Evolving Sensibilities of our Conception of Nature

by Jay Schulkin

Jay Schulkin is Research Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Email jscbulkin@acog.com.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.241-254, Volume 27, Number 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1998. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The author suggests that a proper philosophy of nature is tied to environmental economics, a conception of labor that is thoughtful and with value, a vision of persons as inherently part of the natural world and as responsible decision-makers not alienated from nature.

I. Introduction

We are undergoing a changing sense in our conception of nature. This was partly ignited by Alfred North Whitehead and other visionaries of nature of the 20th century. Whitehead envisioned a nature in which mind was not bifurcated from nature, and in which nature was alive. As he said, "the effect of this sharp division between nature and life has poisoned all subsequent philosophy."1

What sense of nature do I have in mind? Certainly one in which we understand that we evolved as part of nature, that many of our abilities are linked to past adaptations.2 This view of nature is replete with both competition and cooperation in the fight for survival. Nature is also spectacular and one ought to be awestruck by it, humbled and invigorated by its great power and beauty.3 But nature also reflects our social sensibilities.4

Let me begin with a parenthetical remark: there are many uses of the concept of nature, many of which I use in describing the history of the term and its present use. My concern, like other investigators, is to link a conception of nature with our transactions with one another.5 In this regard, one can ask the question about whether our decision-making is good, whether it is of value in the context of a sense of nature. In addition, my view is one in which science and philosophy are continuous with one another, but one in which philosophy is not reduced to the handyman of science.

The vision that I suggest is one in which nature is not bifurcated from values; values cut across the line between nature and culture or society thereby reducing the dividing line between them. The value and rights of our offspring and the risks that they will face, because of our decisions about the resources of nature, eradicates the dividing line between values in nature from those in society -- the value and the right that future generations thrive both in culture and as part of nature.6

In what follows, I begin with an historical presentation about nature and our transactions with each other. I build toward the thesis that a vision of nature is linked to our carving out sanguine, valued action and labor with regard to the use of nature and its resources. A philosophy of nature is constitutive of an environmental/economic perspective. The argument is to characterize an evolving sense of nature and ourselves and our decision-making. The decision-making embodied in meaningful labor perhaps is localized within environmental economics.

II. Landscapes

Our age truly has become one of changing landscapes, of environmental intimacy and dependency which crosses over regional borders. But before culture became the fabric of the everyday, nature afforded the necessities and life was dictated by their procurement. Our life was dominated by local adaptations. In the course of human "progress," when leisure emerged speculative thought surfaced. Our brain already contained the possibility for speculative thought.

Speculative thought and linguistic competence lay at the heart of our divergence from other primates. The early cave drawings of nature are about objects of need and awe. The drawings also reveal a definite link and appreciation of nature. The representations reveal our first speculations of our surroundings. Nature was alive, mysterious and awe-inspiring, and one was very much a part of it. Nature was not something detached from us. The separation of ourselves from nature was a much later invention. There may not have been an egocentric dominance in our psyche. The world was not revolving around us.

It has been claimed that the "paleolithic mind" experienced nature as alive, not dead. Magna mater was vibrant and appreciated; the land was sacred. Our place, while insecure, was one of awe and delight.7 With the effort to explore and to provide safety, we began to dominate and to render nature subject to our aims and wishes. In this process we lost some of our awe and respect for nature.

These claims about nature, I submit, are indeed romantic and somewhat misleading about our past. They capture something of our past, and these ruminations are replete with the intellectual imperative that an exaggerated domination of nature, a disregard for the consequences of one’s decision-making, is what we need to move beyond. Why? Because we need a sense of nature for which we are respectful; we want a vision of nature where we can see that we are still a harmonious part of it, labor in it, and need it.

In human ontogenetic development, one moves away from the childlike sense that the world revolves around us to a recognition that we are not the center of things but a part of things. Perhaps primitive humans were not so egocentric but simply awed by what they saw when they had time to reflect upon it. The vastness of nature was sublime, but the chores of life were in finding and satisfying the basics.

Because nature was alive and vibrant and we were not detached from it, our first speculative thoughts about nature were those of animism. Our early theories of the world were of extra human or animal spirits (animism) orchestrating the affairs of life in nature. The range was wide, and it grew ever wider as we began to theorize more about the origins of things. The early shamans were the leaders in the community, deciphering and encoding about the origin of things. To them nature was alive; death was an omnipresent danger, but there was still no void, no vacuum, no uninhabited lifeless space.

