How does nature control human society

Nature and species protection

Thomas Kirchhoff

To person

is a post-doctoral researcher at the research facility of the Evangelical Study Community in Heidelberg, private lecturer for landscape theory at the Technical University of Munich and a member of the Heidelberg Center for the Environment. [email protected]

The term "nature" only has a meaning when compared to another term, whereby its meaning varies with the opposite term - for example "culture", "technology", "society", "art", "reason". The meanings of "nature", which are decisive for the protection of nature and species, in modern societies of the western type, result from the juxtaposition of "culture" and "technology". [1]

"Culture" in the narrower sense is here to denote a complex of dynamic, revisable, albeit not arbitrarily changeable, systems of meaning, symbolic orders and systems of knowledge with which people create their reality as meaningful and thus enable themselves to act. "Technology" should function as the epitome of skills, procedures and routines, for knowledge about them, for their application as means and for the entirety of the structures produced with their help. [2] "Culture" in the broader sense encompasses both.

In contrast to this, "nature" means everything that occurs or has arisen without human influence or human intervention: all non-human forces and their results, especially growth and growth. [3] Building on this, "nature" can also denote the actual or effective essence of something, the inner cause of a genetic and qualitative being without human intervention.

The "nature" so determined is above all a counter-world to the world of culture and technology. This counterworld is assessed positively and negatively, as shown by controversies about wilderness and wolves or more generally about nature control versus nature conservation. As a historical tendency in modern Western-type societies, an increasing appreciation of nature can be established, especially of wilderness, [4] a "naturalness bonus" [5] is firmly anchored in culture. This tendency - in connection with a factual increasing suppression of nature - is likely to be an expression of increasing uneasiness in culture. [6] This goes so far that the definition of nature as a counter-world or as human environment is contrasted with its definition as a "co-world" or even required to completely abandon the distinction between nature / culture and nature / man. [7]

Values ​​by nature

In nature and environmental ethics, four basic types of values ​​are usually distinguished from nature: [8]

Anthropocentric instrumental value (Utility) have natural products or processes if they function as means for human purposes - for example if a forest ecosystem produces wood and binds pollutants. A certain nature is protected because people depend on their processes or products for material survival, since their technical substitution is not (yet) possible (economically sensible). This includes the principle of sustainable use of nature while observing "ecological" limits, whereby sustainability is a principle not only of economic prudence, but also of human-ethical environmental and intergenerational justice.

Anthropocentric non-instrumental value (relative eigenvalue) have natural phenomena if they are valued not as a means but directly as such, but only in relation to human interests, systems of meaning and values. Above all, this includes aesthetic and symbolic values ​​of nature - such as a shimmering water surface or a beautiful animal as an object of aesthetic pleasure, a cultural landscape experienced as creating identity or a wilderness associated with feelings of freedom. In so far as the value of nature here consists in serving a good life beyond the necessities of survival, we speak of eudaimonistic values.

Theocentric value have natural phenomena, if they are regarded as divine possession, (dwelling) place of a divine being or divine powers, as divine creation. Theocentric values, like anthropocentric values, are relative values: nature does not have value by itself, not absolutely, but because it points to something divine.

Physiocentric value (absolute / moral self-worth) have natural entities if they are assigned value independently of all human interests, systems of meaning and values: if they are viewed as subject-like entities that are to be protected for their own sake and included in the moral community, which is the case in anthropocentrism only belonging to people. Depending on how far the circle of morally to be considered natural "subjects" is drawn, the physiocentrism specifies itself to sentientism / pathocentrism, which only includes sentient or suffering living beings, to biocentrism, which relates to all living beings, to ecocentrism, which also takes ecological systems into account, or to natural-ethical holism, which includes all of nature.

Validity status of the value types

Which normative-regulative validity claim can legitimately be raised for each value type? How can specific goals of nature and species protection be derived on the basis of this?

Justifications of nature and species protection with instrumental values ​​can, insofar as they relate to human survival, require general approval. However, it remains to be clarified openly and in social discourse what this should mean in concrete terms. Because from the knowledge of the natural sciences there is no need for reason as to the exact state in which the earth must be preserved in order to ensure the survival of mankind. Rather, there is a relatively large scope, for example because one and the same instrumental benefit can be provided by nature through very different types (combinations) and ecological systems. Some authors consider the human scope to be very small and claim the irreplaceability of natural ecosystems. [9] However, this view has premises that have long been considered refuted in ecology: that the biosphere consists of organism-like ecosystems that have emerged over thousands of years of evolutionary self-organization, so that humans cannot (significantly) change them without impairing their functionality to destroy; that these natural ecosystems are also optimally organized with regard to human interests. [10] Representatives of so-called weak sustainability assume a fundamental substitutability of "natural capital" (fertile soils, water cycles, climate stability, species diversity) by "man-made capital" (knowledge, technical achievements / facilities), whereas representatives of so-called strong sustainability assume the preservation of natural capital demand. [11] Where permanent substitution is not ensured, the safety argument speaks in favor of strong sustainability, provided that it does not cause unacceptable costs - which would by no means be the case, for example, for the preservation of biodiversity in the German agricultural landscape with costs of less than two billion euros per year.

