Assessing the Value of Nature

Environmental Ethics 24 (1):57-74 (2002)
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Henry David Thoreau’s discussion of the highest value of wild apples and my own reflection upon my experience, interacting with the sea and enjoying its products during my Central American upbringing, motivate this discussion of how human beings may apprehend nature’s highest worth. I propose that in order to apprehend nature’s highest value it is necessary to understand the complete transaction between human beings and nature—an active transaction that requires from the human being a continuous movement along experience, reflection, and responsible action. I argue that the economic valuation of natural products—via the contemporary economic concepts of utility, use-value, existence-value, and willingness-to-pay—is insufficient to comprehend the full worth of nature because it reduces the human being-nature transaction to mere economic terms. Hence, a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature provides insight into the services—commodity, beauty, language, and discipline—that the human being receives, as part of the transaction, from nature. In turn, a reading of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac complements the Emersonian position by considering the human being’s position as a member of a natural community. Finally, I propose that in order to apprehend the worth of nature, it is further necessary to move from the reflective understanding of the human being-nature transaction into necessary action, that is, into the assumption of responsibility towards nature.



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Daniel G. Campos
Brooklyn College

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