Study Questions on Holmes Rolston's Conserving Natural Value
Environmental Philosophy, Fall 2005
Chapter 1: Natural and Cultural Values
- What does Rolston mean when he claims earth is in a post-evolutionary phase but not a post-
- Explain some of what Rolston believes to be the major differences between nature and
- In what sense of the word "natural" are human activities just as natural as any other events
on the planet? In what sense of the world "natural" are human activities uniquely non-natural?
- Does Rolston believe humans would be better off having remained hunter-gatherers? Why
or why not? Does he think the planet would have been better off if we had so remained?
- According to Rolston, what must be true for the destruction of natural values to be justified?
Chapter 2: Diversity and Complexity Values
- How many species have existed in the history of the planet? How many currently exist?
What % have gone extinct? What % of species are projected to go extinct by the end of the
next century (according to Rolston)?
- Using examples, explain why biodiversity involves more than just numbers of species. In
other words, how might a higher number of species not be a sign of greater biodiversity?
- What is an endemic species? What is an exotic species?
- Does Rolston believe diversity is "ipso facto" a value? Why or why not? Is he right?
- If a wilderness area has no dandelions in it and one introduces them into it, has one increased
biodiversity? Why or why not?
- Give an example of two natural systems with the same number of species in each, but greater
complexity in one than the other (hint: one might have greater number of levels in tropic
- According to Rolston, which is more complicated: A monkey or a plant? Why? Can a
plant do anything a monkey can not? Do you agree with him?
- According to Rolston, does greater complexity (more sophistication and increased
capacities) typically correlate with greater value? Do you think he is right? Why or why
- Explain what Rolston means when he says that nature has some "heading" or "tendency"
toward producing "higher" beings with greater ecological achievements? Why might
someone argue that evolution produces no such thing? Evaluate this dispute.
- Explain what Rolston means when he says that evolution isn't deliberative, but it is
- Using an example, explain why someone might claim that rarity is a value enhancer. Do you
think it is?
- What are the arguments in favor of letting the South own their biological resources? What
are the arguments against the South owning those resources? What is Rolston's view on this
matter? What does he say about the following argument (and is he right?)? "If
biotechnology companies of the North can own patents on genetically manipulated plants
and animals, why can't Southern nations own their biological resources and demand royalties
for their use in the North?"
- Does Rolston think it inappropriate to place lots of attention on "charismatic megafauna"
and less attention on "creapy crawlies" (ugly or inconspicuous creatures)?
- Rank the following on Rolston's scale of increasing intrinsic value: individual plants and
invertebrate animals, higher animals, species (of plants or animals), ecosystems, natural
processes (like speciation and evolution).
- Give one of Rolston's examples where he claims it is justifiable to sacrifice individuals to
protect species. Do you agree with him?
Chapter 3: Ecosystem Integrity and Health Values
- According to Rolston, what percent of the earth's land surface is protected for native
- Explain in what way "health" is a combined fact-value word.
- What is ecosystem integrity, according to Rolston? What is ecosystem health, according to
Rolston? How are these notions related (does one presuppose the other?)? How are they
- What are some examples of human activities that degrade ecosystem integrity? Explain how
they do this.
- Can ecosystem integrity be upset by natural (i.e., nonhuman) causes?
- Can ecosystem integrity be improved by humans? Can ecosystem health be improved by
humans? Why or why not?
- Can ecological integrity that is destroyed by humans, reconstitute itself in a new and
different form? Use Rolston's Iowa-South Platte River-Cottonwood example (p. 87-88) to
explain your and his views on this issue.
- What does Rolston mean by "naturalness" of an ecosystem? According to Rolston, can the
"naturalness" of a systems, once destroyed, ever come back?
- According to Rolston, are there any purely natural system or purely artificial systems on the
planet? Why might someone believe it is futile to try to maintain relatively pristine natural
areas? What is Rolston's view on this? Do you agree with him?
- Describe what Rolston means by "ecosystem stability" (e.g., persistence, resistance,
elasticity, succession). Does ecosystem stability mean there is no change in the ecosystem?
- Does Rolston believe that ecosystems are stable? Does he believe that ecosystem changes
are a "sheer random walk"? Why or why not? According to Rolston, do ecosystems have a
- According to Rolston, should managers of natural parks manage the parks to insure they are
as close as possible to how they were when Europeans first arrived on the continent? Why
or why not? What other goal might they have?
- According to Rolston, are ecosystems sufficiently coherent to be seen as "communities?"
