NATURE AND US:
The Dualism that Produces Our Attitudes Towards the Environment
The humanistic and moralistic value types described by Kellert involve a bonding with nature and a faculty of altruism or kinship toward her. Religions have formed the basis of many of our attitudes and have contributed to our primary ethos towards nature. Religions that consider "man" as a supreme creation, the noblest, or "made in the image of God," have defined an environmental ethic that sees nature and indeed all of creation beneath man and different from man, rather than man as a part of nature. Ancient religions and traditions, on the other hand, see nature as our guardians, and humans as part of nature. These ancient "religions" are mostly philosophies of life—wisdom about life and living on earth—which derive their tenets from considering man as part of nature. They accord to nature a power and a role as our benefactor and our sustenance, and in turn, prescribes our obligations towards nature and the consequent values and attitudes. Thus Hinduism and native American "religions" considered pantheistic in the western worldview accord a sacred quality to all of nature, often by defining each element of nature as a deity.
Judeo-Christian and other man-centered religions believe in a single, all-powerful God who made man in his image and gave him "dominion over the earth." Historian Lynn White's essay "The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis" attributes the modern exploitation of nature arising from the abuse of this "dominion," writing that "Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen." This line of belief also engenders dualism, a separation between man and nature, even man versus nature.
Dualism, separatism, and reductionism are all paradigms or working principles that have come under question as we begin to recognize more and more how intertwined and interdependent all entities and processes are. Dualism and separatism have long been convenient constructs used by civilizations in justifying domination of one group over another. While our topic here is the environment, and the dualism that defines man and nature as separate, with one superior to the other, dualism has been the principle behind other types of domination—man over woman, one race over another, invaders over the invaded "native" or "indigenous" groups, humans over animals, even one religion over another.
Dualism is used to separate the dominating group as the "real," "genuine," or normal, and the rest as the "Other." Val Plumwood has described the attitudes and value judgments, even psychological justifications that keep the Other separate and inferior and the dominant group in charge. [Notecard: The literature on these themes developed particularly as women, and oppressed groups found ways to voice what was going on. This has since been adapted to the situation of the environment. This environmental movement is generally called "eco-feminism," and is discussed later.]
Dualisms, Plumwood writes, have characteristics that stereotypes the Other and is used to justify exclusion. The following list of characteristics are from Plumwood's essay "Paths Beyond Human-Centeredness" in the book An Invitation to Environmental Philosophy.
Radical exclusion: marking the other as inferior and radically different in nature. It is not only recognizing a difference, but differentiation by considering the other as different in nature and therefore "primitive," "uncivilized," "less able," etc.
Homogenization/Stereotyping: The Other is seen as "all the same" in their deficiency, and their social, cultural, religious, and personal diversity is discounted.
Denial, backgrounding: Once the Other is defined as inferior, it can be ignored. There is no recognition of how the dominant group depends on the Other for any important or vital aspect of its existence.
Instrumentation: The Other is seen as not being independent, and in need of protection, refining, not having (or not being worthy of) rights because she does not have the intellectual ability and agency needed for independence.
These characteristics can be said to apply to the way industrialized societies have come to treat nature.
Reductionism is the other line of thinking that has indirectly led to harm of the environment. The progress of science and technology has gone hand in hand, and even owed its rapid rate to this mode of thinking. Reductionism, or reducing a system into its components and treating the interactions later or ignoring them altogether, has been a result of scientific, analytical modes of thought. It has made possible our knowing large amounts of details bout individual pieces of systems, with little knowledge about how they fit together. Even realms of knowledge have been reduced to disciplines as we found the advantages of specialization—that we can know more, and that we can use and exploit that knowledge more effectively. Thus what was "natural philosophy" to Aristotle became specialized as science and philosophy further divided into physics, chemistry, biology, and so forth. Philosophy in turn was divided into logic, analysis, hermeneutics and other divisions. Two types of schisms developed as a result. First, knowledge as represented by science (derived from the Greek "scientia," meaning "to know") separated from philosophy, the love of wisdom. Philosophy itself became more analytical and "scientific." Second, knowledge and the practice of getting at knowledge through reductionist methods, got separated from ethics, which provided for reflective practice of linking impacts and standards of behavior with the doing of science.
