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Recognizing the Autonomy of Nature

Recognizing the Autonomy of Nature: Theory and Practice

Thomas Heyd EDITOR
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Recognizing the Autonomy of Nature
    Book Description:

    How do the ways in which we think about and describe nature shape the use and protection of the environment? Do our seemingly well-intentioned efforts in environmental conservation reflect a respect for nature or our desire to control nature's wildness? The contributors to this collection address these and other questions as they explore the theoretical and practical implications of a crucial aspect of environmental philosophy and policy-the autonomy of nature. In focusing on the recognition and meaning of nature's autonomy and linking issues of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and policy, the essays provide a variety of new perspectives on human relationships to nature.

    The authors begin by exploring what is meant by "nature," in what sense it can be seen as autonomous, and what respect for the autonomy of nature might entail. They examine the conflicts that arise between the satisfaction of human needs (food, shelter, etc.) and the natural world. The contributors also consider whether the activities of human beings contribute to nature's autonomy. In their investigation of these issues, they not only draw on philosophy and ethics; they also discuss how the idea of nature's autonomy affects policy decisions regarding the protection of agricultural, rural, and beach areas.

    The essays in the book's final section turn to management and restoration practices. The essays in this section pay close attention to how efforts at environmental protection alter or reinforce the traditional relationship between humans and nature. More specifically, the contributors examine whether management practices, as they are applied in nature conservation, actually promote the autonomy of nature, or whether they turn the environment into a "client" for policymakers.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50980-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ONE Introduction: Recognizing the Autonomy of Nature: Theory and Practice
    (pp. 1-22)

    IN CONTEMPORARY times, anthropogenic changes in the natural environment have become so considerable that a rethinking of our theory and our practice with regard to nature has become imperative. This book is intended as an exploration of the idea that this rethinking calls for the recognition of the autonomy of nature, understood both in epistemological and ethical terms.¹ The book is hence intended to explore, on the one hand, the reasons for attributing autonomy to nature and, on the other, what respect for nature’s autonomy practically implies.

    In this introduction, I begin with a description of a particular place and...

  5. Part I. Nature and Autonomy of Nature:: Are They Real?

    • TWO Toward a Progressive Naturalism
      (pp. 25-53)

      THE DEEP contemporary suspicion and skepticism about the concept and term “nature” may play some role in the contemporary indifference to the destruction and decline of the natural world around us. If the category “nature” is seen as phony, if it can appear only when suitably surrounded by sneer quotes, we are hardly likely to be inspired by appeals to nature’s integrity in the case against genetic engineering or for the defense of nature in the case for stopping the current slaughter of the seas and the holocaust of animal life. The more nebulous and indeterminate such nature skepticism is,...

    • THREE Is Nature Autonomous?
      (pp. 54-74)

      THE ANSWER to the question posed by the title of this essay is “yes.” I begin by distinguishing various senses of “nature” and clarifying the sense in which nature may be said to be autonomous. After this, I argue that autonomy should be defined, on the one hand, negatively as what exists and continues to exist independently of human intentionality, control, manipulation, or intervention and, on the other hand, positively in terms of being self-generating and self-sustaining and explain why the term may be applied to biotic as well as abiotic nature. I conclude by showing that autonomous nature is...

  6. Part II. Autonomous Nature and Human Interests:: Are They Compatible?

    • FOUR The Liberation of Humanity and Nature
      (pp. 77-85)

      IN COUNTER REVOLUTION and Revolt, Herbert Marcuse declared that “nature, too, awaits the revolution!”¹ Nature, in other words, has a possible future free of human domination. Without going into a detailed exegesis of the work of Marcuse or other critical theorists—of which I am not an expert—I would like to consider the meaning of this idea: that nature itself is open to a revolution, a liberation, a release from human domination. And, unlike Marcuse, I will examine this idea by the consideration of two concrete examples of the ethics of environmental policy.

      Mainstream environmental ethics has perhaps been...

