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Environmental Ethics

Volume 25, Issue 2, Summer 2003

Steven Vogel
Pages 149-168

The Nature of Artifacts

Philosophers such as Eric Katz and Robert Elliot have argued against ecological restoration on the grounds that restored landscapes are no longer natural. Katz calls them “artifacts,” but the sharp distinction between nature and artifact doesn’t hold up. Why should the products of one particular natural species be seen as somehow escaping nature? Katz’s account identifies an artifact too tightly with the intentions of its creator: artifacts always have more to them than what their creators intended, and furthermore the intention behind some artifacts might explicitly be to allow things to happen unpredictably. Indeed, to build any artifact is to employ forces that go beyond the builder: in this sense all artifacts are natural. Recognizing the naturalness of artifacts can help encourage the key environmental virtues of self-knowledge and humility.

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