Reasons for nature and species protection with anthropocentric, non-instrumental values ​​cannot claim general approval because they are based on culturally shaped, aesthetic and symbolic ways of perceiving nature, which can differ greatly within and between cultures. However, they are mostly intersubjectively understandable: In many cultures an appreciation of the wilderness has developed as a counter-world to the world of culture, natural phenomena such as the springbok, the bald eagle or the Matterhorn function as regional or national symbols, and unique cultural landscapes such as the Lüneburg Heath, which Camargue or the Lake District as an expression of uniqueness and identity worthy of protection. [13] The view that purely instrumental arguments are too narrow does not therefore imply that we have to advocate physiocentrism; because a comprehensive anthropocentrism also takes into account the non-instrumental aesthetic-symbolic values ​​of nature. It can even include the protection of animals capable of suffering, justified as a moral duty of man towards himself.

Theocentric justifications of nature and species protection cannot claim validity beyond the circle of the respective religious community, but they can claim appropriate consideration in social discourse, whereby not only principles of minority protection must be observed, but also that natural phenomena regarded as sacred in are usually not replaceable - see currently the protected status of Uluru / Ayers Rock in Australia. "Preservation of creation" is an environmental ethical demand that has been made by numerous Christian peace and environmental initiatives since the 1980s. This demand can be specifically religiously based on an "ecological ethics of creation" and principles of a "rationality of care" for nature and the natural environment of man. [14] In terms of content, these converge with the principles of strong sustainability.

Because pathocentric and biocentric arguments relate to individual organisms, they can be used to justify animal protection, but not species protection. Ecocentric positions that call for natural ecosystems (wilderness) to be preserved in as large parts of the biosphere as possible are influential in nature and species protection: primarily because of their self-worth, secondarily because of their usefulness and beauty for people. Ecocentric positions, however, are confronted with at least two serious objections: On the one hand, it is questionable whether entities such as ecosystems, which in principle have no moral capacity, can be members of a moral community. On the other hand, self-worth can only be ascribed to entities that are real in the strict sense that they exist independently of the observer. However, this requirement would only be fulfilled for ecosystems if they had an internal principle of unity and were organized like individual organisms - this is widely considered to be refuted in ecology, so that ecosystems can be viewed as units constructed by the observer. [15] In practice, it has to be decided which natural phenomena are to be protected at the expense of which other natural phenomena - everything suggests that the selection criteria used are always human. This turns physiocentrism into a disguised anthropocentrism or theocentrism that hides its particular interests behind a seemingly selfless natural ethic. In addition, it distracts from the fact that unsustainable uses of nature have serious negative effects on the environment of other people, such as anthropogenic climate change, and must therefore be addressed as a human-ethical problem of inadequate environmental justice. [16]

Plurality of human perceptions of nature

Nature not only has categorically different values ​​for people, but is also perceived by them in categorically different ways. [17] In particular, a distinction must be made between scientific-technical and lifeworld, aesthetic-symbolic perceptions of nature. [18]

Scientifically, for example in ecology, nature is methodically objectified nature. Theoretically, with the help of observation, measurement and experiment, cause-effect relationships are explored in order to model, explain and forecast natural phenomena such as population growth and species distribution. For several decades, nature has mostly been modeled as an "ecosystem": as a dynamic system of effects made up of populations of several species and their inanimate environment. For example, the forest is described as a forest ecosystem with terms such as "material" and "energy flow", "primary production", "destruction", "entropy" and "biomass".

In the lifeworld, nature is perceived in a categorically different way (s). For this reason, for example, a forest that is perceived in terms of its lifeworld has properties that the forest as an ecosystem cannot have, namely being beautiful, sublime, wild, mysterious, national, natural or symbolizing permanence, identity, freedom, authenticity, order or chaos. Such lifeworld, aesthetic-symbolic perceptions of nature are always subjective and individual, but take place within the framework of intersubjective patterns of perception that are predominantly not biologically but culturally shaped; they are therefore the subject of natural aesthetic or cultural studies analyzes. [19]

Whether there will ever be a single conceptualization that adequately captures all the different perceptions of nature is controversial. Therefore, a conceptual pluralism is required, [20] and nature and species protection must take into account the categorical difference between scientific-technical and lifeworld aesthetic-symbolic perceptions of nature if it adequately grasps the entire spectrum of the values ​​of nature and takes appropriate measures to protect them want. That may sound too obvious. The widespread astonishment that maintaining the instrumental functions of ecosystems does not seem to require a significant part of the biodiversity that is esthetically and symbolically valued, for example. [21] If one differentiates between species as function carriers in ecosystems and species as aesthetic-symbolic objects, this incongruence becomes understandable. [22]

Theories of the nature-culture relationship

The previous distinctions and characterizations of values, modes of perception and conceptualizations of nature appear in different light, depending on the underlying theory of how culture relates or should relate to nature. In the following, three types of such theories will be distinguished and broadly characterized as ideal types.

