement of the domain of intrinsic value to all living beings. In the biotic view intrinsic value is an absolute value, without degrees, and not connected to subjective human experience. This means that all activities of traditional agriculture violate the intrinsic value of all living beings in those activities.”

Humans have, at best, a limited obligation to other animal species


Preserving ecosystems means cruel treatment to individual animals

Brendan Borrell (correspondent for The Scientist; freelance science writer), “The Sea Lion and the Salmon: Should we murder one to save the other?” Slate, May 29, 2008. Online: www.slate.com/id/2192362/pagenum/all/#page_start, Accessed May 30, 2008

“The dream of conservation is to restore the natural world to a time before forests were felled, rivers were poisoned, and species were exterminated. American naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote that ‘the land is one organism,’ implying that Mother Earth has a dignity all her own. But to preserve these ecosystems, conservationists must trample the rights of individual animals. An avid hunter, Leopold himself saw no conflict between killing and conservation. Today, wildlife managers prop up species in decline while mandating population control among those that have become too successful. Totalitarian measures that would be shunned in human society — hazing, mass sterilization, forced relocation, and sometimes genocide — are all part of the conservationist’s toolbox. I consider myself green-minded, but I can’t accept the idea that we should sacrifice compassion to save every single species on the planet.”
Conservation ethics must examine the consequences of actions

Brendan Borrell (correspondent for The Scientist; freelance science writer), “The Sea Lion and the Salmon: Should we murder one to save the other?” Slate, May 29, 2008. Online: www.slate.com/id/2192362/pagenum/all/#page_start, Accessed May 30, 2008

“A sound conservation ethic cannot be based exclusively on a vague principle of biodiversity or the sanctity of the natural world. Instead, it must respect the interests of sentient beings. We have to ask ourselves if saving salmon will lead to the greatest good for the greatest number, or if the pain inflicted by trapping and killing sea lions year after year will overwhelm whatever greater good is done for our planet.”
Weighing the contrasting rights of different animals seems beyond man’s ability

Brendan Borrell (correspondent for The Scientist; freelance science writer), “The Sea Lion and the Salmon: Should we murder one to save the other?” Slate, May 29, 2008. Online: www.slate.com/id/2192362/pagenum/all/#page_start, Accessed May 30, 2008

“First off, the public — and the legal system — are not so quick to dismiss animal rights. Last year, James Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society, faced up to two years of jail time on charges of animal cruelty after shooting a cat that he believed was killing endangered piping plovers. Indeed, according to the National Audubon Society, feral cats kill hundreds of millions of native birds and small animals in the United States each year and are second only to the loss of wilderness in causing species extinctions. Does that mean the cat’s painful death was worth less than its incremental contribution to the loss of bird species? Apparently flummoxed by this question of environmental ethics, the jury deadlocked-and prosecutors have decided not to retry the case.”
Weighing the competing claims of species is even a greater challenge

Brendan Borrell (correspondent for The Scientist; freelance science writer), “The Sea Lion and the Salmon: Should we murder one to save the other?” Slate, May 29, 2008. Online: www.slate.com/id/2192362/pagenum/all/#page_start, Accessed May 30, 2008



“The conservationist accepts death and suffering as a natural product of the competition for resources. But faith in free-market biology doesn’t always lead to laissez faire environmental policies. In order to preserve biodiversity, the conservationist might intervene to promote the welfare of one species over another, on the grounds that not all animals are created equal. The Edge of Existence program of the Zoological Society of London combines two scores — extinction risk and evolutionary distinctness — to prioritize species that will maximize the genetic diversity of life on Earth. Screw the Beluga whale (No. 272); we need to save the Cuban solenodon (No. 2)!”




Prager’s LD Vault: Nature · Revised July 2010 · © 2010 John R. Prager


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