An Exploration of Natural Axiology

Ernest Partridge

A Revision of the Second Hulings Lecture,
Northland College, May 3, 1996.


I -- The Devaluation of Nature


Philosophy is a battle against the
bewitchment of our intelligence...

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The essential question of this essay is simply this: Is there value in nature, apart from its obvious "uses" to us?

I dare say that most of my students would regard the question, "is there value in nature?," as absurd. Of course there is value in nature! My own feelings and intuitions as well as those of most environmental scholars and activists, compel agreement with that sentiment. We believe that nature is valuable in itself, because we can clearly "see" that value is simply "out there" to be seen and enjoyed! Might as well ask someone if he really believes he is in pain, or in love, or if he really enjoys reading a certain book. The immediacy of perceiving value in a great painting, or in a loved one, or in a magnificent landscape is so compelling that justification seems redundant, and perhaps even demeaning.

So why should I even raise the question. Because affirming a belief or a sentiment is quite different than justifying it -- even beliefs that seem "too obvious to require argument." Moreover, those very sentiments which seem "too obvious to be seriously doubted," should for that very reason warn us to be cautious. History gives us many examples of unworthy enthusiasms accepted uncritically, such as big game hunting and gladiator contests. The history of humanity would have been much brighter if more people had given critical attention to their enthusiastic hatred of people of other races, creeds, and culture, or their enthusiastic endorsement of political saviors like Napoleon and Hitler.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, for many individuals there is no apparent intrinsic value in nature apart from its uses and its yield of resources. Furthermore, such individuals are all too often these are people of great wealth and power -- people quite capable of destroying that which is cherished by others. Witness some members of the 104th Congress. Moreover, there is a body of philosophical thought and scientific practice, extending back to the Renaissance, which endorses this dismissal of value in nature. This view is so strong and so pervasive in our cultural fabric, that even those who affirm the intrinsic value of nature do so in a cultural and historical context of thought and practice that is inconsistent with this affirmation.

My theme can be stated rather simply: that western thought since the Renaissance has devalued nature as we have regarded nature more as a storehouse of resources and less as a source of wonder, mystery, to be cherished and loved. All this as humanity has objectified nature and pulled itself away from nature in thought and action. My two-fold purpose is first to indicate, by an historical survey, how western science and scholarship (and through them, much of our "common sense" notions), has come to devalue nature -- i.e., to remove the category of "evaluation" out of nature. I will then suggest how we might reinstall value in our natural world-view, yet in a way that is consistent with modern science.

We begin with some fundamental definitions: first of all, "nature".

By "nature" I mean processes in the physical and biotic universe that occur apart from and independent of human intervention, also the landscapes, ecosystems and entities that result from these processes. There is a popular sophistry among some engineers, economists and politicians that dismisses this definition by pointing out that homo sapiens is a natural species, and thus that everything produced by humans is also natural. This ploy eradicates the essential distinction between the natural and the artificial, by denoting everything in our experience as "nature." But this is mere word play. The distinction between things of human and of non-human origin -- whatever words we choose to denote it -- is essential to an understanding of the plight we now face. Consider some examples:

NATURAL --------------- ARTIFICIAL

Old-grown Forest ------    Tree Farm
Wild Animals------------    Pets and Livestock
Prairie---------------------    Iowa Cornfield
Lake----------------------     Reservoir

Regarding "value in nature," we must make an important distinction. No doubt, the modern Western world "values" nature, but as a storehouse of resources -- what philosophers call an extrinsic value. But this extrinsic "resource value" has been accomplished at the cost of intrinsic value -- value which is found in cherished in nature as nature. Those who value nature intrinsically, describe that valuation in terms of respect, reverence, restraint, and love. To value nature intrinsically, is to value nature for what it is, not for what it can do or supply for us.

These two modes of evaluation -- intrinsic and extrinsic -- are often at odds with each other. Those who cherish nature intrinsically forego the values to be gained by its exploitation. Only a person or corporation devoid of respect for nature can freely plunder the earth. If we protect a forest wilderness, we give up lumber and cropland. A parent can exploit a child as a resource by putting her to work earning a wage, or he can love protect and nourish her mind and spirit; but he can't have it both ways. In like manner, we come to love and respect nature less, as we have exploited it more. In fact, that very diminution of intrinsic value may be an essential prerequisite to our exploitation.

How has all this come about?

The world of the late middle ages was, of course, an ecclesiastical world, saturated with the theology of Christianity, and the "science" of the time (loosely so-called) was the "science" of Aristotle. The marriage of this secular and sacred odd couple was performed by St. Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, following the restoration of Aristotle's texts to Western scholarship, from the Arabs. (An profound debt, little acknowledged these days).

To the church fathers, this was a sanctified world, in which, as the Greeks had taught, value was written into the very structure and function of nature. Genesis tells us that after each phase of creation, "God said, 'It is good!'" For the believing Christian, this was all that was required to affirm the value of nature.

For Aristotle, the place of value in nature was equally secure, if somewhat more subtle. To Aristotle, all events were explicable in terms of "four causes:" efficient, material, formal and final. For example, in the case of the construction of a house:

efficient: Action upon a substance. (Carpenters, Masons, etc.)

material: The substance acted upon. (Lumber, Masonry, Wires, etc.)

formal: The universal qualities exemplified. (The Architects Plans)

final: The end toward which the action is drawn. (A Residence)

In that fourth "cause," the final, is found Aristotle's linkage of value to the natural world. Aristotle's ethics is saturated with this concept of "final cause." He describes the "virtuous life" as a life in which the fullest potentials of human nature are realized. When Aristotle asks, "What is the Good for man?," he indicates that we can only answer that question by asking further, "What is a man good for?" -- that is to say, what is his "natural function," his fulfillment, his "end," his final cause. Generally, to find the value in nature, ask yourself: "how does nature actualize the potentiality in a process," or in other words, what is the "final cause" toward which the process is tending? Processes moving toward this fulfillment are valuable as they are, at the same time, "natural."

Very ennobling, but alas, also very sterile and uninformative.

To call this a "science" is to use that word in the most generous sense. It is a "science" that does not predict, does not accumulate into a coherent structure, and which is devoid of a clear mode of experimentation and verification. It is a "science" of qualities, not of quantities, much less of mathematical rigor. It is no wonder that no technology of note issued forth from Aristotelian science.

Consider, for example, the following Aristotelian "explanations:"

Rocks fall because they are "seeking the Earth's center."

Opium induces sleep, because it contains a "dormative principle." (Translation: because it contains something that puts one to sleep).

Why does an acorn become an oak tree? Because an oak tree is the actualization of the potentiality inherent in an acorn.

