Nature is Our Home

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Viewing humans as separate from nature has obvious ecologically negative implications. If the human world and its values are seen as essentially disconnected from the natural world, this provides little motivation for the commitment necessary to deal with contemporary ecological challenges. A dualistic view of humans in relation to nature contributes to a worldview that emphasizes the instrumental character of the nature world to the neglect of its intrinsic value. This dualistic view may have contributed to the particular effectiveness of the human manipulation of the natural environment that characterizes the modern scientific era, but it also contributed to the ecological problems we now face. If nature is to be viewed as separate from humans, bereft of vitality and value, there is little impediment for human thought against manipulating nature in any way deemed necessary for human purposes. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), sometimes credited with a central role in the “founding of modernity,” represents the epitome of this perspective, treating nature as something to be dominated and manipulated for human use (See Frederick Ferré, Being and Value, 1996, pp. 117-120). Viewing humans as separate from nature also makes it difficult for humans to identify with the rest of the natural world, to see their interests and values as being intimately connected with nature.

Perhaps the view that humans are not a part of nature is based on the erroneous judgment that distinction or difference entails separation. It seems self-evident in human experience that humans are different than the rest of the natural world. With our rational faculties, our ability to use symbols and language, and the complex development of human cultures, we experience ourselves to be quite different than non-human life. These significant differences between human beings and the rest of life lead us to distinguish between human-made culture or civilization and the natural world. We experience ourselves to be so radically different than the rest of the world that we tend to view ourselves as separate from it. In the modern West, this view of separation has even manifested in a difficulty understanding the interaction of our human minds with our human bodies. Since our bodies seem to be more closely linked to the natural processes in the rest of the world, we tend to question whether our bodies are truly a part of our persons.

To value and care for our one world house, we need a more holistic understanding of persons as part of the natural world. This does not make humans less personal, rather it is a recognition that nature is more personal than the modern Western world has understood it. Nature is not a foe to conquer or simply a tool to use and manipulate; nature is our home. Nature is the context in which we are able to realize our full humanity. This view does not entail a call to leave our human pursuits and return to nature, for this presupposes the dualism I am wanting to refute. Rather this view simply entails that we recognize all of our activities as taking place within nature. There is nothing unnatural about the great human accomplishments of art, philosophy, politics, science, and technology. These activities are no less a part of nature than the activities of non-human life forms. They are more complex, they are often the products of rational deliberation and incredible skill, but these activities are not taking place in a completely different order of reality. They are part of the community of nature, and human persons are persons-in-ecological-community and members of one world house which includes all life.

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is The Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. From 2009 to 2015, Mark was dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences and Wimberly Professor of Social Ethics at Oklahoma City University. Previously, Mark was dean of the Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University and Founding Director of the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership. Prior to becoming dean of the Wimberly School of Religion in 2002, he was associate dean of the Petree College of Arts and Sciences at Oklahoma City University and chair of the department of philosophy. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University.
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