Environmental Philosophy

Volume 20, Issue 2, Fall 2023

J. Michael Scoville
Pages 237-265

On The Concept of Independent Nature

Multiple concepts of nature are at play in environmental theory and practice. One that has gripped several theorists is the idea of nature as referring to that which is independent of humans and human activity. This concept has been subject to forceful criticism, notably in the recent work of Steven Vogel. After clarifying problematic and promising ways of charac­terizing independent nature, I engage Vogel’s critique. While the critique is compelling in certain respects, I argue that it fails to appreciate what I take to be an important motivating concern of those drawn to the concept of independent nature, or something like it. I offer a characterization of that concern—a worry about problematic instrumentalization of the nonhuman world—and suggest why this concern, and the idea of independent nature which helps to make it intelligible, should continue to inform environmental theory and practice. In offering a qualified defense of the concept of independent nature, and of its value, I assume that such a concept is only one possible tool in a multi-pronged approach to environmental theorizing, deliberation, action, and policy.