The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 5, 2007

Logic and Philosophy of the Sciences

Robin Attfield
Pages 59-63

Is the Concept of Nature Dispensable?

In response to the arguments of Bill McKibben and of Stephen Vogel that nature is at an end and that the very concept of nature should be discarded, I argue that, far from this being the case, the concept of nature is indispensable. A third sense of 'nature' besides the two distinguished by Vogel, that of the nature of an organism, is brought to attention and shown, through five arguments, to be indispensable for environmental philosophy and ethics, and for ethics in general (veterinary and medical ethics included). But it is no coincidence that the same term is used for all three senses of'nature' in many languages. The indispensability of 'nature' in the third sense is used to suggest the indispensability of 'nature' in the second sense (things unaffected by human activity, a sense needed if we are to understand species whether wild or domesticated, because of their evolutionary history, and if we are to distinguish social systems from natural systems), and also of 'nature' in the first sense (things that are not supernatural, a sense needed if we are to ask metaphysical questions about whether 'nature' in this sense and in the other two might have a creator).