This difficulty arises from that fact that while this four-fold analysis is clearly applicable to artifice -- things of human origin, with a purpose (final cause) devised according to plan (formal cause) -- with regard to natural events, the analysis seems pointlessly complicated, and even circular. Thus "final" and "formal" causes turn out to be, not explanations of nature, but rather the results of inquiry into nature. For example, what does it mean to say that the "final cause" of an acorn is the "actualized" oak tree, other than the fact that we have discovered that acorns that managed to avoid encounters with squirrels generally grow into oak trees.

It was only with the abandonment of "final causes" that modern science broke free of such medieval/classical confinements.

Modern science escapes such embarrassments by confining its explanations to "efficient causes" -- i.e., natural events are explained in terms of antecedent and concurrent conditions, without reference to future "fulfillments" or "actualizations" toward which these events are allegedly drawn. Ours is a science of "hows," not of "whys" -- of "pushes" from the past rather than "pulls" toward the future.

Thus it became clear to the early post-Renaissance scientists that we could only begin to understand nature if we "objectified" it. And this meant that we would have to separate ourselves from nature as we became systematic spectators thereof. Following this radical reorientation of methodology, scientific progress was inevitable: no inquisition could stop it, and in the end, none did.

Meanwhile, among the philosophers of the time, a separation of humanity from nature was made complete by Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who boldly proposed that the known world was divided into two fundamentally independent substances: mind (res cogitans) and matter (res extensa). All that is noteworthy in human existence our thoughts, our emotions, our aspirations -- reside in the spaceless realm of the mind. "Out there" in extended space is mere "stuff" in motion, so devoid of spirit that even animals, however "lively" they may appear to us, are merely biotic machines, without awareness or feeling. "Nature" is reduced to a stage on which we "strut and fret" but otherwise are not significantly involved.

We should thus not be surprised to find that from such a frame of mind, Francis Bacon (1561 1626) should be moved to instruct us on how to put our minds to work, utilizing nature to our ends. True, Bacon told us that nature cannot be commanded, except through obedience. (Naturae enim no imperatur, nisi parendo). But clearly, his mind was set less on obedience than on command.

And so, through the development of early modern philosophy, and the concomitant development of modern science, the Cartesian bifurcation of mind and matter, of subject and object, of knower and known, continued and elaborated. In science the subjective, first-person "I" has been systematically eliminated, as attention has been drawn to the observation and measurement of the objects and phenomena "out there."(1)

To the English empiricists, Locke, Berkeley and Hume, the attempt to construct nature from experience becomes progressively desperate as that construction is attempted from the point of view of the subject-spectator of Descartes' "thinking substance." Finally, this attempt reaches its dead-end in the hands of David Hume, as knowledge is reduced to a mere "flux of impression," and even the mind itself dissolves into that flux.

Note that I have said little about values here. There is good reason for this. The period of which I speak, namely the 17th and 18th centuries, was an era in western philosophy in which ethics was in eclipse. None of the aforementioned philosophers, Descartes, Locke, and Berkeley were noteworthy for their contributions to moral philosophy. Hume is an exception, as we shall shortly see.

When David Hume reduced human knowledge to either the association of ideas drawn from experience (he called these "matters of fact"), or conventions of definition ("relations of ideas"), there was no place left in the realm of reason or of objective nature for values. Morality, said Hume, reduces to expression of "sentiment," and "the ultimate ends of human actions can never ... be accounted for by reason, but recommend themselves entirely to the sentiments and affections of mankind."(2) Thus he concluded, in his justly famous remark, that "reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions."(3) Thus, anticipating a doctrine that would become prominent in the ethical theory of our century, Hume proclaimed the total independence of values from our knowledge of "natural facts" -- of "is-statements" from "ought statements."

Roused from his "dogmatic slumbers" by Hume's skeptical challenge, Immanuel Kant mounted a magnificent attempt to rescue morality and ethics, which he found, not in nature, but through the abstracted exercise of pure reflection. "Two things fill me with awe" he wrote, "the starry heavens above and the moral law within." But while Kant believed that "the moral law within" might testify to the magnificence of God, he insisted that this moral law was purely formal and "categorical" (without exceptions). The consequences in the physical world of the acts that issued from Kantian moral imperatives, had no value significance whatever: "do what is right, though the world perish!" Clearly Kantian ethics is totally disconnected from any putative "values in nature."

The 19th century was the century of Charles Darwin, and thus saw a quantum leap in the life sciences, and in particular the establishment of the foundations of what would later become the science of Ecology. The century also saw a renewed interest in moral philosophy, first in response to Kant's momentous work, and later with the emergence of the utilitarian movement.

The English utilitarians, Bentham and Mill, had the good sense not to attempt to construct an ethics "from the ground up" on the model of geometric logic, as Spinoza had done. Neither did they feel that moral philosophy would have to be put on hold, pending the completion of a comprehensive metaphysical world-view, (which means, in effect, deferred forever). Instead, they simply took humankind as they found it -- bundled with passions, aspirations, and satisfactions, familiar to us all. With these common-sense ingredients, they then sought the formulae for completely fulfilled lives, for the greatest number of individuals. However, as their very name suggests, the utilitarians focused their attention on the welfare of humans, or at most sentient animals in general. Nature was thus regarded as the means for this fulfillment. There was little inclination to find intrinsic natural values here.

This practical approach to ethics was enthusiastically accepted by the American pragmatists, C. S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. When asked, "where does one start with philosophy?," Peirce replied, "one starts from where one finds himself." The contrast with the "ground-floor foundationalism" of Descartes and the British empiricists could not have been more complete.

But if we begin our philosophical quest with the acquired subjective baggage of cultural bias, personal taste, and individual aspiration, how do we escape the inarticulate Babel of radical relativism? How, that is to say, can there be a community of beliefs and values? The pragmatists reply that our a shared fund of knowledge and value arises from the face that we are fundamentally social creatures, with shared culture and language, a shared refined method of inquiry called "science," a shared genome, all facing a single objective reality, "nature," upon which our separate perspective, concerns, and activities converge. Finally, we share a need to survive and flourish, which we can only accomplish communally. And this is quite enough "resource" with which to build a common morality. But note once again, how in this scheme we approach nature with our survival needs, and thus we impose our values upon nature.

The tone and focus of much twentieth century moral philosophy was greatly influenced by the publication, in 1903, of George Edward Moore's Principia Ethica. In his Principia, Moore argued that goodness can be "intuited" in particular things, but not perceived as a "natural quality." His positive theory, "non-natural utilitarianism," is obscure, and quite frankly, not very important, since it has few if any adherents today. However, his critical contributions to moral philosophy have been of lasting significance -- in particular, his critical concept of "the naturalistic fallacy." Briefly, Moore pointed out that when we say of some "X", "X is good," no amount of elaboration of the natural qualities of X can "capture" the meaning of "good." For example, while the hedonists claim that "pleasure is good," it still makes perfect sense to ask: "well, this is pleasurable alright, but is it good?" That question is what Moore calls "open," indicating that "pleasure" does not define goodness. And because "pleasure" does not define goodness, there is obviously some additional meaning to be found in the concept of "good." And that meaning can not be defined in terms of "natural" (i.e., empirical) qualities.

