Philosophy Gone Wild: Environmental Ethics

By Holmes Rolston III | Go to book overview

5
Values in Nature

"The world's largest monument to the world's smallest fish!" With that hyperbole, a Tennessee governor once lamented the apparent fate of the $116 million Tellico dam, stopped first by the Supreme Court and later by the Endangered Species Committee in order to save the three-inch snail darter, Percina tanasi. Congress afterward voted to finish the dam. The gates have been closed, the lake is filled, and the critical habitat is destroyed. It may be that the darter has been successfully transplanted, though the director of that project is doubtful. 1 If not, the dam will indeed be the world's largest gravestone--for which the tiny perch was sacrificed, the first deliberate extinction of one species by another--and we must then decide whether to view the dam as a monument of pride or of shame. The Dickey and Lincoln dams on the St. John River in Maine are being planned with the careful protection of the rediscovered Furbish lousewort, Pedicularis furbishiae, once thought extinct in the United States. A technologist may consider concern for these "lousy louseworts" to be "total stupidity." 2 A naturalist may be glad for test cases that force us to ask whether rare life forms are not worth more than those dam(n) machines. These dramatize an increasingly insistent question about what values we meet in nature, and scientists find themselves hardly better able than anyone else to answer it.

Value is the generic noun for any positive predicate, and it is commonplace to notice that in a strict sense science works only with neutral, descriptive predicates. This means, however, that science cannot teach us what we need most to know about nature, that is, how to value it. A partial response, relieving the embarrassment of scientists at the incompetence of their discipline here, is to point out that values are mental and ideal, not actual or material, so that objective value is no part of nature as such, and thus forms no part of science. Values appear only in the human response to the world. To ask about values in nature is, then, to form a misleading question, for values are only in people, created by their decisions.

____________________
Reprinted by permission from Environmental Ethics 3( 1981):113-128.

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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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