Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community

Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community

Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community

Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community

Synopsis

Written by one of the instrumental figures in environmental ethics, Nature as Subject traces the development of an ethical policy that is centered not on human beings, but on itself.

Excerpt

Mark Sagoff

The white-tailed deer on Fire Island, although no longer truly wild, carry the tick that causes Lyme disease. They forage in flower gardens and beat the hopeful planter to the vegetable patch. We watch for these deer when we ride our bikes at night, fearing an accident. What value, then, do these creatures possess? Surely, it is not an instrumental one. The prices of vacation homes on Fire Island do not rise because more deer infest the area. Yet these deer, as this wonderful collection of essays explains, belong to the place more rightfully than vacationers do. They were certainly there first. As the vestiges of a truly wild natural community, they remind us that our technological imperative to control and dominate nature does not and—if this book is correct—should not always succeed.

Eric Katz celebrates the grass that grows in the cracks of the pavement, the raptors that nest upon a skyscraper, the spray thrown up from the tide. These things will not appeal to those who see everything as a means to something else and who regard intrinsic value—the idea that something is worthy of love and attention for what it is in itself—as a subversive notion, a threat to their way of thought. For these people, value is a function of our welfare or well-being as measured by the amount we are willing to pay for what we enjoy or consume. They will not understand a book that recognizes the intrinsic magnificence of the natural world and that argues that our duty to protect it goes beyond the categories of instrumental rationality or utility.

In these persuasive essays, Eric Katz parts company with many environmentalists who insist that prudence and morality teach the same . . .

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