It has been suggested that our loss of the wilderness experience and the nurturing that it engendered gave rise to modernism. This sense of nature was replete with domination, subjecting nature to our needs taking it as a resource to be exploited. Of course nature was our resource, but, on the one hand, a finite one and, on the other hand, revealing an ethic in labor and guidance for our decision-making.

I suggest, again, that we should neither reify nature in terms of mythological beginnings nor trample upon nature disrespectfully. We transact with nature daily. It is a vital source of what we need to survive. The transaction model of interacting with nature is most often put in the context of individuals (or firms or countries) and the negotiations and contracts that take place between them. The transaction consists of utilizing the sources and resources of nature; the conception is that of long-term vision, the labor intimate to the decision-making. In other words, we are (so to speak) taking out a contract with one another with regard to our interactions with nature.

We need, however, to work out the conception of the individual and community and place both in an evolving biological and cultural context. Decision-making is rooted in thoughtful action that has value, and the distinctions between nature and culture are blurred; the decision-making about the environment, our nested relationships within communities, and how this impacts our sense of ourselves is where we now turn.

III. Philosophical Visions of Individuals and Community and Our Sense of Nature

I am a modern biological scientist and, as such, I want to focus on the Enlightenment sense of the individual and nature. This I hope will prove instructive in reformulating a sense of nature in which interactions as bonds between individuals and nature are emphasized.

The individual was glorified on this Enlightenment view and this was not an entirely bad thing. The breakdown of pernicious authority, whether of church or state, resulted in an appreciation of human spirit, inquiry and labor. After all, knowledge of causes meant something analogous to control and prediction or necessity. But the flavor of humanism was about human ties to one another. It was about our bonds as well as about the resurrection of early classical thought, as medieval armor and cobwebs of the mind had begun to be shed.

Humanism was a glorification of human knowledge and undertakings and not an appreciation of nature. The spirited gentle world of Saint Francis was ignored by the Enlightenment amidst the protestations against church and state authority. With the onset of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, an individual mind was elevated further away from nature and became dominated by science (another form of authority) where previously it had been dominated by theology.

Within the spirit of the Enlightenment, there was the guiding belief that if individuals were allowed to satisfy our wants and needs then civil society would function well. The pursuit of one’s economic goals was perceived to benefit society as a whole. Nature was conceived as replete with unbounded riches ready to be used. The dominant thought was that each individual, each atom of society, should be allowed to express its economic actions. Thus the society would have amassed wealth through individual economic activity. Adam Smith8 also spoke to the Enlightenment sense of individuality, on the one hand, and to the larger satisfaction of wants, on the other. Nature dwindled further under the purview of this outlook.

On this view, individuals were self-contained. That is the ideal or the model for human progress and development; it is what Whitehead linked to a notion of "misplaced concreteness." It is the model of the rational human being uncontaminated by the pushes and pulls of external forces. This view misconstrued human reason and human freedom.9

Nature seemed to have descended into faded impressions. Materials, the ground of our existence as we forged landscapes in which to live, now seemed distant, too distant. Empiricism became pale and passive, because it was concerned with the association of impressions. There seemed to be nothing real about matter, let alone community and bonded social ties of real importance. My own view is that our decision-making, communitarian bonds, and their legitimization, required the sense of the public(s) as we capture our connectedness to nature and its resources.

Hegel’s vision of nature was alive, but only through the mythic embodiment of a grand plan. The science that derived from nature as alive did not seem to lead to any great discoveries in the natural sciences. Marx’s sense of nature and its resources was not any more enlightened than Adam Smith’s.10 Nature was there to be harvested not for the individual but for the state. The state was transcendent and nature and the individual were secondary. The state in its glory was the vehicle of expression. Nature was of secondary worth and became a resource to be used for the benefit of the state Any shred of romantic vision of glorious nature was bourgeois and replete with exaggerated individualism for a small few who could appreciate nature. The actual ideal surge was not toward nature but toward historical necessity and the liberation of humanity and its disease of exaggerated privacy.