Moore's "open question argument" is an important supplement to a simple logical rule that goes back to Aristotle, and which was forcefully reiterated by David Hume: namely, that in a deductive argument, no term can be introduced in the conclusion that is missing from the premises. Applied to ethics, this means no amount of facts will suffice to imply a value -- "no ought from an is" -- unless, that is, the "value concepts" in the premises can somehow be defined in terms of factual concepts. Moore's "open question argument," if successful, forecloses that option.

Since the publication of Moore's Principia Ethica, the term "naturalistic fallacy" has come to have a broader meaning; namely, that empirical information from science and ordinary experience can not, by itself, suffice to validate fact claims. "The naturalistic fallacy" is conspicuous in attempts to find value in cost-benefit analysis, in public opinion polling, and in the history of ideas.(4) If Moore (along with Aristotle, Hume and countless others) is right, such attempts are logically doomed to failure.

The significance of the naturalistic fallacy to environmental ethics can not be over stressed, for it suggests nothing less than the absence of values in nature. Accordingly, the naturalistic fallacy may well presents the most formidable challenge for this essay -- and indeed, perhaps the most formidable challenge for environmental ethics itself.

Moore's work typified a pre-occupation, in Anglo-American philosophy (and much philosophy on the continent), with "analysis" -- so much so that our century has often been called "The Age of Analysis." By "analysis" I mean the identification of the smallest component parts of a system, and the patterns of their external relations.(5) These include systems built up from fundamental components (i.e., "atoms") of knowledge, of experience, of meaning, of will, and of value. This notion that knowledge consists of the identification of component parts and their modes of relation, has dominated contemporary science and philosophy.

I am referring here to developments in recent philosophy that are extremely technical, complicated and obscure -- developments which, many complain with some justification, "took all the fun out of Philosophy!" Thus I cannot even begin to present more than a sketch of these ideas. Suffice to say that in the hand of such brilliant analysts as Bertrand Russell, and the school of philosophy known as Logical Positivism, philosophy was regarded as an attempt to construct knowledge and language "from the elements" of experience and meaning, as combined in an explicated "artificial logical language." And in a variant school, known as "phenomenology," knowledge was to be constructed through a meticulous examination of the basic "givens" of our experience.

But once again we must ask, how on earth can we find "value" in all of this, much less an intrinsic value in the nature from which we originated, and by which we are sustained? Where else, say the analysts, but in "the elements"? And as the analysts attempt to find value in nature, the best they can do is find it in individual subjective experience: in the emotions, say the Positivists, and in radical will, say the existentialists. As for that first view, the "emotive theory of value," consider the following observation of the English positivist, A. J. Ayer:

If I say to someone, "you acted wrongly in stealing that money," I am not stating anything more than if I had simply said, "You stole that money." In adding that this action is wrong I am not making any further statement about it. I am simply evincing my moral disapproval of it. It is as if I had said, "You stole that money," in a peculiar tone of horror, or written it with the addition of some special exclamation marks. The tone, or the exclamation marks, adds nothing to the literal meaning of the sentence. It merely serves to show that the expression of it is attended by certain feelings in the speaker.

. . . In saying that a certain type of action is right or wrong, I am not making any factual statement, not even a statement about my own state of mind. I am merely expressing certain moral sentiments. And the man who is ostensibly contradicting me is merely expressing his moral sentiments. So that there is plainly no sense in asking which of us is in the right.(6)

Now taste the flavor of "radical will," from the atheistic existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre:

The existentialist ... thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it...

If God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses.

That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free.(7)

In sum, don't look to nature for value: it is only in ourselves -- in our emotions, say the positivists, or in our radical will, say the existentialists.

The implications of all his for scientific inquiry seems both unavoidable and momentous: don't look to the content of science for value in nature, since the very rules and the language of scientific inquiry forbid the articulation of values. Science seeks to understand "what is the case," and on that basis observes, classifies, predicts, verifies and accumulates its fund of facts and theories. The vocabulary of ethics with its "oughts and shoulds," "goods and bads," "rights and wrongs," is by rule, excluded from the content of science. That being so, we should not be surprised to find value absent in the strictly scientific view of nature. In science, the devaluation of nature, and our alienation therefrom, is complete. Nothing has been accomplished to restore value to natural science since Descartes divorced humanity and its aspirations from the physical world.

How have we come to this pass? By way of summary, I would like to identify three fundamental presuppositions and methods that have been primarily responsible for the devaluation of nature in post-Renaissance Western Philosophy. These "strategic bewitchments" as I like to call them, are: (a) Reductive Analysis, (b) The Egocentric Perspective, and (c) Objectification.

All three of these "betwitchments" have issued from the seemingly sensible scruple on the part of philosophers, that they begin their inquiries with that which is most immediate, most familiar and most certain: and this means, our immediate unanalyzed and unqualified experience, or what Descartes called "clear and distinct ideas." From this solid and secure standpoint, we then move "outward" by careful logical steps to "construct" our knowledge of an external world and of human communities.

(A) Reductive analysis. This first "bewitchment" was set down by Descartes, in his Discourse on Method, wherein he resolved

. .. to divide each ... difficulty ... into as many parts as possible ... [and then] ... to direct my thoughts in an orderly manner, by beginning with the simplest and most easily known objects in order to ascend little by little, step by step to knowledge of the most complex.(8)

To the reductive analyst, then, knowledge consists of assembling these "simples," by explicit modes of association, into complexes. But the primary reality resides in the "simples," of which the "complexes" are derivative. From this mode of inquiry comes "reductionism," or what one British wit called "nothing buttery;" as in "reality is 'nothing but' matter in motion," or "thought is 'nothing but' cogitating motions" (Thomas Hobbes), or "human behavior is 'nothing but' the results of contingencies of reinforcement" (B. F. Skinner), or "There is no such thing as society, there are individual men and women, and there are families" (Margaret Thatcher).(9)

It should surprise us, therefore, to discover that "reductionism" is not congenial to the holistic "ecological point of view."

B). The Egocentric Perspective: Early modern philosophy has built its systems of thought, not only from parts to whole, but also "from the inside out;" which is to say, from the immediate experience of the subject, to the "outside" world which is presumably the source of these experiences. This approach to knowledge has produced, in such giants as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Kant, philosophies that are remarkably egocentric and anthropocentric.