Does he think ecosystems exist or does he believe only the organisms in those ecosystems
- Does Rolston agree with Passmore's claim that we can have no obligations to biotic
communities because obligations need to be reciprocal and nonhuman members of biotic
communities have no obligations to us?
- What is meant by "sustainable development?" For what reasons is Rolston wary of this
notion? Are his concerns justified?
- According to Rolston, is continued growth a good thing?
- Does Rolston believe it was ever appropriate to trade natural values for cultural ones? Does
he believe it is appropriate to do so today?
- Explain the difference between a restoration and a replica. According to Rolston, which idea
applies to replanting trees after clear-cutting a forest?
- What is a fundamental difference between restorations of art and of natural systems,
according to Rolston? (Hint: Consider the idea of "rehabilitation.")
- What does it mean to say "restoration is a undoing?"
- Why might someone claim that a restored ecosystem is an "artifact?" According to Rolston,
does it remain an artifact?
- What aspect of a humanly degraded landscape can never be restored?
- Is a successfully restored landscape of equal value to the original landscape?
- Explain what Rolston means when he says "respect systemic historical change more than
episodic contingent change." Give examples of the two kinds of change. Do you think he is
right that we should do this?
Chapter 4: Wildlife Values
- According to Rolston, do higher animals value things? Do they value things in a moral
way? Are they moral agents? Are they morally important? How are these questions
different from each other? What is your view on each of these?
- Explain what Rolston means when he says (p. 197) "Nature is amoral, thought valuable." Is
- What does Rolston mean by "higher and lower animals?" Does he mean animals with better
and worse survival skills? Do you accept the idea that some animals are "higher" (more
valuable, ecological achievements) than others? Why or why not?
- Does Rolston believe evolution is heading toward higher (more valuable) ecological
achievements? What reasons are there for agreeing and disagreeing with this claim?
- Does Rolston believe animals have rights? Why or why not? Do you believe animals have
rights? Why or why not?
- Does the fact that animals can't claim their rights and the fact that animals don't have
interests in political freedom sufficient to show that animals don't have rights?
- What does Rolston mean when he says "there are no rights in nature?" Is he right?
- Is it true that rights require the existence of human beings? If this were true, does it follow
that animals can't have rights?
- Explain (using examples) why Rolston believes that animal rights (if conceived analogously
to human rights) would get us into trouble with his goal of conserving natural value. Is he
right, in your judgment?
- Do animals have rights to be saved from natural dangers? Is human style sympathy and
compassion appropriately aimed toward wild animals? What are the appropriate values to
consider when deciding whether or not to intervene in nature to rescue animals? (We talked
about at least five.) How does Rolston answer these questions? How do you answer them?
- Describe four different cases of coming to the assistance of wild animals that Rolston
discusses in section 3.
- What is the Yellowstone Park policy toward providing assistance to wild animals? What
reasons are there for thinking that Yellowstone Park officials are inconsistent in their policy
toward providing assistance to wild animals? Are they inconsistent? What does Rolston
- Why is it important for the consistency of the Park Service policies to only assist species
whose existence is threatened by humans (and not those going extinct on their own)?
- Explain how letting nature take its course ("wildness value") and concern for biodiversity
can be conflicting values. (Consider, in addition to the above example, genetic engineering
to increase biodiversity, or massive human interference in nature to prevent human
elimination of some small amount of biodiversity.)
- What is meant by the wild integrity of an animal? How might it be compromised? Do you
think this is a significant value?
- Does Rolston think it is permissible to kill individuals of a species for the good of the
species? What is his example?
- Morally evaluate the activities of the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey (the "Raptor
Center") based on the values Rolston identifies in this section.
- Does Rolston think one can sacrifice the existence of feral animals to preserve the integrity
of ecosystems? What is his example?
- Does Rolston think introducing life forms to places were they are not naturally present can
ever increase natural values? Consider his example of introducing mammals onto the island
of Hawaii. Is he in favor of introducing fish into barren waters of Western rivers? Why or
- What are some of the differences between aesthetic appreciation of wild animals and
aesthetic experiences of art?
- What are Rolston's views about hunting? Do you agree with these views? Why or why not?
- Describe some of the commercial uses of wild animals that Rolston opposes and explain
why he opposes them.
Chapter 5: Anthropocentric Values
(For questions 67-73 see also Chapter 6, section 6--p. 192ff)
- What is an anthropocentric natural value? How is it different from an anthropogenic natural
value? Give an example of an anthropogenic value that isn't anthropocentric (i.e., an
intrinsic valuing of nature).