Perhaps some integration of two Italian thinkers provides the balancing link of individual and community that I have been adumbrating. Vico, the Italian philologist and philosopher, emphasized the community and, therefore implicitly, transactions between humans, in his commentary on the evolution of culture and the history of humanity. He cultivated what became known as the human sciences, and his picture is perhaps best placed in the context of his fellow contemporary thinker Galileo, who represents the Enlightenment ideal of the individual mind forging an independent path through inquiry.11

Vico’s vision was of humanity laboring through our decision-making and action in order to forge out meaning; it was the labor of creating meaning through our decision-making. An objective world was not lost with the breakdown of the medieval edifice, nor with the cool world of colliding atoms. Rather the world was animated by human labor and discourse.

Galileo may have provided the context in which to conceive individual decision -- making and experimental science. Galileo, a pious Christian, helped solidify modern science by coupling invention, theory, experiment, and technique with individual choice. The experimental mind of science was that of an individual alone in rebellion against state or Church authority. Years later this attitude developed into the emergence of modern inquiry, individual decision-making and the modern sense of human rights.

Galileo was at this time part of the group of thinkers who were moving away from the Medieval view of the world. The architecture of hierarchical purpose was beginning to falter. With the rise of the physical sciences, the teleology with its objective order was disintegrating. Galileo was an intellectual engine in the breakup of the linking of our conceptions and decision-making of purpose with nature, and he was part of the overthrow of medieval scholastic and classical Greek thought. But nature as "alive" and our transactions and participation within nature was not understood. Now let us return to the issue of a nature that is alive with inquiry and in which the human spirit is thriving.

IV. Adapting and Appreciating Nature

Malthus argued that overpopulation creates stiffer competition and extinction of those not fit. Population growth run rampant is a danger to society, but a built-in safeguard is the extinction of those unable to survive. It is hard to envision that the majority will benefit as we witness the fallen over-populated masses reduce themselves brutally. After all, our humanity taught us to respond to the needs of others, the combination of moral sentiments and additional rules set the conditions for such moral decisions and actions. Now those needs are not to be met. Nurture just the strongest and most economically stationed? If this were the case, society would be brutal, if not living hell. It seems even more brutal than the state of nature that Hobbes deemed barbaric and short.12 Such an extreme is not helpful for it does not balance the softer sides of nature with this harsh extreme

But with Romanticism the vision of nature as a value again reappeared, but in a flowery form. The vision that Rousseau had was of harmonious humanity amidst the tranquility of nature. Ecological leadership was ridden with the myth of a return. The new garden was not that of Eden, but was envisioned somewhere in the South Pacific or the English countryside. Both myths undermined human responsibility, and created a false picture of nature.13 Nature is as harsh as well as it is grand and lovely and nurturing. To portray one at the expense of the other is to err unnecessarily.

Bergson contrasted the necessity of nature in physics with the "élan vital" of biology (e.g., freedom in nature, spirit); the dualism that permeated Descartes’ and Kant’s vision of nature, that which was located in human reason was now shifted to a location in nature. In other words, rationalists had placed the bulk of freedom in the cognate faculties of the human mind in contrast to the stark necessity of physical events. Later dualists like Bergson envisioned human life not as the cognate faculty of reason but by contrasting the life forces of nature to physics. He presented a philosophy of nature of living entities rendering creative choices as they expressed themselves. Unfortunately, the klan vital served as a vaporous entity analogous to that of ether. Biological events unfortunately were then set aside, once again encouraging an inherent dualism.14

Bergson and others were right to emphasize biological events as inherently life-affirming, but wrong in mythologizing them. In addition, Bergson did not emphasize the important sense of laboring in the natural world. Lamarck did so by emphasizing learned habits. For example, giraffes stretched and labored to reach objects. He thought they then passed on these abilities to their offspring. This idea became known as Lamarckism, and has been discredited within biology. Lamarck’s contribution was to emphasize labor as part of natural events as animals struggle, as they solve problems and as they adapt to local challenges.15

Our concept of landscapes continued to change. From the pens of Thoreau or, later, John Muir, nature was appreciated as well as to be protected. A sense of sanity was depicted by our relation to nature. The pleasure and serenity Rousseau received from solitary walks was further elaborated and described by Thoreau as he retreated into the woods; on these walks he retreated and escaped into the solitariness of himself, but he did keep alive the idea that nature was alive and that its resources were valuable.

