Following human nature

Environmental Ethics 28 (2):165-183 (2006)


Any mediation of the humanity-nature divide driven by environmental concern must satisfactorily account for ecologically destructive human behavior. Holmes Rolston, III argues that human cultures should “follow nature” when interacting with nature. Yet he understands culture to necessarily degrade ecosystems, and allows that purely cultural values could legitimate the destruction of nature itself. Edward O. Wilson, meanwhile, argues that culture’s evolutionary function is to fit humanity to its niche; culture necessarily follows “epigenetic rules” naturally selected for this purpose. However, because humanity cannot but follow these rules, any human behavior—even (post)modern societies’ ecologically catastrophic behavior—is entirely natural. Therefore, Rolston’s reconciliation is too weak and Wilson’s too strong. Yet the two can be mutually modifying. Rolston’s “pure” culture should follow the natural value of human nature; yet, humans must be free to disobey (at their peril) Wilson’s epigenetic rules. Humanity thus becomesreconciled to nature by freely following its own nature, which is violated when the wider natural world is treated unnaturally

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