C). Objectification. The mainstream of post-Renaissance philosophy, and the science which developed from, and concomitantly with, this philosophy, has insisted that nature can not be known unless our methods of approaching nature are cut down to manageable size, and involve rules that can be clearly articulated, and still better, quantified.. Primary among these rules is the insistence that the task of science is that of finding the facts, laws and theories of nature -- that is to say, to discover "that which is the case" in nature. An elaboration is in order:

The scientific enterprise is distinguished from "common sense" knowledge of facts, by its search for general laws that explain and predict particular facts, and for theories, which are integrated conceptual "models" (such as evolution and relativity) that further combine and coordinate facts and laws. Modern science is further distinguished from both common sense and classical "science" by its preference for quantification over qualitative description. And finally, science is characterized by a vocabulary of precisely defined terms and concepts, by its insistence upon public and replicable predictions, and by its elegant structure upon which the body of science accumulates and is refined. The familiar word for these qualities of the scientific enterprise is "objectivity" -- a focusing of attention upon the "outside," "public" and shared natural world. The world of science is a world of "objects," and thus science is stripped of the private, personal, individual interpretation that characterizes literature and the arts.(10)

But notice, please, that missing from this account is any mention of values. This is because, once again, the scientist seeks to discover, in his objectified nature, "what is the case," and has explicitly excluded from his task any consideration of "what ought to be the case," or "what we are obliged to make the case." Accordingly, the exclusion of values from the content of science is due to the rules of the enterprise, and not necessarily due to the absence of value in nature.

Unfortunately, all too many scientists, engineers, and still worse, entrepreneurs and media, have been drawn to that latter conclusion: that science has found no intrinsic value in nature, because there is none to be found. This conclusion conveniently relieves the technologist and the entrepreneur of any scruple against treating nature as anything more than a mere storehouse of resources.

And so we find the egocentric perspective among philosophers, an objectification of nature among the scientists, and reductive analysis by both. With, respectively, the contemplating self alienated from the "outside" nature, with evaluation excluded by rule from the account of the objective world, and with grand system of nature pulverized into an analysis of its component parts, is it any wonder that our age is disinclined to find value in nature?

Nor is this the entire story: I have excluded entirely any economic, sociological or psychological accounts of the possible causes of our devaluation of nature. All these may be causes or effects of the philosophical account that I have presented. (Surely human greed, combined with political and economic power, has found comfort in philosophical "devaluations" of nature). Most probably, economic, political, psychological, sociological, biotic, religious and philosophical (ideological) forces have combined, in dynamic interaction, to lead to our current collective states of mind regarding the value of nature. Whatever the case, it is a state of mind that has put nature and its creatures, including the species homo sapiens, in grave peril.

But within my mind and heart lies the conviction that there is value within nature that is worthy of our respect, our love, and our stewardship. I would further suggest that the desolate landscape that appears at this stage of this essay has been arrived at less through error and more by following a route charted by half-truths. I submit that by supplying the missing truthful halves, our minds and our reason might re-invest nature with the value which we intuitively affirm with our hearts. I will explore this suggestion in the remainder of this paper.


II -- Toward a Revaluation of Nature

"Philosophy is the disease, of which it should be the cure."

Ludwig Wittgenstein.

A critic, having examined the first half of this presentation, might retort: "you have correctly identified certain methodologies of post-Renaissance science and philosophy -- reductive analysis, egocentric perspective, and objectification -- which have led to the widespread belief that nature is without intrinsic value. Bravo! Having thus summarized the results of the collective thoughts of the greatest minds of the Western world, what else is there for you to do but to yield to this cumulative genius, announce your agreement, then shut up?"

One obvious reply to this argument from authority, is to point out that the devaluation of nature has not enjoyed unanimous approval by the great minds of our civilization. Significant, albeit embarrassingly few, philosophers have affirmed such value: Spinoza, Kant (by some stretch of interpretation), Hegel, and Whitehead come immediately to mind. Moreover, the value of creation is celebrated in an extensive library of religious thought, especially amongst the mystics and pre-literate cultures. And of course, the literary affirmation of intrinsic natural value is substantial -- note the romantic poets and the American Transcendentalists. Perhaps this is because, as artists, these individuals are more open to perceiving natural value, unfiltered by the value-excluding methodology of science. As for reductive analysis, artists and poets are inclined to agree with Wordsworth who warns that "we murder to dissect."

My reply, however, will be much more bold: I will contend that the devaluation of nature in Western science and philosophy stands upon a structure of recognizable errors. Once these errors are identified, the re-valuation of nature may then be built upon a few fundamental but easily understood precepts.

First, the Errors:

  • First, and over-riding all: A half truth can be more damaging than a damned lie, because the truthful half gives credence to the false.

  • The order and structure of inquiry does not necessarily disclose the order and structure of nature.

  • Integrated wholes possess qualities not found in, nor predictable or explicable from, their component parts.

  • Nature only answers the questions she is asked. Thus nature's secrets may be hidden from us, not because of nature, but by our failure to ask the right questions. "God is subtle" wrote Einstein, "but He is not malicious."

Next, the Precepts:

  • Homo Sapiens is a natural species. Therefore, the re-valuation of nature requires a re-naturalization of humanity.

  • From homo sapiens has emerged "moral agency," which makes us unique -- to the best of our knowledge. (Though it is not impossible that moral agency exists in other species, or other planets for that matter). Therefore, the re-valuation of nature must involve a humanization of nature.

  • The Holism Precept ("Leopold's Law"): "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community."

  • Finally, and following from these precepts: there is value to be discovered in nature. Moreover, it is our responsibility to be more than mere spectators of that natural value: we must also celebrate it, enhance it, and most importantly, protect it. Thus, for the sake of nature, and for our own sakes as parts of nature, we must protect natural value since if we fail to do so, we necessarily diminish ourselves.

A half truth can be more damaging than a damned lie, because the truthful half gives credence to the false.

Let's begin with the most damaging half-truth of all: that science is value free. The truthful half is that the content of science is value-free. The same value-free laws of ballistics apply equally to communist missiles and to capitalist missiles. The analytical eye of the pathologist examining the biopsy is unaffected by whether that tissue comes from a condemned murderer, or from her child. As scientist, she carries out her value-free task, though her heart be consumed with anxiety.

This value neutrality issues from the "rules" of the game of science which exclude an examination of normative value. But these rules do not "rule out" the existence of intrinsic natural value. If such values exist, they do so in a dimension of reason and understanding that have been ruled out of bounds by the methods and vocabulary that define science. To use a familiar analogy, if we choose to play checkers on the black squares, it does not follow that the red squares do not exist -- only that if we also play on the red squares as well as the black, we are no longer playing checkers. A "science" that brings "oughts" or Aristotle's "final causes" into its vocabulary, is no longer playing "the science game." (Indeed, this describes what many moral philosophers in fact do). It may be valuable, as I dare say it often is, but it is not science.

So what is the false half of the half-truth of "value-free science?" It is the implication that science as an activity, an institution, and, to be sure, as a career, is value neutral. In fact, all of these are saturated with value. So too is the application of science in technology and in public policy.