- Is the nutritional value of the potato an anthropocentric natural value? Is it anthropogenic?
Is it an intrinsic or an instrumental value? An objective or subjective value? Answer the
same questions for the value of the eagle as our national symbol.
- Does Rolston accept the view that all natural values are anthropocentric values? Does he
accept the view that all values are anthropogenic? Does he accept the view that all values
are subjective (dependent on a valuing subject)? Does he accept the view that all values
depend on a valuer (perhaps including an non-subjective, objective valuer)?
- According to Rolston, would there be any value in a world composed totally of non-conscious beings? Is an unexperienced value a contradiction, according to Rolston? In such
a world, would there be green (or sweet tasting) things? Would photosynthesis go on?
- What does it mean to say that values are always subjective, but not necessarily
anthropocentric or anthropogenic. Give an example of such a value. Does Rolston agree
with this statement? Do you?
- According to Rolston, does the tree value anything? Do you agree with him?
- Does Rolston think there can be values without a valuer?
- Explain in what senses the scientific and religious values carried by nature might seem to be
anthropocentric and instrumental values. In what sense are they intrinsic values?
- Explain what Rolston means when he claims that humans and nature have "entwined
destinies." Is he right?
- Does Rolston think that for culture to gain, nature must lose? In what sense is his answer to
this question a "time bound answer?" Does he think that culture will benefits from ongoing
destruction of nature? Did it ever, on his view? What do you think?
- How does Rolston propose we solve the problems of the world's poor who live near
wildlands and who want to destroy them to eke out a few more years of survival?
- In terms of international environmental justice, Rolston posits three interacting features that
are equally important. What are they (see section 3). Does Rolston think each of these
factors are equally "cancerous"? What do you think?
- How strong is the following response to the South's (the lesser developed countries) claim
that the North (industrialized countries) has taken far more than its fair share of the world's
resources and thus need to share with the South: Even in many countries of the South (e.g.,
Brazil, South Africa), distribution of wealth, income, and land is grossly unjust.
- How many people are added to the world's population every year? How many of them are
from "the South" and how many from "the North".
- Does Rolston believe that an individual human (who didn't ask to be born, is a victim of the
global mal-distribution of wealth, and is poor and not overconsuming) has a right to
"develop" local lands in order to avoid starvation, if the lands have high natural value?
- Does Rolston believe indigenous peoples have the right to develop and modernize if this
requires destroying the rainforest?
- How does Rolston's idea that full human flourishing requires "advanced civilization" make
his answer to the above question more difficult?
- Does Rolston think it fair or appropriate to relocate peoples whose "development" threatens
nature reserves? What are some of Rolston's examples of forced relocations of people that
- Does Rolston think it ever permissible to make policy decisions that result in more people
dying than alternative policies?
- Which of the following would Rolston think should be sacrificed: the poor's right to
development, the poor's right to a more equitable distribution of goods/wealth, and wealthy
person's right to her wealth?
- Explain how regulation of business (including environmental regulation) can increase
- Explain Rolston's view of the following claim: Conserving natural value is largely a matter
of getting appropriate market incentives into place.
- Explain Rolston's views about the idea that natural value reduces to value that is
transformative of human character and contributory to human excellences.
Chapter 6: Intrinsic Natural Values
- Explain why Rolston thinks that biological conservation didn't start when humans began
trying to protect life.
- Why does Rolston think that organisms (including insentient, nonconscious ones)--but not
rocks--have a good of their own that they defend? Is he right?
- Explain the difference between intrinsic and instrumental value.
- Why does Rolston think that the existence of organisms proves the existence of (objective)
intrinsic value in nature?
- Does Rolston think tigers have intrinsic value? Does he think a tiger has intrinsic value on
the moon (or in a zoo)? Why? What does Rolston think this tiger on the moon example
shows? (See p. 174-75.)
- What does Rolston mean when he claims that ecosystems have "systemic value"? How is
this different from valuing ecosystems anthropocentrically, anthropogenically,
instrumentally, or intrinsically?
- Why does Rolston value (Earth's) nature? How are these reasons different than his reasons
for valuing organisms?
- According to Rolston, do non-biotic works of nature have value that is deserving of
appropriate respect? Discuss some of his examples. Give an example of human behavior
that would not show appropriate respect for abiotic nature. Does Rolston suggest we value
all non-biotic products of nature? What are the differences between those toward which we
can act inappropriately and those toward which this is not the case?
