Deep intentional environmental value: Toward a relational theory
Earle, Robert James
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This dissertation analyzes the conceptual primacy within environmental value theory of what is being referred to here as "value atomism." According to an atomistic account of value, values are entities (or properties of entities). I argue that atomistic approaches to value dominated environmental philosophy as it emerged in the late-twentieth century (in both ethical and aesthetic domains) and continue to shape the environmental values discourse. The first three chapters, which contain the critical portion of the work, track a dominant, atomistic presupposition to environmental value through an overview of the methodology, history, and conceptualization of value within late-twentieth and early- twenty-first century environmental theory. In Chapter One: "The Art of Ecological Restoration," I offer an analysis of the dominant framework, according to which an authentic appreciation of nature is possible only when nature is appreciated "on its own terms." I maintain that in order to account for what is there called "ecological restoration art," an alternative account of environmental value is needed in which human relations with nature are emphasized. In Chapter Two: "Is Natural Beauty 'The Given'? Knowledge and the Aesthetics of Nature" that same paradigm of valuing nature "on its own terms" is examined again, this time in terms of the historicity of the field. I argue that, contrary to some notable accounts of the history of environmental aesthetics, only amongst contemporary environment philosophers has it been held that nature ought to be appreciated "on its own terms." In Chapter Three: "Framing the Environmental Ethics Debate: Intrinsic Value versus Anthropocentric Value," I turn away from aesthetics and towards environmental ethics. I argue that, since its inception almost half a century ago, the field of environmental ethics has been disposed, generally, to account for values atomistically. That is, the foundational theoretical accounts of environmental value (intrinsic value accounts and holisms of many forms), have all presupposed that values are properties possessed by entities or even that values are entities in their own right. Even later "enlightened anthropocentric" accounts, which developed largely as a critique of the earlier environmental theories, have insufficiently critiqued those atomistic assumptions regarding value. In each case, failure to recognize and question these atomistic presuppositions has led to the same sorts of theoretical problems. Value atomism implies a rigid nature-culture dualism and fails to countenance a connection between contemporary theoretical notions of value and traditional human relationships with nature. By coming to recognize this atomistic strand underlying environmental philosophy, it becomes possible to imagine an alternative, relational framework of environmental value. This thesis is the focus of the final chapters of this work. However, only modest progress can be made in this present work towards developing an alternative methodology for countenancing environmental value as relational. In the second part of the dissertation, three cursory and exploratory avenues are pursued. In Chapter Four: "Deep Intentional Environmental Value," I consider an established theory, that of intentionality, from which to launch a plausible account of relational environmental value. According to an intentionalist account of environmental value, every value requires both a valuer and a value object. Thus, values are phenomenologically embedded structures neither reducible to the person (or sentient being) experiencing the value nor to the object being valued. That is, values are not entities but rather relationships. For reasons to be articulated below, I will call this application of the theory of intentionality to the sphere of environmental value, "deep intentional environmental value." I maintain that a relational account of value could avoid the pitfalls of nature-cultural dualism (which are pervasive in accounts of the autonomous value of nature) without reducing natural value to anthropocentric value. Indeed, it is possible to hold an alternative perspective according to which environmental value rests in an interdependency relation 1) between beings, and 2) between beings and their environments, species, and other abstract holistic structures. Chapter Five: "Thinking of Values as Relations: The Case of Ecological Restoration," offers some of the motivation for rethinking value (particularly in the environmental sphere and particularly at this point in history) as relational. Counter to the modern notion of values, which is tied to the primacy of the individual, a socially based alternative model of value is gaining some traction and presents a viable alternative. This alternative is then applied to the most recent contemporary work in ecological restoration, a field in which relational accounts of value (though not always specified in such terms) are becoming more popular. In the coda: "Environmental Ethics and Aesthetics: A Key Disanalogy?", I argue that the atomistic presupposition in environmental philosophy has served to bifurcate ethics and aesthetics, constituting a barrier to the development of an evaluative standard across a broader field of environmental praxis. Rethinking environmental philosophy along relationalist lines can more properly integrate these fields of value. To reiterate, this work will not present an entire theory of value, let alone an environmental ethic. The latter would not even become immediately clear upon the development of the former. It would be one thing to offer an insight into the nature of value structures (this is the promissory note of deep intentionality); it would be quite another and more challenging enterprise to explicate a viable theory, on the basis of deep intentionality, of what ought to be valued. Much less ambitiously, this work offers a focused analysis of the conceptual primacy of atomistic presuppositions amongst a broad range of environmental philosophic fields over the course of the last half-century. It also offers some insights into the effects this atomistic mindset has had upon both philosophical inquiry into and practical engagement within eco-social environments, as well as an overview of the merits of adopting an alternative, relational, framework.