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Environmental Ethics

Volume 17, Issue 3, Fall 1995

Terri Field
Pages 307-320

Caring Relationships with Natural and Artificial Environments

A relational-self theory claims that one’s self is constituted by one’s relationships. The type of ethics that is said to arise from this concept of self is often called an ethics of care, whereby the focus of ethical deliberation is on preserving and nurturing those relationships. Some environmental philosophers advocating a relational-self theory tend to assume that the particular relationships that constitute the self will prioritize the natural world. I question this assumption by introducing the problem of artifact relationships. It is unclear whether a relational-self theory recognizes relationships with the artificial world as being meaningful in any moral sense, and whether such relationships, if they can exist, should be accorded equal value to relationships with the natural world. The problem of artifact relationships becomes particularly apparent when the relational-self theory is linked to place-based ethics. If our ethics are to develop from our relations to place, and our place is largely an artificial world, is there not a danger that our ethical deliberations will tend to neglect the natural world? I adapt Holmes Rolston’s concept of “storied residence” to show how the inclusion of the artificial world will lead to different questions regarding one’s resident environment, and perhaps a different emphasis on what is valued. My aim in raising these questions is to challenge the optimism that writers such as Karen Warren and Jim Cheney have shown in supporting relational-self theories and place-based ethics. I conclude that the challenge to develop a relational-self/place-based ethic does not appear to have been met within Western environmental philosophy, which has perpetuated a silence on the matter of our embedment in the artificial world.