Consider first the "morality" of scientific method. In his little book, Science and Human Values, Jacob Bronowski expresses this morality supremely well:

By the worldly standards of public life, [scientists] in their work are ... oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice nor to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything.... Individually, scientists no doubt have human weaknesses But in a world in which state and dogma seem always either to threaten or to cajole, the body of scientists is trained to avoid and organized to resist every form of persuasion but the facts. A scientist who breaks this rule, as Lysenko has done, is ignored... The values of science derive neither from the virtues of its members, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by which every profession reminds itself to be good. They have grown out of the practice of science, because they are the inescapable conditions for its practice... And this is but the beginning, for if truth claims are to be freely tested by the community of scientists, then this community must encourage and protect independence and originality, and it must tolerate dissent.(11)

The scientist's morality is further tested as he chooses his research projects (the effects of cosmetics on rabbit eyes, or a search for an AIDS vaccine?), as he chooses between an ever more confined and obscure specialization vs. a broad-scaled interdisciplinary study

In point of fact, the moment science is applied to technology or to public policy, it becomes entailed with values, since both technology and policy variably effect the welfare and the rights of morally significant individuals. These momentous consequences of science for both human welfare and misery, put the institution of science and its practitioners in the midst of the moral arena. Robert Oppenheimer spoke the truth at Alamogordo: "The scientist has known sin." And it was original sin at that -- the sin that issued forth from the tree of knowledge.

Finally, once science has assembled the facts, validated the hypotheses and laws, and integrated all these into a grand theoretical model, the values in nature are manifest to those with the souls to perceive them, though not a single normative word is to be found in the scientific vocabulary. At such a moment of insight, Holmes Rolston observes, "it is difficult to say where the natural facts leave off and where the natural values appear. For some observers at least, the sharp [fact/value] dichotomy is gone."(12) To one such noteworthy "observer,"

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms--this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.(13)

Those words were uttered, not by a theologian but by one of our era's greatest scientists: Albert Einstein.

There are numerous additional half-truths that lead to the devaluation of nature; but since this error applies to our other precepts, we will also encounter the seduction of the half-truth as we proceed beyond this section.

The order and structure of inquiry does not necessarily disclose the order and structure of nature.

If we adopt the egocentric perspective, and thus choose to construct our philosophical system from the groundwork of immediately "given" data of sensation, we might gain some interesting insights into the origins and structure of human knowledge. But this by no means indicates that the world we seek to understand, mirrors the priorities and structures of our modes of understanding. Still further, even though immediate personal experience is the fundamental building block of our knowledge of the world, it hardly follows that this experience creates that world! Though a few philosophers and more than a few of my students seem to come perilously close to saying such strange things, both science and common sense shout refutation: our minds and our experience have emerged out or a pre-existing world. We'd better come to terms with it. "I accept the universe!" proclaimed Margaret Fuller. "By God, she'd better!," replied John Ruskin.

The same consideration applies to values: namely, that if value is discovered first in our own experience, and then in the shared experience of other persons in our community, it by no means follows that values are to be found only in the individual, or in his community and not in the nature beyond, which created and sustains both persons and communities.(14)

In the case of reductive analysis, it is even more tempting to infer from the nature of inquiry, the nature of the external world. For it may well be the case that we must approach the world piecemeal, biting off just as much as we can digest. (The increasing micro-specialization of science seems to suggest as much). Thus we look first for managable components, and then attempt to build our knowledge from these "simples." But surely we are not compelled to conclude from this predicament that the structure of reality matches our strategy of analysis. (One is reminded, in this context, of the story of the six blind men and the elephant). Yet what else can explain the arrogance of "nothing buttery:" the belief of early physicist that all phenomena of the vast universe were "nothing but" matter in motion, and the insistence of the behavioral psychologist that the vast array of human expression and creation is "nothing but" the result of the rewards and punishments in the individual's life.

Far better for us to regard our methodology for what it is: a tool of inquiry, with which we may discover in reality an order and structure quite dissimilar to the shape of our tool-methodology. The genius of the new physics of Einstein and Planck is that they describe a strange macro- and micro universe vastly different from the familiar universe out of which their methodologies emerged.

The order and structure, which is to say the "strategy," of our inquiry is the device through which we hope to discover the as-yet unknown order and structure of nature. To assume at the outset that we must discover replications of this order and structure in nature is to commit the most deadly of scholarly sins: pre-judgment, and a consequent closing of our minds to the very discoveries we seek.

Accordingly, an analytic mode of inquiry need not pre-ordain that the physical universe "reduces" to atoms in motion, nor that language "reduces" to atoms of meaning and the "logical grammar" of their combination. If not, then we are not condemned at the outset to conclude that ours is a universe devoid of intrinsic value.

Integrated wholes possess qualities not found in, nor predictable or explicable from, their component parts.

Reductive analysis -- the claim that reality consists of "simple entities" and their modes of external relation -- flies in the face both of science and of practical experience. On reflection, it seems strange indeed that so many scientists and philosophers believe that the full explanation of a system "must" somehow reside in the identification of the component parts and their mutual arrangements. And yet, to some, the enticement of "nothing-buttery" is irresistible.

The contrary view, holism, seems compellingly obvious: this is the view that integrated systems display properties entirely different and inexplicable from the properties of the component parts. Consider:

  • Two deadly poisons, chlorine and sodium, combine to form a compound, table salt, which is essential to all life.

  • No amount of knowledge regarding the chemical properties of the enzymes, amino acids and DNA in an organism, cannot explain or predict the phenomenon of life. Life must be studied and understood in its own terms.

  • An ecosystem is more than a collection of organisms in a specified space.

  • An aggregate of strangers behave differently than a community -- what the American philosopher John Rawls calls, "a cooperative association for mutual advantage." Yet the foundation of "community" resides in the perception and mutual acknowledgment of each individual that he is a member of a community of like individuals.

  • Morality is essentially collective: there was no "morality" (or immorality for that matter) on Robinson Crusoe's island, until Friday entered the scene. As numerous "game theory" examples such as "the prisoners' dilemma" and "the tragedy of the commons" disclose, morality makes no sense whatever from the point of view of the individual.(15)

  • A sonnet is more than a string of words; a melody more than a sequence of notes; a language more than a vocabulary combined with a grammar. And so on....

If we are to find value in nature, we will find it in nature's integration, its coherence, its system -- and in the place of our experience and judgment within the context of that wholeness. In the words of the poet, Robinson Jeffers:

. . . however ugly the parts appear

the whole remains beautiful.

A severed hand Is an ugly thing, and man

dissevered from the earth and stars

and of his history... for contemplation or in fact ...

Often appears atrociously ugly.

Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is

Organic wholeness, the wholeness

of life and things, the divine beauty

of the universe.

Love that, not man apart from that . . .

Nature only answers questions that she is asked.

This precept seems quite obvious on its face, and yet if we lose sight of it, we are all too easily misled into believing that what we have not asked, and thus nature has not answered, either does not exist or is of no significance.

As scientists, we do not inquire as to the value in nature -- the rules of that enterprise forbid it. But if, accordingly, nature fails to disclose value to the scientist (having not been asked to do so), the scientist is ill-behooved to conclude that there is no intrinsic value to be found in nature.