Culture as emancipation from nature
Central to enlightenment thinking is the assumption that there are common, ahistorical and universal principles of reason for all human beings. Human societies should be organized according to these principles all over the world, so that the same form of civilization spreads all over the world. Social progress requires emancipation from unreasonable traditions, discrimination and hegemonic structures in favor of freedom and equality as well as detachment from nature (constraints) through natural science and technology. Social and cultural phenomena developed independently of the conditions of the natural environment, or at least should.

However, that does not mean that nature cannot or should not have any cultural significance. It is true that in enlightenment thinking it is above all an object of conquest, control and use by humans. However, nature or naturalness also has positive symbolic meanings from the beginning. For example, certain variants of the landscape garden and similar-looking (pastoral) cultural landscapes - against the decadence of the absolutist court and the unnatural baroque garden - symbolize a harmonious social order constructed by people according to principles of reason. [23] For example, wild, uncontrolled nature symbolizes freedom from - at the same time regarded as necessary - social principles of order. [24] For example, certain species fascinate people because of their appearance. Because of these non-instrumental values, such cultural landscapes, wilderness or species are considered worthy of protection.

Insofar as culture is viewed as essentially independent of nature and this in turn is viewed in its concrete terms as a cultural construct, one can speak of theories of a unity of nature and culture in culture. [25]

Culture as adaptation to nature
According to adaptationist cultural theories, culture and technology, at least in their basic features, are the results of evolutionary processes of adaptation to nature that enable people or societies to (better) survive in their respective natural environment. [26] The technical skills and cultural behaviors that humans have developed are the ones that have been most beneficial to their biological fitness. Because these phylogenetic fitness maximizations were largely unconscious and the fitness-maximizing function of certain behaviors was not known (instinct blindness), a nature-independent religious or moral genesis is often wrongly assumed.

Insofar as culture is understood as adaptation to nature, and cultural phenomena are interpreted as biological epiphenomena, adaptationist cultural theories are theories of a unity of culture and nature in nature. [27] This implies that the natural sciences become those - and the only - sciences that can provide the ultimate explanation for cultural phenomena (scientific naturalism). [28]

In particular, two naturalistic theory groups are influential in nature and species protection: First to be mentioned are theories according to which humans are parts of nature and as such, with their social metabolism, have to fit into the respective regional and local natural conditions in order to be able to survive in the long term.

Secondly to be mentioned are functionalist theories of aesthetics, which interpret beauty as a sign of expediency and occur in nature conservation in two variants: perceive beautifully, which have objective inner expediency, i.e. are either organisms or are organized in an organism-like manner. According to evolutionary aesthetic theories, the basic aesthetic intuitions of humans are said to have developed thousands of years ago through natural selection, so that they still perceive nature as beautiful today that once offered particularly good opportunities for survival - which explains the cross-cultural preference for park-like landscapes.

Culture as a unity of man and nature
The third type of theory stands between the two previously described, insofar as it understands cultural development as being doubly determined by two independent principles. Its origins lie in cultural theories and philosophies of history that were critical of the Enlightenment, according to which reason is not an ahistorical universal faculty, but a genetic-contextual one, and the goal of human history is not the realization of universal principles of reason, but rather a maximum diversity in the world that is understood as equal and unique Forming cultures: [30] Successful cultural development is the result of a historical interplay of the special natural conditions of an area on the one hand and the special character of the people who live in this area on the other, whereby these two principles - "climate" and "character / genius of a people "with Johann Gottfried Herder," land "and" people "with Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl," man "and" nature "with George Perkins Marsh - in this process mutually change, penetrate and ultimately form a grown unit. This unit has the shape of a unique, functional and therefore at the same time beautiful culture (landscape) with a unique variety of characteristic traditions, land use forms, building types and a unique constitution, feeling and way of thinking of the people living there. In today's terminology: Successful coevolutionary development of humans and nature leads to unique sustainable socio-ecological systems.

This type of theory of the human or culture-nature relationship has significantly shaped nature and species protection in many European countries and also outside of Europe: from the homeland protection movements that emerged around 1900 to the requirement in Section 1 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act, the diversity, uniqueness and beauty of nature and to preserve the landscape, up to bioregionalism. The main goal of nature and species protection on this basis is the preservation of the diversity of historically grown cultural landscapes with their characteristic species, which can also include assimilated "foreign" species (neobiota). [31]