    • FIVE Respecting Nature’s Autonomy in Relationship with Humanity
      (pp. 86-98)

      PRESERVATIONIST ENVIRONMENTAL thought involves the following interrelated ideas. Nature’s value is significantly a function of its degree of independence from humanity. Naturalness or wildness is what most centrally grounds nature’s value. When considerably modified by humans, nature loses much of its value and even its essential character. A strong conceptual separation exists between humans and nature. Nature is to be understood in opposition to humanity; nature is the nonhuman. Wilderness is thus quintessential nature. Respect for nature most importantly involves preservation of wilderness areas, free from significant human influence.

      In the context of today’s massive and ongoing humanization of the...

    • SIX Autonomy and Agriculture
      (pp. 99-118)

      A LITTLE over fifty years ago, Aldo Leopold distinguished between two approaches to land use, which he characterized as “the A/B cleavage.” Type A agriculture and forestry attempted to maximize yield using the best science available, while type B aimed at using the land in ways that preserved the health of the whole ecosystem. In the former, humans saw themselves as ruling over the land, whereas in the latter humans were conceived as “plain members and citizens of the biotic community.”¹ Although Leopold condemned the type A approach on both practical and moral grounds, he did not develop a moral...

  7. Part III. Management, Restoration, and the Autonomy of Nature:: A Paradox?

    • SEVEN Homo Administrator: Managing a Needy Nature?
      (pp. 121-136)

      THOSE OF us interested in environmental issues, whether or not we call ourselves environmentalists, are presented with increasing evidence of a global environment in need of our help.¹ We are told that nature, once conceptualized by Western culture as a bountiful enemy to be aggressively subdued and defended against, has been conquered, tamed, predicted, and controlled. The wild frontier has been captured, in many instances destroyed, and has been replaced with monocultures or domesticated farms whose sole purpose is to service the utilitarian interests of human beings. Those areas that have not been destroyed or domesticated are increasingly described as...

    • EIGHT Purple Loosestrife and the “Bounding” of Nature in North American Wetlands
      (pp. 137-153)

      ONE OF the better-known themes among the Christian parables is the separation of the righteous and pure from the impure and the unholy.¹ In one notable example, Christ recounts the experience of a farmer whose enemies have come in the night to plant weeds in his wheat field. When one of the servants asks whether he should pull the weeds, the farmer responds: “No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them...

    • NINE Restoration, Autonomy, and Domination
      (pp. 154-169)

      ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION is the practice of re-creating ecosystems that have been previously destroyed, largely because of anthropogenic causes. Such endeavors range from small-scale park projects, such as those currently under way in the Chicago forest preserves and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, to the huge multibillion-dollar restoration of the Florida Everglades that has been under way since the Clinton administration. Many nonanthropocentrists in environmental ethics who have written about ecological restoration have been skeptical of the propriety of this practice, if not highly critical of it. Why? The initial reasons are essentially embedded in an ontological claim that restored...

    • TEN Ecological Restoration and the Renewal of Wildness and Freedom
      (pp. 170-188)

      THE EVERGLADES National Park Act of 1934 mandated an area of south Florida to be “permanently reserved as a wilderness,” where the flora and fauna were to be preserved intact in “essential primitive conditions.”¹ Today, nearly 1.3 million acres of the 1.5 million acre Everglades National Park are managed as the Marjory Stoneman Douglass Wilderness Area (MSDWA) within the National Wilderness Preservation System of the United States. The Everglades is the largest freshwater marsh in the world and contains seven distinct ecological matrixes of sawgrass everglades, mangrove forests, salt marshes, cypress forests, pine forests, West Indian hardwood hammock forests, and...

  8. CONCLUSION Autonomy, Restoration, and the Law of Nature
    (pp. 189-206)

    I DIDN’T know quite what to make of the notion of the “autonomy of nature” when Thom Heyd invited me to contribute to this volume. I thought at first that it meant something like “independent” or “self-sufficient,” ideas I have never found either appealing or coherent when applied to nature or to specific ecosystems. But then I read the book and realized this is not the case. “Autonomous” actually means something much more interesting than that, and I now see that it offers an interesting and useful way of articulating the perennial question of how to construe or construct or...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 207-210)
  10. Index
    (pp. 211-230)