Our view of the
living world is a product of culture. Our views about 'nature' have changed with
the history of ideas, and our perceptions of the monetary and spiritual values of natural
For the purpose
of examining the relations between humanity and nature, two central meanings
of 'nature' need to be distinguished. One meaning of nature is "all that is on earth”. In
the primary relation between humanity and nature is that of part to whole, because humans
clearly are a part of "all that is." Within this understanding of nature, we are not outside
exempt from, the natural processes which result in solar systems, cities, and forests. All human
actions, even thinking itself, are natural processes. Values and ideas, as well as canyons and
sunsets, are parts of nature. This concept of nature makes all events natural. It is descriptive
and inclusive. Nothing is outside of nature.
of 'nature' rests on a distinction between humanity and the rest of nature. This
concept takes humanity as existing at some distance from nature, and presumes a distinction
between humanity and nature. 'Nature' is distinguished from 'humanity' as an "other". This
concept of nature is common within many environmental discussions. Some, for example, claim
that "nature knows best," suggesting that human intervention in natural systems is likely
destructive to those systems. In a similar vein, criticism or endorsement of the attempt to
"dominate" nature presumes some separation between humanity and nature. Thus, the
assumption that humans are separate from nature, gets built into many environmental
discussions from the start.
the changing balance between these attitudes is reflected in five 'traditions of
nature', that carry us from the philsophers of ancient China and Ionian Greece to the present
day socio-ethical tradition, that promotes environmentalism as a force aimed at facilitating
speculation about nature, began about 600 B.C in Ionia on the Aegean
coast of what is now Turkey. The Ionian philosophers ignored the supernatural and supposed
instead, that the affairs of the universe followed a fixed and unalterable pattern. They assumed
the existence of causality; that is, that every event had a cause, and that a particular cause
inevitably produced a particular effect, with no danger of change by a capricious will. A further
assumption was that the 'natural law' that governed the universe was of such a kind, that the
mind of man could encompass it and could deduce it from first principles or from observation.
By tradition, the first of these philosophers was Thales. A similar position was taken up by the
Chinese Tao philosophers about the same time. Traditionally, the pinciple classic in the thought
of Taoism is the Lao Tzu ascribed to one Lau Tzu an older contemporay of Confucius. This
philosophical tradition of Taoism is gaining adherents today, backed by the science of 'big bang'
cosmology, to adapt its belief in the all-in- oneness of nature, and emphasis on love in all its
dimensions, as an antidote to the spiritual wilderness of global consumerism.
The imperial tradition
can be said to have gained rapid momentum a few hundred years ago,
with the collapse of the medieval world, and the rise of industrialism and the necessity for
economic growth. It is exemplified by the writings of Francis Bacon at the turn of the 16th
century, and the works of Carl von Linne (Linnaeus), particularly his surveys of Sweden's
natural resources. Nature was regarded as separate from man, and the rest of nature became
an object of domination instead of mere alteration. This tradition has largely failed to recognize
nonhuman nature as anything other than an arena for human domination.
The arcadian trandition
is exemplified by the life and work of Gilbert White. It advocated a
simple humble life, with the aim of restoring people to a peaceful coexistence with other
tradition first emerged in the minds of nineteenth-century North American
thinkers, such as Emerson and Thoreau, and was developed by twentieth- century thinkers like
John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson.
tradition devloped from this movement, and includes the large numbers of
contemporary environmentalists, and social movements, such as deep ecology, ecological
feminism, and social ecology. Within this tradition, a number of divergent ideologies of nature
tradition has concentrated on the conservation, preservation, or liberation of