More recently, there has been an attempt at the understanding of interrelationships. Systems science, chaos theory, and ecology are all examples of integrative science that try to understand nature including humans and our technology as a coherent whole. Industrial ecology is a particularly relevant example of systems thinking where industry and economy are viewed as systems interacting with the environmental systems.
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Environmental philosophy is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the natural environment and humans' place within it. It asks crucial questions about human environmental relations such as "What do we mean when we talk about nature?" "What is the value of the natural, that is non-human environment to us, or in itself?" "How should we respond to environmental challenges such as environmental degradation, pollution and climate change?" "How can we best understand the relationship between the natural world and human technology and development?" and "What is our place in the natural world?" As such, it uniquely positions itself as a field set to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century. Environmental philosophy includes environmental ethics, environmental aesthetics, ecofeminism, environmental hermeneutics, and environmental theology. Some of the main areas of interest for environmental philosophers are:
- Defining environment and nature
- How to value the environment
- Moral status of animals and plants
- Endangered species
- Environmentalism and Deep Ecology
- Aesthetic value of nature
- Restoration of nature
- Consideration of future generations
Modern issues within environmental philosophy include but are not restricted to the concerns of environmental activism as well as the questions raised by environmental science and technology. These include issues related to the depletion of finite resources and other harmful and permanent effects brought on to the environment by humans, as well as the ethical and practical problems raised by philosophies and practices of environmental conservation, restoration, and policy in general. At the same time environmental philosophy deals with the value human beings attach to different kinds of environmental experience, particularly how experiences in or close to non-human environments contrast with urban or industrialized experiences, and how this varies across cultures.
Environmental Philosophy re-emerged as a major social movement in the 1970s. The movement was an attempt to connect with humanity's sense of alienation from nature in a continuing fashion throughout history. This was very closely related to the development at the same time of ecofeminism, an intersecting discipline. Since then its areas of concern have expanded significantly.
The field is today characterized by a notable diversity of stylistic, philosophical and cultural approaches to human environmental relationships, from personal and poetic reflections on environmental experience and arguments for panpsychism to Malthusian applications of game theory or the question of how to put an economic value on nature's services. A major debate arose in the 1970s and 80s was that of whether nature has intrinsic value in itself independent of human values or whether its value is merely instrumental, with ecocentric or deep ecology approaches emerging on the one hand versus consequentialist or pragmatist anthropocentric approaches on the other.
Another debate that arose at this time was the debate over whether there really is such a thing as wilderness or not, or whether it is merely a cultural construct with colonialist implications. Since then, readings of environmental history and discourse have become more critical and refined. In this ongoing debate, a diversity of dissenting voices have emerged from different cultures across the globe questioning the dominance of Western assumptions, helping to transform the field.
In recent decades, there has been a significant challenge to deep ecology and the concepts of nature that underlie it, some arguing that there is not really such a thing as nature at all beyond some self-contradictory and even politically dubious constructions of an ideal other that ignore the real human-environmental interactions that shape our world and lives. This has been alternately dubbed the postmodern, constructivist, and most recently post-naturalistic turn in environmental philosophy. Environmental aesthetics, design and restoration have emerged as important intersecting disciplines that keep shifting the boundaries of environmental thought, as have the science of climate change and biodiversity and the ethical, political and epistemological questions they raise. Today, environmental philosophy is a burgeoning and increasingly relevant field.
Deep ecology movement
Main article: Deep ecology
In 1984, George Sessions and Arne Naess articulated the principles of the new Deep Ecology Movement. These basic principles are:
- The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life have value.
- Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
- Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
- The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease in the human population.
- Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
- Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
- The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value), rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
- Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
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