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Environmental Ethics

Volume 1, Issue 4, Winter 1979

Klaus M. Meyer-Abich
Pages 293-308
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics19791423

Toward a Practical Philosophy of Nature

The application of the polluter-pays principle in environmental policy depends on answers to the philosophical questions about what is good or detrimental with respect to nature. Science and the economy constitute a functional circle of “observing” nature’s unity as well as its utility. Based on a concept of nature as a system of causally related objects or - complementary to this - as a bunch of “resources,” however, the human interest and responsibility in nature do not seem to be properly observed. Subjecting nature to human subjectivity may have been an adaptation in the wrong direction, since, if humanity is taken as the measure, there is no measure for humanity. A practical philosophy of nature should start from the assumption that science’s missing unity and the economy’s missing goodness are equivalent shortcomings in a complenlentary way. On the one hand, philosophy should engage in the problem-oriented reintegration of the sciences by establishing nuclei of interdisciplinary cooperation. We are relating ourselves to nature in a responsible way only when approaching nature as our own nature. On the other hand, while our technological faculties have reached a very high level of reliability and differentiation, we are definitely much less successful in recognizing goodness in economic “goods.” This calls for demand education with respect to how human needs are to be brought to bear as demands on nature, a human relation to nature as well as natural relations between human beings, again depending on answers to philosophical questions. In the history of ideas, nature has declined from “the nature of things and beings” to “the things and beings of nature,” or from being to beings. We will, however, never be able to judge what is good or bad with respect to nature if we do not from the outset start - pragmatically- with a normative concept of nature.

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