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Environmental Ethics

Volume 21, Issue 2, Summer 1999

Martin Drenthen
Pages 163-175

The Paradox of Environmental Ethics
Nietzsche’s View of Nature and the Wild

In this paper, I offer a systematic inquiry into the significance of Nietzsche’s philosophy to environmental ethics. Nietzsche’s philosophy of nature is, I believe, relevant today because it makes explicit a fundamental ambiguity that is also characteristic of our current understanding of nature. I show how the current debate between traditional environmental ethics and postmodern environmental philosophy can be interpreted as a symptom of this ambiguity. I argue that, in light of Nietzsche’s critique of morality, environmental ethics is a highly paradoxical project. According to Nietzsche, each moral interpretation of nature implies a conceptual seizure of power over nature. On the other hand, Nietzsche argues, the concept of nature is indispensable in ethics because we have to interpret nature in order to have a meaningful relation with reality. I show that awareness of this paradox opens a way for a form of respect for nature as radical otherness.

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