The Ideal of Nature: Appeals to Nature in Debates about Biotechnology and the Environment
Project launched in September 2005
Lead Investigator:Gregory E. Kaebnick
Funder:National Endowment for the Humanities
A comparative study of how ideas about nature are invoked in contemporary moral and policy debates about medical biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology, and the environment. Three kinds of questions are central to the investigation: how “nature” is understood, whether and how moral claims about nature can be justified, and whether and how moral claims about nature may legitimately affect public policy.
- Moral claims about what is natural have become an explicit and significant part of the opposition to many forms of medical biotechnology – particularly human reproductive, genetic, and enhancement technologies – but have met with widespread and sometimes vitriolic skepticism and have had very little effect on public policy.
- Moral claims about what is natural tend to be merely implicit in the opposition to agricultural biotechnologies and in support for environmental protection and restoration, yet they play a crucial role in these debates and appear to have influenced public policy.
- What “nature” and “natural” mean is famously various and obscure: the term may mean different things in different debates, and may not be appropriate for moral debate at all.
- Whether the natural can be valuable in and of itself is contested; the overall drift of Western moral philosophy is away from valuing nature.
- If claims about nature depend on religious or philosophical world views that many people do not share, moral claims about nature may not be appropriate for public policy.