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Environmental Ethics

Volume 21, Issue 2, Summer 1999

Wayne Ouderkirk
Pages 135-150

Can Nature be Evil?
Rolston, Disvalue, and Theodicy

Holmes Rolston, III’s analysis of disvalue in nature is the sole explicit and sustained discussion of the negative side of nature by an environmental philosopher. Given Rolston’s theological background, perhaps it is not surprising that his analysis has strong analogues with traditional theodicies, which attempt to account for evil in a world created by a good God. In this paper, I explore those analogues and use them to help evaluate Rolston’s account. Ultimately, I find it more satisfactory than traditional theodicy in its own context, but I also raise two problems: a weighting and a counseling problem. First, once Rolston acknowledges the reality and role of disvalue in nature, he discounts its significance too greatly. Second, his account is less useful in helping those who have been harmed by the destructive activity of nature. I claim that we can usefully regard Rolston’s analysis as a deconstruction of the anthropocentric, non-ecological view of nature. Finally, I argue that the two problems and a related issue, the objectivity/subjectivity of values, point in the direction of a pragmatist account of value in nature.

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