10. Views of nature
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 resources.
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 this sense, 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 of, nor 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.
Another meaning 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 to be 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.
Broadly speaking 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 economic change.
Intense philosophical 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 organisms.
The ecological 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.
The socio-ethical 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 exist.
The socio-ethical tradition has concentrated on the conservation, preservation, or liberation of nonhuman nature.