- What is a wilderness area, as defined in the Wilderness Act of 1964?
- Is "wilderness" an ideal that is culturally relative? Is the attempt to "export" the American
concept of wilderness onto other countries "ethnocentric" (in a pejorative sense)? What
does Rolston say about these issues? Is he right?
- Explain what Rolston means when he says "wilderness management...appears to be a
contradiction in terms...[it] is conceptually as impossible as wildlife in a zoo." (p. 187)
- What reasons are there for thinking that aboriginal peoples in North America made lands on
this continent unsuitable for wilderness designation? Explain why Rolston agrees or
disagrees with this claim. Is he right?
- Does Rolston believe indigenous peoples may remain in newly designated wilderness areas
or should they be relocated? Do you agree with him?
- Explain the criticisms of wilderness that claim wilderness areas are an elitist luxury for the
rich and that they involve a "lock-up" use. What are Rolston's responses to these criticisms?
- As powerfully as you can, present Bill McKibben's case for "the end of nature." Does
Rolston agree that nature is at is end? Why or why not? According to Rolston, in what way
is the end of nature a serious threat or possibility? According to Rolston, can nature end in
- Does Rolston think that we have lost the possibility of Yellowstone Park being natural in an
- What does Rolston mean by "it doesn't follow that nature is absolutely ended because it is
not absolutely present"?
- Does Rolston think that humans as "biotic citizens" should be included in nature everywhere
on the planet? Does denying this mean that one "hates the human presence on the planet?"
If humans are part of nature and belong on the planet, why keep human culture out of any
places on the planet (such as wilderness areas)?
- Explain Rolston's response to the well-known restoration biologist Steve Packard's
paradigm that nature is an aging parent who now needs us? Packard: "If we are dependent
on nature, what's so terrible about nature being dependent on us, too? . . . Nature doesn't end
when we become part of it, any more than our parents cease to be our parents once they
become older and we have to take care of them." (201) In what way does Rolston think
restoration is not like helping an aging parent?
Chapter 7: The Home Planet
- Is Rolston an anthropocentrist? Does he wish to put humans at the center (or does he put
Earth at the center)? Does he wish to see the earth as nothing but a human resource?
- Which is of greatest value according to Rolston? People, animals, individual organisms
(e.g., plants), "memorable" abiota, species, ecosystems, Earth (as fecund, creative, life
- Does Rolston believe that human activities are threatening Earth? Explain. Do you believe
we are threatening Earth? If we continue the development of the last century for a
millennium, what will be the result?
- Why does Rolston move from a land ethic to an earth ethic?
- How would Rolston respond to the following: "It is absurd to talk about respecting the earth;
that's like respecting dirt; the earth is a big rockpile; you can respect the life on the earth, but
not the earth itself; there is nobody there to respect or love."
- When the North gives environmentally friendly technology to the South, is that "foreign aid"
according to Rolston? (See 213 and 229.) Explain.
- Does Rolston think it accidental that the earth has produced things with incredible value?
Explain his view. Do you agree with him? (See pp 219-20)
- What is Gaia? (220 ff.) What is Rolston's view about Gaia?
- Explain the scientific, philosophical basis for the metaphor of 'mother nature' or 'mother
- Explain the position and viewpoint of the would be "planetary managers" and of those who
believe we need to use "Science, Technology, and Industry" to engineer a nature and rebuild
a planet that is better for us than the recalcitrant nature we have been given.
- Describe Rolston's response to this engineering, managerial paradigm of the human/nature
relationship. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
- What are Rolston's examples of natural things he thinks it doubtful that we would want to
manage. Do you agree with him? Should we manage any aspect of nature we can manage
better than nature does? (227)
- Does Rolston oppose all use of science, technology, engineering, management to make
nature better for humans? Where does he draw the line?
- Do you agree with Rolston that the fate of earth is more important than nations, sovereignty,
rights, freedom, democracy or economy? Do you agree with him that we are residents and
natives of the earth first, and citizens, internationalists, and culture protectors second?
- What is Rolston's position (p. 231) on the idea that the earth is remarkably resilient and that
environmentalist worries about humans' ability to damage the planet don't put enough faith
in the earth's rejuvenative powers? What examples does he use to make his point about the
scale of human activities versus the scale of nature's rejuvenative powers?
- Why does Rolston say the Earth is more important than people (and their rights)? What
implications for policy does this have? Why might someone deny this? Do you agree with