Environmental Ethics

Volume 21, Issue 4, Winter 1999

Anna Peterson
Pages 339-357

Environmental Ethics and the Social Construction of Nature

Nature can be understood as socially constructed in two senses: in different cultures’ interpretations of the nonhuman world and in the physical ways that humans have shaped even areas that they think of as “natural.” Both understandings are important for environmental ethics insofar as they highlight the diversity of ways of viewing and living in nature. However, strong versions of the social constructionist argument contend that there is no “nature” apart from human discourse and practices. This claim is problematic both logically, insofar as it fails to deconstruct the notion of culture, and ethically, insofar as it categorically privileges human activities and traits.