V. Philosophical Naturalists; Thought in Action

The American pragmatists, particularly Peirce, but also James and Dewey, emphasized the role of community. Labor, meaningful thought in action, should be spent in carving up the landscape for communities to be formed. The labor of landscaping would promote common bonds. They tied participation to labor and leadership. Dewey especially colored his inquiry to integrate individual choice and cultural bonds amidst our sensibilities to nature. Moreover, these philosophers tied nature and culture together as continuous with one another. Landscapes changed by our labor, by our decision-making and habits.17

The theme of nature’s vitality figured prominently in the thinking of Whitehead and the American Pragmatists. While some pragmatists have received a bad reputation by identifying knowledge with what works and what works with technology, this was not the case for them all.18 Others tied their political acumen to the belief that we are part of the natural order. They proposed that leadership takes its cue from the realization of

Our relationship to other living things. In addition, they neither exaggerated the individual at the expense of being a part of society, nor denigrated the individual for the glorification of society. A balance was sought between the two. This balance was also extended to nature.

A philosophy of nature, therefore, includes both the sense of human beings as survivor and adaptor and human beings, the laborer. Early leaders in the fields of economics and the biological sciences did not realize the deep but perhaps fragile relationship between the ecology of living things and the labor of economic activity, but now we do. Transactions with others, in the context of respectful engagement and meaningful labor with nature, is one very important value, in addition to the fact that the idea of property and a just, equitable world is still an ideal to which we aspire.

Our culture has expanded the sense of rights.19 As our civilization has grown we ought to have moved beyond the overly egocentric sense of rights which dominated for so long. When we rebelled against church and state authority and proclaimed the dignity of humanity we took a great step. When we realized that we were not the center of the universe through the models of Copernicus, Darwin or Freud we reached forward to the realization that our relationship to the world around us is one of dependence and cannot be transcended while reducing the value of what is around us. A conception of others and their rights, and the rights of future generations, has necessitated our duties towards nature.

While we struggle to accept responsibility, the seductions to remain oblivious are ever present. But there is a fragile trend for greater responsibility now because our sense of rights has expanded, and this has widened our horizons. The vision is that of the cultivation of the commons, the lands -- biocentric, othercentric.

VI. Economics And Ecosystems

A philosophy of nature and decision-making is to be found in the fusion of economics with ecology,20 and less perhaps, with the traditional philosophy of physics or biology. My argument is that evolving sensibilities toward the natural world requires that the land be construed as sacred but instrumental for our use.

History is replete with economic practices and laboring that raped the land, that compromised its capacity to reproduce and flourish. The Puritans wanted to "tame" the wilderness. But nature is the source of our power and is our partner. When we lose sight of this we become lost and worse -- we become alienated and destructive.21

Even John Stuart Mill was an early proponent of conservationism, just as he was an advocate for woman’s rights. His individualistic philosophy did not hamper these important recognitions. For conservation can be compatible or not with individualistic or socialistic visions; both can either trample or respect nature.22

A recognition of the limits of growth has been an implicit principle of some cultures and has been expressed formally in books like Small is Beautiful and The Limits of Growth. Growth does not always mean bigger; it should mean better, and more responsible. In our age it means sustaining the environment and not consuming it detrimentally, thinking ahead, moving beyond narrow egocentric and cultural egocentric points of view.23

When one demythologizes our sense of nature as neither inherently sacred nor bestial, one may generate a more balanced decision-making and expanding rights amidst considerations of nature and its resources. This, I believe, will direct us on our way to a more sanguine judgment about ourselves. Perhaps from Darwin we have realized our continuity in nature. What the science of ecology and the philosophical works of Alfred North Whitehead do is point out the utter interconnectedness of humans and nature, their interrelatedness.

An evolutionary account of human action is, in part, the spontaneous choices of individuals amidst biological constraints and the social milieu, but one does not rule out human purposes of which there are several important ones. One norm in decision-making is to render the world not worse but better off by our presence. Another is to be respectful of our natural surroundings on which we depend. We take out a contract with others to protect the commons; and we labor to keep them stable, sustainable. There is a responsibility to hand down a healthy nature to future generations.

As a critical realist, I focus on the objective values that are uncovered in our inquiry amidst the valuational component of our decision-making. In no place is it as clear as in reasoning about the environment.

VII. Value And Nature

Valuational decisions emerge in measuring worth, in pursuing what we take to be important, measuring the objects in our world. Values instruct us, inform us about what we ought to pursue. Values obviously are essential in the consideration of nature and the use of its resources. Perhaps this reflects the humanization of nature. But to humanize nature is not necessarily to rob it of its great majestic worth. By necessity, as we alter nature by our labor, we humanize nature with our artifacts.

