The Moral Value Of Wilderness
Janna Thompson , 25 Jan 18
       

Pause and reflect on what really makes wilderness valuable. John O'Neill/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Let us imagine that humanity has almost died out and only a few people remain. Out of resentment or despair, the survivors cater to their destructive urges by destroying as much of the natural world as they can. They poison rivers and lakes, drop napalm on forests, set off a few nuclear warheads. They are at ease with their conscience because no one will ever be in the position to use or appreciate the nature they are destroying.

They are harming no one. But surely what they are doing is wrong.

The Australian environmental philosopher Richard Sylvan used this story to try to persuade us that nature has a value that is independent of our needs and desires, even our existence.

The predicament he imagines is a fiction. But the ethical problem is very real. Experts tell us that human activity is causing the world’s wilderness areas to disappear at an alarming rate. In 100 years there may be no wilderness left.

Those who deplore this development usually focus on the negative implications for human well-being: increasing environmental dysfunction, loss of species diversity and of the unknown benefits that wilderness areas might contain.

But Sylvan’s thought experiment – involving the last people alive, and therefore removing the consideration of humans’ future well-being – shows us that much more is at stake. It is morally wrong to destroy ecosystems because they have value in their own right.

Questions of value

Some philosophers deny that something can have value if no one is around to value it. They think that ethical values exist only in our minds. Like most philosophical propositions, this position is debatable. Sylvan and many others believe that value is as much a part of the world as matter and energy.

But let us assume that those who deny the independent existence of values are right. How then can we condemn the destructive activities of the last people or deplore the loss of wilderness and species for any other reason than loss of something useful to humans?

The kind of experiences that something provides can be a reason for regarding it as valuable for what it is, and not merely for its utility. Those who appreciate wilderness areas are inclined to believe that they have this kind of value. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden: “We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life posturing freely where we never wander.”

Sign in to view full article

       
Singapore’s Ageing Population, a Challenge for Hospitals and Nurses
The increase in hospital admission and ensuing demands on intensive medical care will trigger the need for more hospital beds: ...
Epoch Newsroom
Mon, 2 Jan 17
Why Do We Need to Eat so Many Vegetables and What Does a Serve Actually Look Like?
Most adults would know they’re meant to eat two or more serves of fruit and five or more serves of ...
Genevieve James-Martin, Gemma Williams, Malcolm Riley
Mon, 8 May 17
Facebook’s New Anti-Fake News Strategy Is Not Going To Work – But Something Else Might
Over the past year, the social media company has been scrutinized for influencing the US presidential election by spreading fake ...
Paul Ralph
Mon, 1 May 17
Is The Developed World We’ve Created Giving Us Cancer?
I had assumed that the small lump in my breast was a blocked milk duct from nursing my seven-month-old son. ...
Chelsey Kivland
Thu, 8 Jun 17
The Future: Making Singapore an Elder-Friendly Place
The government aims to make Singapore “an inclusive elder-friendly place” and the first step starts from the elders’ flats.
Jocelyn Neo
Mon, 2 Jan 17
An Epoch Times Survey
Join us today!
An Epoch Times Survey
Read about Forced Organ Harvesting
Sports Elements
BUCHERER