Can and Ought We to Follow Nature?

Rolston, Holmes III

Environmental Ethics Vol. 1/1 (1979), pages 7-30

“Nature knows best” is reconsidered from an ecological perspective which suggests that we ought to follow nature. The phrase “follow nature” has many meanings.In an absolute law-of-nature sense, persons invariably and necessarily act in accordance with natural laws, and thus cannot but follow nature. In an artifactual sense, all deliberate human conduct is viewed as unnatural, and thus it is impossible to follow nature. As a result, the answer to the question, whether we can and ought to follow nature, must be sought in a relative sense according to which human conduct is sometimes more and sometimes less natural. Four specific relative senses are examined: a homeostatic sense, an imitative ethical sense, an axiological sense,and a tutorial sense.

Environmental Virtue Ethics: Half the Truth but Dangerous as a Whole

Rolston, Holmes III
Cafaro, P., Sandler, R. (eds.) (2004): Environmental Virtue Ethics. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, pages 61-78

Rolston warns against casting environmental virtue in too fundamental a role in environmental ethics. Although environmental virtue is an intrinsically good state, valuable to its possessor, and enables attunement to “the flow of nature,” we must not identify human virtue or excellence as the source of natural value. Natural entities do not derive their value from their relationship to human virtue und flourishing; nature and natural entities have value in themselves. Indeed, environmental virtue is only intelligibly as a responsiveness to the independent value of nature. After all, it is hard to gain much excellence of character from appreciating an otherwise worthless thing. The author finds environmental virtue ethics dangerous to the extent that its focus on human flourishing distracts us from the intrinsic value of natural entities that makes environmental virtue possible. Our deeper ethical achievement needs to focus on values as intrinsic achievement in wild nature. These virtues within us need to attend to values without us.