Our decision-making in environmental-economics forces us to participate in nature. We are not abstracted from it but are constantly embedded in nature, even on the most stony of city streets. Nature’s wild elegance can be civilizing and is an important value that we share, that we socially construct, and yet take to be empirically real. One of the key values is the sense of wild nature and its civilizing effects upon our constitution. This is in contrast to an earlier perspective, particularly with the Puritans when they arrived in America, that the value of nature and its wildness represented the wildness in us, something to be done away with.24 Our values, at least to some extent, have shifted.

Valuing living things has its roots in the ancient and modern sages of many persuasions and includes not only humans but also much of the natural world. Natural variety and its preservation have value in and of themselves, but they also have value for the development of medicines and other material that are useful to us. As the above discussion suggests values are fundamental to our thinking and are part of our objective landscape in terms of both intrinsic and extrinsic valuational decisions.25 Because of the normative nature of values, this is not simply a sociological point.

Species have determinate (intrinsic) value that reflects their definiteness and worth. Normative measures capture the worth of species. Each species is unique, as we participate with them in the larger ecosphere. This requires recognizing the value of our environment, of ourselves.26 There is an aesthetic dimension to our experience and our decision-making in capturing the value in things.27 The pragmatic tradition tries to capture the richness of experience and our interests, balanced against human inquiry and worth as we capture the value that lies in our transactions with one another and with nature.

We are forced to rank values. What one wants, like the economist Boulding suggested (following the playwright Oscar Wilde), is to know the worth of something in addition to its value; the decision-making about species should reflect its intrinsic worth and extrinsic value.28

From my point of view, one very important goal is the preservation of many kinds of living entities and the habitat in which they evolved. And progress here is at best frail, and at worst non-existent. At times this consideration is for ecological stability; at other times it is for economic, medical or aesthetic considerations, and so forth. At each crossing the preservation of species -- the preservation of nature -- will compete with human labor and decisions for entrepreneurial action. Nature reminds us that we labor and transform our environment; even the decision to preserve nature is a decision to mold it in some way.

Values are inherent in our inquiry, in what we find important. But our values do not create nature, and our "psychocentric" conception of world-making lends itself to being disrespectful to a world (nature) we did not make. While our values do not create nature, they can certainly instill greater appreciation of nature.29 What one wants is a balanced view that acknowledges the worth of natural entities and the value the terrain has for our economic decision-making. The legitimation of values places them in the larger culture, undercuts the rigid separation of nature and culture. The objectivity of value judgments places the mind’s decision-making in the broader culture milieu of inquiry.

This view of value allows one to ask, what is the value of species? One should move away from values being tied to the senses or to subjective judgment and to the realization that values are themselves cognate and fundamental to our decision-making. There is little that is subjective about them in the old pejorative sense of their being private rather than cognitive and real. One may legitimately ask the even more general question: What is the value of nature? Is it for us? But we are part of nature. This is not an abstraction. Environmental decision-making reveals our roots in nature and our utter dependency on its preservation. This is not romantic, but pragmatic.

How then does one respond when one hears about the plight of some 600 surviving mountain gorillas being subjected to possible obliteration when warring factions in Africa are fighting one another? Do we care more about the gorillas? Of course not. But the issue lingers and calls forward issues of values in our decision-making and judgment. Value judgments are tied to problem-solving, and problem-solving lies at the basis of decision-making.

My argument is that we embody value as fundamental to our decision-making, acknowledging that value permeates our experience and determines it, and that if we tie it to life-securing labor and ethical, engagement in everyday transactions, we will have made some progress in our conceptions of ourselves. The way we "see" the world reflects the way our mind-brain works as well as the properties of the world with which we are coping, in which we are striving to survive and perhaps thrive.

VIII. Decision-Making, Nature and the Enlightenment

Inquirers like myself are beholden to the Enlightenment. We are nurtured by its grandiose pretensions of knowledge and liberation. I have not given up on the Enlightenment, but I do seek to modify it and provide a new perspective of the Enlightenment and our sense of nature. What I suggest is that the Enlightenment notion of reason be downsized to human proportion and that it needs to be mixed with an appreciation of nature.

