Paul Moriarty,

“Nature Naturalized: A Darwinian Defense of the Nature/Culture Distinction”


1.       Two senses of nature/natural:

          a.       N1: Natural (as opposed to supernatural) = everything that exists in the physical world and is consistent with the laws of science

                    i.        Supernatural: God, immortal soul, miracles, ghosts

                    ii.       Humans are clearly natural in this sense (since they exist!) as we evolved by the same biological/scientific laws as every other creature/entity.

          b.       N2: Natural (as opposed to (human) cultural/artificial) = things not the product of human culture; not (significantly) modified by humans (activity/culture/tech)

                    i.        Cultural: Manhattan skyscraper, nuclear wastes

                    ii.       Natural: Grand canyon; moose droppings


                    iii.      Comes in degrees: Dairy cows more natural then vacuum cleaners

                    iv.      Humans natural in this sense? Partly yes and partly no

                              (1)     Humans as a species originated naturally; not the product of cultural forces

                              (2)     A human person today is a mix of the natural (heart, circulatory systems) and the cultural (influenced by books, T.V., education, how brought up)


                    v.       Natural (N2) is not necessarily good and non-natural (cultural) not necessarily bad: Clothing, eyeglasses, jazz are unnatural (products of human culture) but they are good

                              (1)     But clearly one of the reasons enviros like Moriarty want to distinguish products of human culture from what is not significantly modified by human culture (N2) is so they can place a special value on the natural (N2)


2.       Philosophical naturalist denies existence of anything supernatural

          a.       No gods, immoral human souls, demons, ghosts, angels witchcraft, miracles

          b.       Denies the existence of anything unnatural (1)

          c.       Humans are animals whose existence is entirely governed by same laws which govern the rest of the natural world

          d.       Russell’s philosophical naturalism: “Man is part of nature, not something contrasted with nature. His thoughts and bodily movements follow the same laws that describe the motions of stars and atoms”

          e.       If this is a reductionist idea that all of reality, including human reality, can be (will be) fully and adequately explained by physical science

                    i.        Seems to ignore the social sciences

          f.       Don’t economic and psychological and sociological “laws” govern humans in a way they don’t nonhumans?

                    i.        This might be part of the point of the nature/culture distinction


3.       Moriarty considers critiques of nature/culture distinction by Callicott and a number of other environmentalists

          a.       If we distinguish nature from the products of human culture, and/or

          b.       If we deny that all humans activities and products are natural

          c.       Then

                    i.        We are mistakenly locked into a pre-Darwinian worldview,

                              (1)     For Darwin taught us that man is part of nature

                    ii.       We are treating humans as separate from nature

                    iii.      Treating humans as superior to nature

                    iv.      Rejecting philosophical naturalism

                    v.       Contributing to environmental destruction

                              (1)     Important to realize humans part of nature to overcome anthropocentric tradition which identifies nature as something separate from humans and over which humans are given dominion

                              (2)     We need to see ourselves as thoroughly embedded in nature–a part of nature–not set apart–if we are to solve env. problems

                              (3)     It is anthropocentric to separate humans (or human culture ) from nature; Doing so says we are special and different from the rest of the world; This view is a primary cause of eco crisis and we must recognize humans as part of nature to overcome this crisis.

          d.       Moriarty (and other) replies

                    i.        Darwin himself accepted a nature/culture distinction

                    ii.       Humans are separate in some ways (N2) not in others (N1)

                              (1)     Humans evolved from nature like everything else in nature

                              (2)     But humans activities are culturally informed far beyond anything else in nature; what humans do and are like is importantly a product of culture

                    iii.      That humans are distinct from nature (N2) in some ways does not make us superior to it;

                              (1)     Some environmentalists who make this distinction claim nature is superior to humans

                    iv.      Philosophical naturalism is perfectly compatible with a nature/culture distinction

                    v.       The nature/culture distinction, far from causing environmental problems, is important to environmental protection

