An exploration of the value of naturalness and wild nature

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 20 (2):195-213 (2007)
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Abstract

The source of the value of naturalness is of considerable relevance for the conservation movement, to philosophers, and to society generally. However, naturalness is a complex quality and resists straightforward definition. Here, two interpretations of what is “natural” are explored. One of these assesses the naturalness of species and ecosystems with reference to a benchmark date, such as the advent of industrialization. The value of naturalness in this case largely reflects prioritization of the value of biodiversity. However, the foundation of our understanding of naturalness is that it describes processes that are free of human intervention. Conflict between the two interpretations of naturalness is apparent in the claim that naturalness can be enhanced by human intervention, in the form of ecological restoration. Although naturalness in its purest form precludes human intervention, some human activities are also apparently more natural than others. This continuum of naturalness relates to the autonomy of the individual from abstract instrumentalism, which describes a particular form of influence ubiquitous in contemporary society. The value of naturalness reflects both dissatisfaction with these threats to personal autonomy, and respect for wild nature as the embodiment of a larger-than-human realm.

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