Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

By Holmes Rolston III | Go to book overview

4
The River of Life:
Past, Present, and Future

To speak of a river of life is more poetry than philosophy, but images have an evocative power that may launch critical reflection. Life is organic, and much too complex to be illuminated by many of the features of a simple, inorganic river. Our purpose here is only to abstract out the notion of a current, a naturally impelled flow that is energetically maintained over time. Life is often said to be a countercurrent to entropy, its negatively entropic flow in that respect the reverse of a merely physical current; still the notion of a current is generic enough to provide considerable insight into the life process. It provides the thought of continuity and ceaseless flow in a life-stream that transcends the individual, and here we gain a model fertile in its capacity to channel together ideas that under other gestalts become differentiated into troublesome opposites. In this processive on-rolling we can find a confluence of the actual and the potential, the self and the other, the human and the natural, the present and the historical, and the is and the ought.

Most of us attach life to the immediate present, to encapsulated individuals, and we locate the ethical life in the interrelations of subjective human selves. We often find life to be a notion that belongs incongruously to biology and to ethics, to nature and to culture. We do not here mean to deny that the individual human life is a subjective matter, of moral concern, when we notice that it is also an adjectival property of a collective, still more substantive flow, which also is of moral concern. This concept of a current in which the individual is buoyed up and on is at once biologically viable, culturally informed, and satisfying to many of our deepest ethical intuitions. Its corporate nature perhaps does not give due place to that individual integrity that is so well served by the more atomistic paradigms, but our experiment here is to discover an ethical vision of more scope, one with a more open run than any single life can provide. The thesis here is that an individualistic ethic is short-sighted and needs

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Reprinted by permission from Ernest Partridge, ed., Responsibilities to Future Generations ( Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1981).

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Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • I. Ethics and Nature 11
  • 1: Is There an Ecological Ethic? 12
  • Notes 28
  • 2: Can and Ought We to Follow Nature? 30
  • 3: Philosophical Aspects of the Environment 53
  • 4: The River of Life 61
  • Ii. Values in Nature 73
  • 5: Values in Nature 74
  • Notes 89
  • 6: Are Values in Nature Subjective or Objective? 91
  • 7: Values Gone Wild 118
  • Iii. Environmental Philosophy in Practice 143
  • 8: Just Environmental Business 144
  • Introduction 144
  • References 177
  • 9: Valuing Wildlands 180
  • Iv. Nature in Experience 221
  • 11: Lake Solitude 223
  • 12: Meditation at the Precambrian Contact 233
  • 13: Farewell, Washington County 241
  • 14: Nature and Human Emotions 248
  • Subject Index 263
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