                              (1)     It helps us identify the things environmentalists want to protect

                                         (a)     Thus enviros do place value on the natural (N2)

                              (2)     Moriarty gives examples where denying that human activities are separate from nature has been used to degrade nature (e.g., build roads into wilderness for the roads are no less natural than the wilderness–Cumberland Island example)

                              (3)     He argues that if oil rigs in the Arctic are part of nature, then we have no reason to worry about saving that wilderness from them

                              (4)     Counter-reply: This is not true; though we couldn’t object to them on grounds of being unnatural, we could object to them because they harm other (natural) things we care about (like Caribou and the Native peoples who depend on them)

                              (5)     So the person who objects to reliance on the nature/culture distinction insists that it is not the products of human culture per se that are the problem, but only those products of human culture that are damaging

                                         (a)     E.g., the cultures of native peoples don’t damage/harm the wilderness or the natural

                                         (b)     (Nor do the products of animal culture degrade the wilderness or the natural)

                              (6)     An important point, but naturalness (N2) is important separate from it typically being less damaging to nature

                                         (a)     Even products of human culture that are not damaging to things in nature have negative value for some/many enviros.

                              (7)     Consider a plastic (or genetically-modified and enhanced) tree that performs all the functions that a non-cultural tree performs

                              (8)     Environmentalists want to say that tree lacks the value of naturalness (N2) and in that regard (in many contexts) is a disvalue.

                              (9)     Without relying on the nature/human culture distinction, one loses the ability to use the fact that something is a product of something other than human-culture to place a special value on it and give it special protection

                                         (a)     The value of the natural in this sense is a key environmental value.


4.       Bad argument against N2/culture distinction, against idea that some human activities are non-natural (products of culture)

          a.       Since humans (better: the human species!) are natural (not the product of culture), then what humans do is natural (not the product of culture)


5.       Callicott’s argument/suggestion that one distinction (N2) depends on the other (N1)

          a.       Claiming that the products of human culture are not natural (N2) involves the belief that humans are in some sense supernatural

          b.       Our possession of culture indicates we possess some feature that makes us supernatural (e.g., “god-like forces of human culture”)

          c.       “Any attempt to draw distinction nature/culture is dependent on mistaken idea that human culture is evidence of our godliness.”

                    i.        Why isn’t this just a confusion of “cultural” with supernatural?

                    ii.       Human culture is not supernatural in the sense of violating laws of nature


6.       Moriarty’s definition of culture: Involving information transmitted non-genetically

          a.       Rolston: “Essence of culture is acquired information transmitted to next generation”

          b.       Bonner: Culture involves the “transfer of information by behavioral means like teaching and learning” rather than transmission of genetic information passed by inheritance of genes”

          c.       Note: This is not a “supernatural” understanding of culture; not claiming that information is transferred in a way that violates laws of nature

          d.       Our ability to use spoken and written language to accumulate and pass on information non-genetically has allowed us to create technology, modify our environments, and produce things importantly different from things produced by nature


7.       Moriarty points out that some nonhuman animals have cultures

          a.       Wolves, elephants, monkeys pass on information to offspring non-genetically

          b.       Bonner’s book is about “evolution of culture in animals”

8.       He has defined nature (N2) as “what is not the product of human culture” as he thinks the amount, kind, and ability to pass on information and use it that humans possess is unique

9.       Makes sense to distinguish nature from human culture and not from lion culture

10.     Claims this is not important to his argument

          a.       If someone would prefer to define nature (N2) in opposition to all culture (human and nonhuman) he has no objection

11.     But this ignores that N2 does great work that would be lost if N2 excluded animal culture

          a.       Could not identify much of what environmentalists want to protect with the term ‘nature’

                    i.        Beaver dams would not be nature (as opposed to human dams) and we could not protect them by arguing for the importance of protecting nature

          b.       Couldn’t argue that we should preserve nature if the nature involved the cultural behavior of animals (bird nests, wolf hunting, beaver dams, etc.)