Tuesday, June 1, 2010

151 / Instrumentalism And Nature

I contribute to The Nature Conservancy, and I get its magazine at home. The most recent edition (Summer 2010) contained a message from the President of The Nature Conservancy, Mark R. Tercek, which he titled, "Nature for People." This pull quote sums up the thought:

"Conserving nature is often seen as a selfless act, but I would argue that the time has come to insert a bit more self-interest into our mission."
I don't agree with Mr. Tercek. Our "problem" with nature is that we seem always to regard "nature" as something that is there to be exploited for human purposes, for our "self-interest." For the President of one of the planet's most notable "conservation" organizations to say that there should be more "self-interest" involved gets me very confused about what the "mission" of The Nature Conservancy really is. Injecting "self-interest" into the work of conservation doesn't give me a friendly feeling.

In philosophy, the doctrine of "instrumentalism" holds that the value of an idea lies in its "usefulness." Usefulness to us, of course: to human beings. The idea that philosophy might aim at "truth" disappears, since what matters is what an idea will do for us, not (perhaps) what the idea demands of us.

Mr. Tercek, relatively new in his post at The Nature Conservancy, seems to want to steer the work of "conservation" in a new direction, making its value depend on what nature can do for us - how it satisfies our "self-interest."

My thought is just the opposite. We might appropriately promote self-interest in the world that we create, but in the natural world, that sustains all life, our "mission" should be to defend it from human self-interest, not to promote self-interest at its expense.

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