Natural, wild and free: A discourse on environmental value
Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac is widely recognized as one of the central texts informing American environmentalism. In it Leopold calls upon our society to reevaluate the costs of our continued material progress by recognizing the value of things which are “natural, wild and free.” My aim in this dissertation is to start to take up with this challenge. However, in order to do so we need to clear up some conceptual confusion about these properties. What does it mean to say that something is natural, wild or free? What kinds of impacts diminish these properties? What kinds of actions must taken to preserve them? Laying out this conceptual roadmap is my main purpose in this dissertation.
Using Leopold's text as a springboard for my analysis, I argue: (1) that the philosophical literature on Leopold to date is inadequate because it has failed to take into account the central role that the properties of naturalness, wildness and freedom play in the text; (2) that though they interact in complex ways, each of these properties is logically distinct; and (3) that these three properties form the foundational values of American environmentalism, each expressing a different aspect of what David Abrahms calls “a more-than-human world”.
The view I put forward recognizes that each of these properties exists along a continuum with a contrasting property. The central worry for Leopold, and for environmentalists in general, is that we are rapidly creating a world that is dominated by the human side of each of these continuums. Our world, which was once completely natural, wild and free, is quickly becoming artifactual, civil and bounded. The task now for environmentalism is how to achieve a better balance. Understanding the nature of the properties we are attempting to balance is a necessary step towards accomplishing that task.
0768: Environmental science