Value, morality, and wilderness
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This dissertation examines anew the value of wilderness and arguments used in defense of its preservation. The rationale for the examination is the force of the moral argument against policies of preserving wilderness areas, based upon their negative impact on the welfare of sentient life. This argument is accordingly dubbed the ‘Objection from Welfare’ (OFW). The dissertation’s central contention is that an adequate defense of wilderness preservation must be grounded in a value possessed by wilderness areas that generates at least as strong a reason to protect them as the OFW generates to oppose them. At present, no such rational, secular defense exists. Chapter One rehabilitates the idea of wilderness as the natural world maximally free from human intervention, and then disarms five persistent objections to this idea, arguing that it poses no insurmountable philosophical difficulties. Chapter Two argues that concern for animal welfare generates a pro tanto moral reason to oppose wilderness (i.e., OFW), thus demonstrating that wilderness preservation is ethically more complicated than is typically allowed. Chapters Three and Four argue that no justifiable ascription of intrinsic value to wilderness supports a nonanthropocentric conception of its value and that, consequently, a defense of wilderness simply as wilderness (wilderness qua wilderness) must be anthropocentric. According to this argument, wilderness’ distinctive value qua wilderness is ironically the anthropocentric value of a worldly domain maximally other-than-human. Neglect of this value is, it is shown, a common shortcoming of philosophical arguments for wilderness preservation. Chapter Five considers the extent to which wilderness’ distinctive value generates reasons to dispute the OFW effectively. In this regard, an analogy is drawn between bioethics and environmental ethics, i.e., between Michael Sandel’s defense of the gifted character of human nature and a defense of wilderness qua wilderness. Yet, while the analogy with Sandel’s notion of giftedness enhances an anthropocentric valuation of wilderness, it does not yield reasons strong enough to reject the OFW. Finally, I suggest that a fundamental defense of wilderness may require a spiritual or religious valuation of wilderness such that the moral force of the OFW could be suspended without being rejected.