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often have in the past. Nothing in human affairs guarantees wisdom or
foresight; our failure to act in the present case is no exception. What is
there to regret? After all, they might go on to argue, the value we give to
the natural world is not intrinsic within it; it speaks of what we as human
beings enjoy and love. Nature itself has no consciousness of harm; it will
not protest if we destroy it. In wounding nature, we only wound what we
project onto it and no more—unless we harm ourselves, in which case
we will ultimately learn our lesson and apply it as well as we can. There is
no need for anyone to try to speak for the biosphere; what happens to it
maters only insofar as it bears on humankind in a manner evident to all.
his atitude cannot withstand a quick reality check. Do we really
believe that the world's ecosystems exist only for us—simply because we
possess a certain kind of consciousness? If so, we value the power to know
above the power to exist. Yet in one account of our formation as human
beings, our ability to know results from God's creating us in his image, in
which case we are responsible for preserving his creation. In another, that
ability came about through our evolution within specific ecosystems, in
competition with other species and in response to many environmental
pressures; it links us directly to thousands of other forms of life. In either
version, we owe whatever ability we have to something outside ourselves.
Moreover, our ability to “know” is limited; we have mastered very
litle about our own existence, much less about the lives of other crea-
tures, and even less about their possible forms of consciousness. Rather
than making us the sole arbiter of value, this ability speaks of a fallible
echo of divine powers or emerges from a particular mode of evolutionary
adaptation. Human consciousness is remarkable, to be sure, but it is not
a feature that gives us unlimited sovereignty to do what we wish with the
biosphere. Few of us, I dare say, would accept existence merely as forms
of consciousness without the pleasures of embodied life. We would not
wish to sacrifice our existence as natural beings and become purely men-
tal entities. But in that case, we are natural creatures among the rest, and
our wish to live well reflects the basic drive of all life to do the same. If
we respect these dimensions of human existence, we must respect other
forms of life as well and do what we can not to destroy them.
Nevertheless, this objection does have one great merit: it makes
explicit the profound anthropocentrism on which all our institutions are
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