Week 9: Wilderness & Nature

  1. Herrington 3
  2. Ouderkirk, Wayne, “On Wilderness and People: A View from Mount Marcy.” Philosophy and Geography 6:1 (2003): 15-32.
  3. Cronon, William, “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History 1:1 (Jan 1996): 7-28.


Some Senses of Nature

  1. The outdoors -- Nature-lover
  2. Everything that exists -- translation of Aristotle's physis.
  3. What a thing is -- its nature. We use the term as synonymous for "essence". The characteristics of an individual.
  4. What a group of things is like. We speak of "Human nature" as distinct from an individual's nature. The characteristics of a universal.
  5. Our biological heredity -- Nature vs. Nurture.
  6. That which has not been affected by humans -- "Natural" vs. "Artificial"
  7. What humans would be, without our institutions like government or the church -- State of Nature
  8. Everything about humans that does not have to do with our rational selves. It starts from the conviction that emotions or will are "natural" and reason is a veneer over our true selves.
  9. The human and material world, as opposed to the divine realm.
  10. An animating force of all life -- "Mother Nature."


Nature and its Others (divinity, technology)

  1. Ancient (e.g., Homer): Nature is divine (gods)
  2. Thales: The composition of nature is important. Nature becomes reality, divinity is above reality.
  3. Aristotle: Nature is everything that exists; technology is our means of existing in the midst of everything.
  4. Early Christian Thought: Nature is created, divinity is not.
  5. Mediaeval Thought: Nature is an ever-ascending chain, in which all beings strive to be the best of what they can be. Technology, for humans, is the application of one kind of intelligence (and not the highest kind).
  6. Hobbes: Nature is machine; technology is the human imitation of nature.
  7. Descartes: Nature is underlying mathematical regularity; technology is the best example of that regularity.
  8. Locke: Nature is property, privately owned (capitalism); technology is our ability to own and develop nature.
  9. Kant: Nature is objective and regular, and humans are partly in it and partly outside of it.
  10. Rousseau & the Romantics: Nature is benevolent and the primordial good; technology is the deviation from or corruption of that good.
  11. Hegel: Nature is the ground for the manifestation of Spirit; technology is the evidence that we can manifest that Spirit.
  12. Marx: Nature is publically owned, and is the matter out of which humans progress to self-knowledge (socialism); technology is the human means of production, that enables us to move humans and nature to new levels of existence.
  13. Nietzsche (& Derrida): Nature is a covert moral standard, coercing action; technology represents our freedom from the coercion of that morality.
  14. Modern Industrialism: Nature is a resource; technology is the means of harnessing that resource.
  15. Modern Science: Nature is matter; technology is the means of knowing and controlling nature.
  16. Heidegger: Nature is a set of contingencies in which we find ourselves, and on which we take a stand. Technology is both our way of realizing some of those contingencies and also our way of obscuring them from ourselves.
  17. Teilhard de Chardin: Nature is an evolving organism, coming to intelligence and self-awareness.
  18. Post-modern society: Nature has ended; there is no part of existence that has not been touched or altered by technology.
  19. The Green Movement: Nature is wildlife, raw materials, the non-urban environment, as opposed to the urban or industrial environment. Nature is that which is not shaped by human occupancy. Technology becomes both the means that nature has been harmed, and potentially the means by which it can be preserved.
  20. Other assorted conceptions:
    a. Nature is the body, and humans are the mind.
    b. Nature is the primitive, which we are meant to civilize (through technology).
    c. Nature is passion, and humans are reason.
    d. Nature is the "animal" (to be both feared and admired), technology is the whip to tame the animals.
    e. Nature is the "woman", to be desired and treated as a mythological mother, lover, and servant.


Metaphor Mother Earth Clock/Machine Information
Time: Cyclical Linear, fixed & objective Multiple & programmable
Organization & Production: Communal & agricultural National & industrial (e.g. fordism) Re-programmable & postindustrial (e.g., human genome project
Nature of Nature (earth ethic): Living entity, dangerous & nurturing Orderly, fixed, predictable, & manipulable Re-programmable open to complete reconstruction
Material World: Alive & spiritual (animist) Inert, dead Manifestation of information (ordered)
History: None/cyclical Fixed & constraining Irrelevant
Future: Eternal return Progress via efficiency Simulation
Ethic: Thou shalt not Be productive Be creative



America's Wilderness - 1964 Wilderness Act

Doug Scott on the Wilderness Act, Pt. 1

Doug Scott on Wilderness Act, Pt. 2


Nature & Wilderness: Some Statements

Thoreau, from Natural History of Massechusetts

5. In society you will not find health, but in nature. Unless our feet at least stood in the midst of nature, all our faces would be pale and livid. Society is always diseased, and the best is the most so. There is no scent in it so wholesome as that of the pines, nor any fragrance so penetrating and restorative as the life-everlasting in high pastures. I would keep some book of natural history always by me as a sort of elixir, the reading of which should restore the tone of the system. To the sick, indeed, nature is sick, but to the well, a fountain of health. To him who contemplates a trait of natural beauty no harm nor disappointment can come. . .

42. Nature is mythical and mystical always, and works with the license and extravagance of genius. She has her luxurious and florid style as well as art. Having a pilgrim's cup to make, she gives to the whole, stem, bowl, handle, and nose, some fantastic shape, as if it were to be the car of some fabulous marine deity, a Nereus or Triton.

John Muir, from Wild Wool

2. Sometimes I venture to approach him with a plea for wildness, when he good-naturedly shakes a big mellow apple in my face, reiterating his favorite aphorism, "Culture is an orchard apple; Nature is a crab." Not all culture, however, is equally destructive and inappreciative. . . Nevertheless, the barbarous notion is almost universally entertained by civilized man, that there is in all the manufactures of Nature something essentially coarse which can and must be eradicated by human culture. I was, therefore, delighted in finding that the wild wool growing upon mountain sheep in the neighborhood of Mount Shasta was much finer than the average grades of cultivated wool. This fine discovery was made some three months ago, while hunting among the Shasta sheep between Shasta and Lower Klamath Lake. Three fleeces were obtained--one that belonged to a large ram about four years old, another to a ewe about the same age, and another to a yearling lamb. After parting their beautiful wool on the side and many places along the back, shoulders, and hips, and examining it closely with my lens, I shouted: "Well done for wildness! Wild wool is finer than tame!" 

3. My companions stooped down and examined the fleeces for themselves, pulling out tufts and ringlets, spinning them between their fingers, and measuring the length of the staple, each in turn paying tribute to wildness. It was finer, and no mistake; finer than Spanish Merino. Wild wool is finer than tame. 

4. "Here," said I, "is an argument for fine wildness that needs no explanation. Not that such arguments are by any means rare, for all wildness is finer than tameness, but because fine wool is appreciable by everybody alike--from the most speculative president of national wool-growers' associations all the way down to the gude-wife spinning by her ingleside." 

5. Nature is a good mother, and sees well to the clothing of her many bairns--birds with smoothly imbricated feathers, beetles with shining jackets, and bears with shaggy furs. . .

Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for). The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land." pg 239

"In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such." pg 240

"The 'key-log' which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise." pg 262

"Think like a mountain."