Against the Social Construction of Nature and Wilderness

Crist, Eileen,
Environmental Ethics Vol. 26/1 (2004), pages 5-24

The application of constructivism to “nature” and “wilderness” is intellectually and politically objectionable. Despite a proclivity for examining the social underpinnings of representations, constructivists do not deconstruct their own rhetoric and assumptions; nor do they consider what socio-historical conditions support their perspective. Constructivists employ skewed metaphors to describe knowledge production about nature as though the loaded language use of constructivism is straightforward and neutral. They also implicitly rely on a humanist perspective about knowledge creation that privileges the cognitive sovereignty of human subject over nature. Politically, the constructivist approach fails to take the scientific documentation of the biodiversity crisis seriously; it diverts attention toward discourses about the environmental predicament, rather than examining that predicament itself; and it indirectly cashes in on, and thus supports, human colonization of the Earth.

Fabricating Nature: A Critique of the Social Construction of Nature

Kidner, David W.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 22/4 (2000), pages 339-57

Models of nature have usually referred to ecological, or more generally, scientific understandings, and have seldom included cultural factors. Recently, however, there has been a trend toward defining nature as a “social construction,” that is, as an artifact of human social and linguistic capability. I argue that constructionism attempts to assimilate nature to an exclusively anthropocentric “reality,” and that it should be seen as expressing long-term industrialist tendencies to separate the “human” and the “natural” realms and to assimilate the latter to the former. Consequently, the constructionist approach, rather than offering us a fertile means of incorporating cultural influences within environmental theorizing, is better viewed as a cognitive counterpart to industrialism’s physical assimilation of the natural world.

Appreciating Nature on Its Own Terms

Saito, Yuriko
Environmental Ethics Vol. 20/2 (1998), pages 135-149

I propose that the appropriate appreciation of nature must include the moral capacity for acknowledging the reality of nature apart from humans and the sensitivity for listening to its own story. I argue that appreciating nature exclusively as design is inappropriate to the extent that we impose upon nature a preconceived artistic standard as well as appreciation based upon historical/cultural/literary associations insofar as we treat nature as a background of our own story. In contrast, aesthetic appreciation informed by our attempt to make sense of nature, such as science, mythology, and folklore, is appropriate because it guides our experience toward understanding nature’s own story embodied in its sensuous surface.

Francis of Assisi and the Diversity of Creation

Hughes, J. Donald
Environmental Ethics Vol. 18/3 (1996), pages 311-320

Francis’ view of nature has been seen as positive in an ecological sense even by those who are for the most part critical of Christianity’s attitude to nature, such as Lynn White, Jr. I argue that one element of Francis’ uniqueness was that he saw the diversity of life as an expression of God’s creativity and benevolence and attempted to carry out that vision in ethical behavior. Much of what has been written about him has precedents in traditional hagiography, but there remains an unmistakable impression of originality. It has been noted that Francis insisted on the goodness of creation, used terms of family relationship to refer to creatures other than human, and preached to them. However, another element has escaped notice: his emphasis on the presence of God in the diversity of created entities and his desire that humans should rejoice in this diversity and glorify God for it and with it. His devotion did not immediately dissolve multiplicity into oneness, but glorified God in each created being and delighted in their individuality. He advocated that praise be expressed by acting in ways consistent with respect for created diversity, not only by observing a strict rule of abstaining from harm to living beings, but also in positive treatment of all creatures. Nature took its meaning not from its serviceability to mankind, but from its expression of the multiple forms of God’s benevolent presence.

The Historical Foundations of American Environmental Attitudes

Hargrove, Eugene C.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 1/3 (1979), pages 209-240

John Passmore has claimed that American environmental attitudes are incompatible with Western traditions and Western civilization: they arose out of a Romantic transvaluation of values in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and today are defensible only in terms of antiscientific nature mysticism and Oriental religions. I argue that these attitudes developed out of an intricate interplay between Western science and art over the last three centuries, and are, therefore, of Western, not Eastern, origin. Moreover, they are a part of scientific and aesthetic changes so broad and fundamental that, despite Passmore’s prediction that they are unlikely to survive into the twenty-first century, they cannot be regarded lightly as a passing fad, and probably have already found a permanent place in Western thought and values.