This account, however, is somewhat oversimplified, as becomes clear when we ask: "but where does the scientist get his questions?" To that we must concede that nature supplies questions as well; for when scientific investigation consistently comes up with surprises and with failed predictions, the creative scientist responds with new and appropriate questions until nature once again provides coherent and verifiable answers.(16)

Homo Sapiens is a natural species. Therefore, the re-valuation of nature requires a re-naturalization of humanity.

We are undeniably "natural" creatures. We breath natural air, we are nourished by natural food, we respond naturally to the rhythms of life, and eventually give back to the earth the matter which it gave to us.

And yet the larger significance of our naturalness has only recently been examined in depth and with appreciation. Early in my career, I gave the name "bio-humanism" to an unnamed theory that was expressed eloquently by the biologist, Hugh Iltis, who wrote that "like the need for love, the need for [the] diversity and beauty [of nature] has a genetic basis." He continues:

... the best environment is one in which the human animal can have maximum contact with the type of natural environment in which it evolved and for which it is genetically programmed without sacrificing the major advantages of civilization... Every basic adaptation of the human body, be it the ear, the eye, the brain, yes, even our psyche, demands for proper functioning access to an environment similar, at least, to the one in which these structures evolved through natural selection over the past 100 million years.(17)

More recently, the eminent Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson, has given the theory the name of "biophilia," which I much prefer and have adopted. He writes:

The brain evolved into its present form over a period of about two million years, from the time of homo Habilis to the late stone age of homo sapiens, during which people existed in hunter-gatherer bands in intimate contact with the natural environment. Snakes mattered. The smell of water, the hum of a bee, the directional bend of a plant stalk mattered. The naturalist's trance was adaptive: the glimpse of one small animal hidden in the grass could make the difference between eating and going hungry in the evening. And a sweet sense of horror, the shivery fascination with monsters and creeping forms that so delights us today even in the sterile hearts of the cities, could see you through to the next morning... Although the evidence is far from all in, the brain appears to have kept its old capacities, its channeled quickness. We stay alert and alive in the vanished forests of the world.(18)

Biophilia lends depth and credence to the notion that we are natural creatures, for it adds to the unquestioned biotic requirements for human life, the intriguing notion that nature is required to satisfy genetically programmed emotional and psychological needs as well -- since, as Iltis suggests, nature has selected our genes.

But the "nature" that effected this selection, is a nature that is fast disappearing due to our carelessness and greed, so that we may at length find ourselves in world to which we are ill-adapted.

So biophilia provides yet one more reason to affirm intrinsic value in nature; for the values "out there" in nature, are but reflections of values "within" our natural genetic legacy. We are nature, and nature is us -- "the world is our body."

Thus it may be a deadly error to treat nature solely as a mere resource for our use, for to do so is to commit the deadly sin of pride -- the hubris of regarding our artificial needs as of more fundamental value than the nature which, in fact, is continuous with ourselves. Science tells us otherwise.

From homo sapiens has emerged "moral agency," which makes us unique. Therefore, the re-valuation of nature must involve a humanization of nature.

To affirm that we are natural creatures, and then to say no more, is to utter another significant half-truth. For we are natural creatures with a difference: we are creatures who have evolved through and past a momentous transformation -- the transformation into moral agency. Through our acquisition of articulate syntactic language, and our accumulation of culture, we have become self-conscious, deliberative, and thus responsible for our behavior. In this sense we are, to the best of our knowledge, unique. Because this claim has provoked many long and stimulating discussions in my classes, I am eager to make myself clear.

By "moral agency" I mean a cluster of capacities, including:

  • sentience, or the ability to feel pain.

  • consciousness of external objects and events.

  • reasoning -- the ability to solve problems.

  • self-motivated activity.

  • the capacity to communicate through the use of a complete, syntactic system of significant symbols (i.e., a language).

  • a concept of oneself as a being continuing through time.

  • a capacity to conceptualize and choose among alternative futures.

  • a capacity to act on principle -- to deliberately govern one's behavior according to rules.

  • recognition of the personhood of other persons.

Notice that there is no mention here of biological concepts such as species membership. There is thus no logical reason why aliens or machines might not also be moral agents. The "Star Trek" series is lavishly populated by alien and cybernetic "persons" such as "Worf" and "Data." And we may yet discover that dolphins or other creatures are moral agents. Given the above list of criteria, we know how to recognize them if we find them.

The significance of moral agency can scarcely be overstated, for on a planet without moral agents, there are no rights, no duties, no justice, no virtue or vice, and no responsibility, though on a personless planet with a flourishing ecosystem and sentient beings, there will be values and value-potentials.

With our acquisition of moral agency, we have also acquired the capacity to recognize, celebrate, enhance nature, and thus the responsibility to protect and preserve the natural values around us. We should be ever mindful that with these capacities for recognition, knowledge and celebration comes the burden of responsibility. For as we come to recognize the value in nature, we also recognize its vulnerability. We are responsible for nature because our science has given us some understanding of the processes at work in nature, and our technology has given us the capacity and thus the choice either to preserve or destroy our natural estate. And finally, as noted earlier, we recognize the values within nature. These four conditions, knowledge, capacity, choice and value significance, entail our morally responsibility.

Responsibility, let us remember, is a burden, since, given knowledge and capacity, the choice to do nothing is a dereliction. Accordingly, having taken up the burden of responsibility for nature, we are not morally permitted to set it down again.

So we are both natural, along with our brother creatures, and unique in our possession of the capacities which define our moral agency. I daresay that the gravest errors in environmental ethics arise from the failure to acknowledge and incorporate both our naturalness and our agency into a system of ethics -- to settle for either half of this full truth. On the one hand, by "denaturalizing" ourselves we give ourselves license to objectify, and thus to utilize and exploit, the nature "out there." On the other hand, by depersonalizing ourselves, we divest ourselves of moral responsibility for nature, for we thus come to regard ourselves as "objects" totally captivated by and helpless in the stream of "natural" cause and effect.

The Holism Precept ("Leopold's Law"): "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community."

These two sides of our being -- our naturalness and our moral agency -- must be integrated, just as, in turn, we must be integrated into our societies, and societies integrated into our natural environment.

And so, in this brief section, we turn over the coin of our earlier criticism of reductive analysis, and affirm the organic wholeness of the nature from which we have evolved, and in which we now, in our achievement of self-conscious and abstract knowledge, find ourselves.

There is value to be discovered in nature. Moreover, we are responsible for being more than mere spectators of that natural value: we must also celebrate it, enhance it, and most importantly protect it.

If "the intrinsic value of nature" means anything, it means that we are prepared to describe "better" and "worse" states of nature -- but "better or worse" in some sense for nature itself, and not in terms of its uses to us.

And just what might that mean?