By Enlightenment, I refer to the great faith in reason and inquiry, modified by its link to classical pragmatism (e.g., Peirce and Dewey) and Whitehead. The Enlightenment notion of nature was mechanical in the clockwork metaphorical depiction. Everything in it was run by necessity and totally predicted. Chance was precluded from rational discourse, and from nature. This sense of nature, the methods of determining consequences from hypotheses, and understanding the rules that govern our choices dominated philosophical conceptions of science informed from within the science.30

The Enlightenment ideal of reason and its perfection in science needs to be linked to an evolving notion of inquiry -- a conception of inquiry that is inclusive of other disciplines not formally listed as science. The Enlightenment tended to be scientistic. Thus, reinvisioning nature and ourselves is not only part of accepting the fact that our knowledge is not certain, but also that inquiry is larger than science. In the end, I would concur with Whitehead that "the function of reason is to promote the art of life."31

Decision-making is knotted with what Dewey called "funded wisdom." These are the well-worn practices of decision-making in action that have worked, that have validity and merit. They reflect decisions tied to uncertainty, everyday ethics and consideration of rights and our judgments about nature. Such decisions reflect individuals trying to adapt and cope with their surroundings and generate new avenues of action. Perfect reason, therefore, is replaced with imperfect but adaptive and open problem-solving proclivities. The dethroning of reason is not the dissolution of the concept of reason and its legitimation. There is no descent into irrationality. Legitimation in decision-making bridges individual choice with social or community considerations. The way I use the concept of "legitimation," as I have already indicated, is by necessity a social term.32

One essential and important endpoint in decision-making, therefore, is participating in a covenant of thinking and laboring individuals, bearing responsibility, and recognizing the importance of social goods. The common good(s) -- in this case nature -- ought to bridge decision-making and labor in nature together as a normative goal. One result is a frail contract between decision-making amid the delicate balance of rights and nature.

Our relationship to nature reminds us that our cognitive abilities evolved as a natural system. Our brain is a computing device, determining meaning and coherence and for solving problems. Brains evolved, in part, to solve problems. One comes in this regard to appreciate that flexibility is a characteristic of evolution and it should be a characteristic of decision-making. Rigidity leads toward extinction. Recognition that decisions are tied to knowledge, the lack of it and the means of acquiring it, requires a broad range of approaches in acquiring knowledge and in informing our everyday transactions with one another.33

Decision-making and our individual choices are rooted amid the larger social and public world in which we participate, and in which others are participants. After all, what rights do is increase those individuals that can participate, and what morals do is encourage that we avoid myopia and not trample on others. This concern is placed in the backdrop about decisions concerning nature, about the increased "globalization" of environmental risk.34

IX. Conclusion

I have suggested that a proper philosophy of nature is tied to environmental economics, a conception of labor that is thoughtful and with value, a vision of persons as inherently part of the natural world and as responsible decision-makers, not alienated from nature. This is the normative goal for which there are varying degrees of instantiation in the real world.

In this age of molecular biology, a philosophy of biology needs to be rooted in a sense of nature, with human labor and history. Conceptions of nature and decision -- making need to be placed into an historical context. For instance, there is a historical expansion of our notion of rights towards considerations of the environment and future generations that will need the resources of the environment.

The philosophy of biology is about the structure of biological knowledge -- its instrumental use and the values that permeate the inquiry. But its grounding is in our appreciation of nature, our evolutionary past, and the value of nature to our economic sensibility and our everyday labor and praxis.35

Decision-making about nature has to do, in part, with allocation of resources, environmental economic decision-making. Nature, however, has value over and above its use in economic terms; cost-benefit analysis would have one believe that values are merely subjective. Values are real entities of our culture and nature. The value of our decision-making must capture the dignity of relations between culture and nature. But there will always be conflict between issues of efficiency and equity.

These issues in our decision-making about nature reflect both the psychology and the culture in which one lives. What I have emphasized are transactions and contracts; they hold for individual choice, collective action and for the preservation, cultivation, and use of nature. They require leadership and labor. They are part of the legitimation process as we think about nature, our decision-making and rights. The labor, meaningful thought in action with value, is not without alienation; perfect unalienated labor is a great fantasy, a worthy ideal in less pejorative terms but not likely to be real. The benefits of ecological-economics on our decision-making are those which influence us to conserve, preserve, to move away from exaggerated egocentrism and consumerism.36

Decision-making in ecological economics provides a context in which to think about participating in nature. Within science, participation was seen as a confound, a loss of objectivity. But Heisenberg in physics over fifty years ago noted that we interfere with nature as we look on it, and he ushered in the uncertainty relations associated with modern physics.37 This is a fact of inquiry. The question is to what degree: the degree of uncertainty can be small enough so as not to matter, or large and matter a great deal. The point for us is that a conception of decision-making in environmental economics has to include some notion of participating in nature.

