Ethical Perspectives 14 (4):371-403 (2007)

Martin Drenthen
Radboud University Nijmegen
In moral debates about human’s relationship with nature, one often hears references to nature’s wildness. Apparently, postmodern city dwellers seem to be deeply fascinated by wild nature; for them, wildness somehow seems to have strong moral significance. How should we interpret this fascination? Moral meanings of nature come into play as soon as we start articulating our relationship with the world.In this process, we transform the neutrality of space into a meaningful place, that is, through interpretation we make mere environment into a meaningful and inhabitable world that we can live in. However, there is something peculiar with experiences of wild nature that seems to go beyond this hermeneutical framework. The word ‘wilderness’ refers to the sphere that lies beyond culture, a part of the world that is not subject to human intervention and that is not our home.Does this mean that wildness cannot be part of a meaningful world? In this paper, I argue that Nietzsche’s account of nature can help elucidate today’s fascination with wilderness as a place of value beyond the sphere of human intervention. For Nietzsche, wild nature is a realm where moral valuations are out of order. In his work, however, we can discern a paradoxical moral concern with this wildness. Wildness is a critical moral concept that reminds us that our moral world of human meanings and goals ultimately rests on a much grander, all-encompassing natural world. Nietzsche’s concept of wildness acknowledges the value of that which cannot be morally appropriated. Wild nature confronts us with the limits of human valuing. Wildness as a concept thus introduces the ‘beyond’ of culture into the cultural arena of values
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DOI 10.2143/EP.14.4.2028824
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