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Environmental Ethics

Volume 24, Issue 1, Spring 2002

Steven Vogel
Pages 23-39
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics200224139

Environmental Philosophy after the End of Nature

I call for “postnaturalism” in environmental philosophy—for an environmental philosophy that no longer employs the concept nature. First, the term is too ambiguous and philosophically dangerous and, second, McKibben and others who argue that nature has already ended are probably right—except that perhaps nature has always already ended. Poststructuralism, environmental history, and recent science studies all point in the same direction: the world we inhabit is always already one transformed by human practices. Environmental questions are social and political ones, to be answered by us and not by nature. Many will worry that this conclusion leads to environmentally pernicious consequences, and to problems of relativism and idealism, but I argue that it does not. Practices are real, not ideal, and not all practices are equal: those that acknowledge human responsibility for transforming the world are preferable to those that don’t. Environmental harm results when we do not recognize our own responsibility for the world our practices create.