The Naturalist’s Virtues

Cafaro, Philip
Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Volume 8/2 ( 2001), pages 85-99

This paper argues that studying natural history helps make us more virtuous; that is, better and happier people. After sketching a broad conception of virtue, I discuss how naturalizing may improve our moral character and help develop our intellectual, aesthetic and physical abilities. I next assert essential connections between nonanthropocentrism and wisdom, and between natural history study and the achievement of a nonanthropocentric stance toward the world Finally, I argue that the great naturalists suggest a noble, inspiring alternative to the gross consumption and trivial pleasures offered by our destructive modern economy: the exploration, understanding and appreciation of nature. I conclude that a better understanding of our enlightened self-interest would do as much to further environmental protection as the acknowledgment of nature’s intrinsic value.