14 January 2024

Respecting Nature


Respecting Nature


Topic by: Norma

Notes by: Lawrence


Nature is a big topic to study. And respect encompasses a meaning from admiration to moral obligation. We have no problem admiring nature, but do we have a moral obligation to respect nature? Indeed, can there be moral obligations towards non sentient beings?


Today, in 2024, we accept that some sentient beings deserve, and indeed we do have, moral obligations towards animals. Moreover, maybe we also have a duty not to damage and harm what we call nature.


Unfortunately, as in many philosophical and scientific issues, our problem about nature starts with a language problem with our idea of nature being something based on millennia of dogma and indoctrination that somehow we, as human beings, are not part of nature. As if there is some categorical difference between human beings and nature: nature in this case means not pertaining to human beings. At the outset I will argue that there no such categorical difference.


A quick look at the meaning of nature we find terms such as “physical world” and the contrary of this qualified by, “as opposed to” or “not made by people”. The disassociation of nature from human beings has the effect, intentional or as an unforeseen consequence, of excluding any moral obligation towards nature. I argue that this is not just because, in our mindset, nature is different from human beings but rather that nature is inferior from human beings.


We can even go further and argue that our mindset about nature includes the idea of servitude. This very same idea is found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, “[1:28] God blessed them (humans), and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (https://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/genesis/documents/bible_genesis_en.html).


As we know from the same Book, humans did not keep their “dominion” or “subdue” to nature but wanted to practice their dominion over other human beings.


For our purposes, what matters is the use and implications of language that we employ to interact with nature. The issue is whether we do indeed have a moral duty towards nature, whether sentient or inanimate things.


In the twenty first century there is no doubt that human beings interpret “dominion” as indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and the exploitation of human beings has never stopped. It is as if we pick and choose which parts of the holy books we follow. But it is the arguments of the holy books that presented the idea that somehow we are superior to nature. “Subdue” does imply the idea of using force to overcome thing.


The irony is that those who today mindlessly exploit nature are the very same people who promote this idea human superiority over nature. In English, dominion does not just mean control, as in the control of nature, but more important it means “sovereign” or “government”. And a moral government or sovereign does not mindlessly exploitation nature and citizens, but morally manage resources and citizens. Anything else is just oppression and dicatorship.


This means two things. The first is that nature must include in the meaning the idea of human beings. And the second is that “dominion” does not mean mindless exploitation but rather “ethical management”. Now whether ethical management implies theological ethics or rational ethics based on efficiency and cooperation is of minor import. What is important is that we ought to pay more attention to the language we use. What is clear, however, is that damaging nature directly and negatively affects human beings and the latter is the foundation of any ethical system against wrongdoing.


Best and take care




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PhiloMadrid Skype meeting: Wed 137h December at 8:00pm: Respecting Nature







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