First of all, it may mean "better or worse" in an esthetic sense -- that is to say, a natural landscape that is esthetically pleasing is "better" than one that is ugly. But aren't criteria of beauty cultural artifacts? If so, how could the appreciation of natural beauty be, in any sense, a recognition values in nature?

"Biophilia" may supply an answer to this challenge, for if that theory is correct, then at least to some degree, the appreciation of natural beauty may issue from a sense of the harmony between the nature within and the nature outside of us: that is to say, an affirmation of our own genetic "naturalness."

Second, a diverse ecosystem is "better" than one that is simplified.

Third, a stable and adaptable ecosystem is better than one that is fragile.

Fourth, a robust ecosystem is better than one that is vulnerable. (By "robust" I mean capable of self-recovery and repair).

And finally, a harmonious and integrated ecosystem is better than one that is in disequilibrium.

Perhaps this is what Aldo Leopold had in mind in his justly famous maxim: "a thing is right when it tends to preserve the diversity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."(19)

The qualities of diversity, stability, adaptability, robustness, and equilibrium can be identified descriptively by the life sciences, in particular the science of ecology. However, as sciences, they can not identify these conditions as "better" or "worse." That identification is the task of ethics.

Fortunately, that ethical identification is close at hand. For these same qualities of stability, adaptability, robustness, and equilibrium, when applied to living organisms, describe a state of "health." Thus with a modest exercise of metaphorical license, we can also identify the "health" of ecosystems -- surely an intrinsic value of nature.



To sum up, I have argued that the order of knowledge is not the order of reality, though it is easy to arrive at this belief from the apparent fact that nature can be best understood, at first, piecemeal.(20) But the life of nature, which is to say its value, can be lost through dissection by analysis. And as knowledge is acquired piecemeal through specialization, added upon brick-by-brick, so to speak, and as few lines of communication are establish between disciplines, it is easy to infer that nature itself is as disorganized and dis-integrated as is our knowledge thereof.

Furthermore, because we view nature from the perspective upon which we stand, which is an analytic perspective, we are finding just what we are looking for. This means that if we are not looking for integration we will not find it, and from that we will conclude, invalidly, that there is none to be found. Thus it will all too easy to conclude, with Descartes, that this un-integrated object-world is an alien world, which can only be integrated into human culture through craft and engineering, to serve our artificial purposes.

Science does not tell us that nature is un-integrated, and that we are aliens within nature -- our organization of science tells us this. To avoid this, we must not only study nature through the eyes of science, we must also study science itself, through the mind's-eye of the philosopher of science -- we must, to use the jargon of my profession, become "meta-scientists" and take a "second order" look at the structure, methods and concepts of science itself.

Why should it matter whether or not we recognize intrinsic value in nature? I reply with a story, possibly apocryphal, much beloved by working scientists.

A politician asked the scientist, Michael Faraday, "What good is that!" as he pointed to a contraption of sticks and wires which was, in fact, the first electric motor. Faraday replied: "What good is a baby?"

Similarly, the cynic might ask: What good is a homeland to a patriot? It only asks him to pay taxes, and may perhaps even ask him to give his life in its defense. What good is love? It only requires us to concern ourselves with the needs of the loved one, often at the cost of neglecting our own needs. What good is a baby? She requires us to sacrifice our time and luxuries, in order to feed, clothe and educate her. What good to us is a College with an Environmental mission? It is only there to educate other people's kids; and as for its environmental mission, if that mission is successful, it will benefit future generations long after we are gone. So what is it to us?

And what good is a planet, apart from the market value of the resources that we take from it? For if we feel that the planet has intrinsic value which commands our respect and forbearance, that sentiment will exact exorbitant opportunity costs in terms of minerals not mined, lumber not cut, species and ecosystems thriving to no human purpose on land desperately needed for agriculture, wild rivers running free with their hydroelectric potential untapped, and great lakes clean and pristine, at the enormous cost to industry of pollution controls.

The intrinsic value of children, lovers, homelands, institutions, ideas, lakes and landscapes -- the planet itself -- draw our attention away from ourselves, and focus our attention, in admiration and love, as we dedicate our lives to the values which we cherish within these entities.

In fact, intrinsic value is demeaned by the instrumental coin of commerce. "If you value friendship so much," asked the economist, "then why not buy yourself a friend?" -- neglecting, of course, that fact that the value of a friend is inversely proportional to his "price," and that love and friendship freely given is the most valuable of all. "A civilized person," writes Mark Sagoff, "might climb the highest mountain, swim the deepest river, or cross the hottest desert for love, sweet love. He might do anything, indeed, except be willing to pay for it."(21)

In short, intrinsic value, which demands so much of us, returns nothing in return -- nothing, that is, except our very reason, justification, and perhaps our desire to go on living.

Why not exploit the natural resources of our planet -- mine, cut, dam, pollute -- until every last corner of the earth is domesticated and artificialized. A compelling argument against such an exploitative policy might be made on purely extrinsic grounds; namely, it simply won't work. Given the fundamental laws of thermodynamics and the inexorable limitations of entropy, we can never, in principle, become smart enough to manage such a regime. Thus, even to try such a policy will condemn our species to the fate of the fruit flies, trapped in a honey bottle: briefly gorging on their largesse, multiplying without constraint, then perishing to the last in their own filth.

But even if, however improbably, we could survive in such a brave new artificial world, this denaturalized planet would be woefully devalued. For when we despoil our planet, we despoil ourselves as well, for we are as natural as the world we would ruin. We would thus abolish the world which selected our genes and which thus defined our essence. And if we thus destroyed the ecosystem, we will have burned down the house (in ancient Greek, the "oikos") in which we were raised, and we will then be left with a lifeless and alien world -- "alien," ironically, despite the fact that it will be a world of our own creation.

"What good is a planet?" That very question betrays the fundamental error resident in a five-hundred year old pattern of thought, for the very question objectifies and sets us apart from nature. But nature is not a thing "outside" of us -- it is within us as well, and the "nature outside" and the "nature within" are one integrated whole. If there is no intrinsic value in nature, then there is no intrinsic value anywhere else. And our life is as Macbeth described it: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

How do we prove otherwise: that nature does in fact have intrinsic value? Perhaps that proof is either impossible or pointless -- like explaining the experience of the color red. It is impossible to explain the experience of color to those who are blind; and for those who are not, such explanation is completely unnecessary, for they already know.

On the other hand, those who claim to find no intrinsic value in nature may not be beyond hope. For the discovery of natural value might not require rational arguments. Better, perhaps, to lead to a recognition of this value through a direct encounter with natural value.

Those of us who have contemplated the mystery and marvel of our own natural bodies, and who have found refuge in wilderness, need no demonstration of natural value:

    [At the lecture, slides were shown with each of these bullet points and closing quotations]:

  • we discover intrinsic natural value in the exquisite engineering and data processing in Yizak Perlman's left hand, as he executes a Paganini Caprice.

