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Rights and responsibilities on the home planet (Yale)




Rolston, Holmes, 1932-, author
Yale Law School, publisher

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In this paper, "nature" refers to natural forces operating independently of deliberate human activity, that is, spontaneous or wild nature. Human cultural processes interrupt such natural forces. Little pristine nature remains, though some marine areas, Antarctica, or designated wildernesses can approximate it. At the same time, spontaneous natural forces everywhere permeate the cultures superimposed on them. Global natural forces - the ocean currents, the changing seasons, photosynthesis and oxygen balance, regional ecosystems - though not beyond the adverse affects of human action, still proceed spontaneously. Spontaneous "nature" exists within humans in the form of biochemical processes that proceed without deliberation, but the most characteristic property of humans is to build cultures, which typically rebuild spontaneous nature, intentionally redirecting the course of nature to human utility. Humans arrive in the world rather unfinished by nature, and cultural education and formation, coupled with active career choice, largely complete our identity. By contrast, identities in nonhumans are genetically determined. In short, human nature is to be artificial, or cultured. In one sense nothing that humans do breaks any laws of nature; we simply rearrange natural forces to our benefit. In this sense, a rocket is as natural as an oak tree, Manhattan as natural as Yellowstone Park. But this concept is not helpful in the present analysis, since an Earth destroyed by humans would be as natural an event as an Earth with several billion years of natural history before humans arrived, or an Earth carefully conserved by humans thereafter.


Includes bibliographical references.
A condensed version of this article published in the Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science is available:

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environmental ethics


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