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Why Not Interfere with Nature?

Mark A. Michael
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
Vol. 5, No. 1 (Mar., 2002), pp. 89-112
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27504223
Page Count: 24
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Why Not Interfere with Nature?
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Abstract

Advocates of an environmental ethic frequently claim that what makes an ethical theory truly and uniquely environmental is its commitment to the principle that environmental wholes such as species, ecosystems, and biotic communities are morally considerable. The prevailing view is that our primary duty towards these wholes is to respect their integrity, stability, and beauty, and that the best way to do this is to leave them alone, not interfere with them, and let nature follow its own course. But is that correct? Why should be refrain from interfering with nature? There are two ways an environmentalist might try to justify an exceptionaless, prima facie principle of noninterference. First, she might claim that there is a contingent but universal connection between human interference and ecosystemic harm. There is also an epistemic variant of this view. When faced with a decision concerning whether to interfere with an ecosystem, there will always be overwhelming reasons for thinking that interference will be harmful, regardless of the specific circumstances. Second, there might be some conceptual connection between interference and harm to ecosystems. For example, if the well-being of an ecosystem is identified with its wildness, and wildness is understood as the absence of human intervention or manipulation, then any human interference necessarily detracts from an ecosystem's wildness and thereby has a detrimental effect on its well-being. In this paper I examine these justifications in detail and argue that none can support an exceptionaless principle of noninterference.

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