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Environmental Philosophy

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2004

Robert Chapman
Pages 58-72

Crowded Solitude
Thoreau on Wildness

Wilderness and wildness are not related isomorphically. Wildness is the broader category; all instances of wilderness express wildness while all instances of wildness do not express wilderness. There is more than a logical distinction between wildness and wilderness, and what begins as an analytic distinction ends as an ontological one. A more rhetorical representation of this confusion is captured by the notion of synecdoche, where, in this case, wilderness the narrower term is used for wildness the more expansive term. Although this might seem obvious at first glance, I contend that the two concepts are often misused taken as synonyms thus equivocally, setting back the cause of conceptual clarity in environmental philosophy in general, and environmental restoration in particular. One notable outcome has been the unfortunate dichotomy between preservation and conservation resulting in policy choices that needlessly deny integrated alternatives by illicit exclusion. This paper will clarify this confusion by demonstrating instances where the two concepts have been systematically abused—conflated—and show how Henry David Thoreau saw them as importantly separable. Finally, a clearer understanding of the distinctions between the two concepts provides the basis for a viable program of restoration based on an ethics of place.

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