The Human Relationship to Nature

The Limit of Reason, the Basis of Value, and the Crisis of Environmental Ethics

By (author) Matthew R. Foster

Hardback - £102.00

Publication date:

02 November 2016

Length of book:

490 pages


Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9780739164952

Growing alarm over the harm done by humans to the natural world, and even to the viability of our own industrial civilization, compels us to ask the deeper moral question: What should be the human relationship to nature? Matthew R. Foster starts by assessing three contrasting patterns of moral reasoning: the Progress Ethic that created the world we live in; the biblically-inspired Stewardship Ethic; and the Connection Ethic based on scientific understanding of the interdependence of all natural entities.

Critical analysis reveals that none of these ethics is able to sustain the values it advocates due to two unsupportable presumptions—that the norms of human morality are commensurate with the natural world, and that the value of an entity is an intrinsic property. Foster argues that in order for a future environmental ethic to be both logically coherent and environmentally constructive, it must start from unconventional notions. First, because nature will never be commensurate with human moral reasoning, non-rational resources must be employed despite the risks involved. Second, value resides in the relationship of one entity to another, and does not belong intrinsically to either—in short, value is foremost a verb, rather than a noun.

Foster proposes a new paradigm attentive to the realm of value relations among all natural entities, one which offers mediating opportunities between nature and morality. In this new ethic there are no “shoulds.” Rather, moral responsibilities to the natural entities around us are elective, placing us in an unfamiliar yet potentially liberating network of relationships.

This book will be of interest to scholars—both instructors and students—of environmental ethics, philosophy, religion, and intellectual history, and all who are concerned about the environmental challenges of our time.
The human impact on the natural world is ubiquitous and hugely destructive. This has negative consequences for humans but should we be additionally troubled because intrinsic value in nature is thereby destroyed? This book argues that conventional environmental ethics cannot sustain the view that there is intrinsic value in nature because there is a fundamental incommensurability between nature and moral reasoning. What makes this book particularly interesting is its deployment of reasoning to underpin a new approach to environmental ethics in which moral agents freely “choose their environmental responsibilities”. Moreover, so the argument goes, a correct understanding of the place of humans in nature. and the relationship between culture and nature, will incline moral agents to choose principles and actions consonant with conventional environmental ethics. This is a compelling idea. Is it defensible? It is definitely worth reading this book to find out.