  • we discover intrinsic value in the harmony of balance, coordination and rhythm in the body of Mikhail Baryshnikov as he dances the Firebird.

  • we discover intrinsic value in the integration of perception, timing, and judgment of the kayaker, as he negotiates a rapid.

  • we appreciate value in the Earth's community of life, as we contemplate the alternative, such as the lunar surface.

  • in wilderness we find ourselves at home in the context of nature, rather than alien to it. As Ronald Hepburn observes, in nature we are "both actor and spectator, ingredient in the landscape ... , playing actively with nature and letting nature .. play with [us] and [our] awareness of [ourselves]."(22)

  • we value the nature that has sculpted the canyon wall -- all accomplished quite well without our permission or supervision.

  • we value the elemental forces of nature that casts up mountains, then wears them down again, all through trackless time.

  • we cherish the respite of a crystal pool in a desert oasis -- sunlight breaking through the crown of a redwood forest -- the relentless pounding of the sea at the continent's edge.

  • we both partake of and are audience to the rhythms of nature, as we await the dawn at a mountain lake.

  • and we are awestruck as we contemplate the vastness of space, from which heavy elements of dead stars came together to form our planet -- its seas, continents, atmosphere, life, and ourselves.

In all these we hear the voice of nature outside calling to the nature within, admonishing us to pause, reflect, forbear, and love.

Soon after his first encounter with Aldo Leopold's "Land Ethic," Joseph Wood Krutch wrote:

The wisest, the most enlightened, the most remotely long-seeing exploitation of resources is not enough, for the simple reason that the whole concept of exploitation is so false and so limited that in the end it will defeat itself and the earth will have been plundered, no matter how scientifically and far-seeingly the plundering has been done.

To live healthily and successfully on the land, we must also live with it. We must be part not only of the human community, we must acknowledge some sort of oneness, not only with our neighbors, our countrymen and our civilization, but also with the natural as well as the man-made community. . . .

We must live for something besides making a living. If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food either...

And from Edward Abbey:

... The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach: It is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the Earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need -- if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us -- if only we were worthy of it.

To these eloquent statements of both warning and affirmation, I have added here my own thoughts in the hope that they might, somehow, be of use in the uncertain struggle ahead to affirm and then preserve the Good of our planet.

May we all be equal to this challenge -- and worthy of our good earth.


Copyright, 1996, by Ernest Partridge



1. "The whole language of science . . . . deletes the '"I" and concerns itself wholly with 'it.' Robert Solomon, Entertaining Ideas, Prometheus Books, 1992, p. 26

2. An Inquiry into the Principles of Morals.

3. Treatise on Human Nature, III/2/3.

4. I explored several of these commissions of "the naturalistic fallacy" in my "Environmental Ethics Without Philosophy," Human Ecology: A Gathering of Perspectives, ed. Richard J. Borden, Society for Human Ecology, 1986, pp. 136-149. Also in "The Moral Uses of Future Generations," in Ethical Questions for Resource Managers, ed. Reeves, Bottom and Brookes, Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, 1992.

5. "External" relations are relations into which entities enter and exit, without affecting the fundamental nature of the entities. Analysis is regarded as complete when, under further analysis, all "internal" relations are found to be derived from more basic external relations. Critics of the analytic tradition, such as Whitehead and the later Wittgenstein, argue that some relations are inalienably and unanalyzably "internal," and thus that systems and "wholes" take on properties that are not derivable from analyses of their component parts.

6. Language, Truth and Logic, Ch. VI. The parallel to Hume is noteworthy.

7. "Existentialism is a Humanism."

8. Rene Descartes, Discours de la Method, Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1937, p. 35.

9. The Downing Street Years, Harper Collins, London. P. 626.

10. The alert reader will recognize an apparent inconsistency between (b) Egocentric Perspective, and (c) Objectification. A resolution might be found in the logical separation of these "bewitchments;" namely, that the philosopher's "inside-out" construction of the external "world of objects" is the epistemologically prior foundation of the (logically) subsequent enterprise of science -- making "objective" (i.e., public and replicable, etc.) sense of these "subjectively constructed" objects of knowledge. The point is difficult and obscure, hence its appropriate relegation to this end note.

11. Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values, Harper, 1965, . 58-60.

12. Holmes Rolston, III, "Is There an Ecological Ethic?" Ethics, 85:2 ( 1975), p. 101.

13. Albert Einstein , quoted in: Philipp Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times, ch. 12, sct. 5 (1947).

14. However, a certain kind of values, namely moral values, presuppose the existence of a certain class of beings, namely moral agents or persons (though not necessarily, human beings). This assertion, which I will touch upon shortly, does not rest upon the fallacy of "inquiry implies nature" now under discussion; rather, it can be justified on independent grounds. (A small book that I am now writing offers such a justification: What am I? -- A Preface to Moral Philosophy.)

15. Herein lies the refutation of the emotivists (positivists) and the volitionists (existentialists), who attempted to explain ethics in terms of the (reductive) experience of the individual. (Cf. the previous section of this essay).

16. At certain moments in the history of science, the failure of old concepts and structures to "fit" alongside new discoveries and questions compels a revolution in perspective -- what Thomas Kuhn has called a "paradigm shift." (In his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Examples include the revolutions of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

17. Hugh Iltis, "To the Taxonomist and the Ecologist, Whose Fight is the Preservation of Nature," Bio-Science, December, 1967, 887. In numerous articles and lectures in the early seventies, Iltis was among the first, perhaps the first, to articulate and defend this theory. It is a great pity that his energy and devotion did not prompt an appropriate response among scientific researchers and environmental philosophers.

18. E. O. Wilson, Biophilia, Cambridge: 1984, Harvard University Press, p. 101.

19. Leopold, op. cit., pp. 224-5.

20. I have called this inference the "reliable is valid fallacy," having encountered no other name for it, and having failed, so far, to devise a more elegant name. The terms "reliable" and "valid" come from the vocabulary of psychological and public-opinion testing. A "reliable" test will give consistent and precisely quantifiable results. A "valid" test will measure just what one desires to measure. For example, a true-false or multiple-choice test in philosophy or language composition (which seeks to measure critical thinking or stylistic excellence) may be reliable, but it will not be valid. An essay exam in the same subjects will be much more valid, but (being subjective) much less reliable. Also, the reliability of intelligence tests are not much in doubt, but their validity is the source of great scholarly and even political debate. The "reliable is valid fallacy" resides in the belief that if one can measure something consistently and precisely, he is therefore measuring something of significance. Among the most wrong-headed historical examples would be "trial by combat" (surely with a determinate outcome, but quite irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of the suspect). Closer to home, some promising teaching careers may have been damaged by the failure of some administrators to distinguish between the reliability and the validity of student evaluations of their teachers.

21. Mark Sagoff, The Economy of the Earth, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 68-9.

22. "Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature," in Harold Osborne (ed), Aesthetics in the Modern World (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968), p. 51.




Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .