WHAT GOOD IS A PLANET?
An Exploration of Natural Axiology
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...
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
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
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
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,
material: The substance acted upon. (Lumber, Masonry,
formal: The universal qualities exemplified. (The
final: The end toward which the action is drawn. (A
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
From homo sapiens has emerged "moral agency," which makes us
unique. Therefore, the re-valuation of nature must involve a humanization of
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.
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
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, 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
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
Second, a diverse ecosystem is "better" than one that is
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
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
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
A politician asked the scientist, Michael Faraday, "What good is
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
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
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
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
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
11. Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values, Harper, 1965, .
12. Holmes Rolston, III, "Is There an Ecological Ethic?"
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
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),