This sense of participation ties thought and action together in a context of being a part of nature. But rights and natural resources are expanded to include future generations. We march together in a strengthening confederation of concerned citizens forging out future economic security and well being amid our sense of insecurity and nature.

The justification for the above is in the delicate balance in our decision-making as we attend to our creative decisions and our economic prosperity, as we attend to the rights of others and our transactions, and as we remind ourselves that human health is linked also to our relationships with our labor and to nature.



1. A.N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938).

2. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1859) (New York: Mentor Books, 1958); E. Mayr, One Long Argument (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991).

3. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement (1792) (New York: Hafner Press, 1951).

4. A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition (New York: Free Press, 1978).

5. John Dewey, Experience and Nature (1925) (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1989).

6. E. B. Weiss, "The Planetary Trust: Conservation and International Equity," Ecology Law Quarterly 11(1989), 495-581.

7. M. Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).

8. Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (1775) (New York: Collier Press, 1957).

9. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Practical Reason (1788). New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1956.

10. My colleague David Sarokin and I discuss these points in our article, "The Necessity of Environmental Economics," Journal of Environment Management 38(1993), 259-280.

11. G. Vico, The New Sciences (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, and the great Galileo, Discoveries and Opinions (New York: Anchor Books, 1957).

12. T.R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population(1898) (New York: Penguin Books, 1970) and T. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) (The Liberal Arts Press, 1958).

13. J.J. Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762) (New York: Hafner Publications, 1947).

14. Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind (New York: Citadel Press, 1946).

15.J.B. Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy (1809). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994.

16. D. Thoreau, Great Short Work,. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

17. R.C. Neville, The Highroad Around Modernism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. Also contrast J. Dewey’s, Experience and Nature with R.C. Rorty’s Objectivity, Relativity and Truth (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991) for a different sense of American Pragmatism; also see my Pursuit of Inquiry (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).

18. For a discussion of these issues, see R.B. Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991).

19. R.F. Nash, The Rights of Nature (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989); D. Sarokin and J. Schulkin, "Co-evolution of Social and Environmental Justice," The Environmentalist 14 (1994), 121-129.

20. H. Daly and J. Cobb, For the Common Good (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

21. P. Miller, Errand Into the Wilderness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956).

22.J.S. Mill, The Subjection of Women (1869) (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1970).

23. E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (New York: Liberty Press, 1975); G. Hardin, Living Within Limits (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

24. P. Miller, Errand Into the Wilderness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956).

25. B.G. Norton, Why Preserve Natural Variety?(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987); P.W. Taylor, Respect For Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971); The Price of Preservation, edited by A.G. Chisholm and A.J. Moran (Taisman Institute, 1993).

26. R.C. Neville, The Cosmology of Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974); A.N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Macmillian Press, 1938).

27. CL Lewis, An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Press, 1946).

28. K.E. Boulding, "Some Contributions of Economics to the General Theory of Value," Philosophy 0f Science 223 (1956), 1-14.

29. See D. Weissman’s interesting new book, Truths Debt to Value (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). Weissman put the issue of value clearly by staring that "values are either created by our appraisal or found in the things themselves" (103).

30. Charles S. Peirce, Reasoning and the Logic of Things (1889) (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992),John Dewey, Essays an Experimental Logic (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1916).

31. A.N. Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1929), 4.

32. J. Habermas Legitimation Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975;) Jay Schulkin, The Delicate Balance (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996).

33. See, for example, Mitroff and H.A. Linstone, The Unbounded Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) for an excellent discussion of how flexibility of perspective is essential for decision-making.

34. See A. Gidden’s interesting book, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990) for a discussion of the relationship between environmental risks and the increased social proximity of individuals across cultures and continents.

35. See, for example, D. Hull, Philosophy of Biological Science (Englewood-Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1974); Alexander Rosenberg, The Structure of Biological Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Alexander Rosenberg, Instrumental Biology or the Disunity of Science. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994); Elliot Sober From a Biological Point of View. (New York: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

36. P.W. Taylor, Respect for Nature (Princeton University Press, 1986); M. Sagoff, The Economy o/the Earth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988); and H. Rolston, Philosophy Gone Wild (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986) and Environmental Ethics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989).

37. W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (New York: Harper and Row, 1958). "But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."