Eric Katz, “The Big Lie:  The Human Restoration of Nature”


1.      OVERVIEW

2.      Restoration is a troubling contemporary environmental policy

         a.      Even environmentalists think it is good

         b.      This is mistake

3.      The myth of restoration: Restoration projects claim (but fail) to:

         a.      Repair damage done     

         b.      Heal nature’s wounds and make nature whole again

4.      Instead of making nature whole again, “Restoration is like putting a piece of furniture over a stain in the carpet”



         a.      The act of restoration itself is morally troubling and its consequences are morally troubling

6.      One: Act is morally worrisome

         a.      Fulfills the dream of human domination of nature

         b.      Our mastery of nature shown by our ability to restore and repair degraded ecosystems

         c.      Manifests the same technological fix mentality that got us into the environmental predicament in the first place

7.      Two: Results of restoration bad because it produces an artifact

         a.      Restoration results in an artifact, not a natural object

         b.      A restored nature is an anthropocentrically (human-centered) designed human artifact



9.      Is a restored ecosystem an artifact?

10.    What is an artifact?

11.    According to Katz, an artifact is something with an intrinsic function

         a.      Its function is definitive of what it is

         b.      Perhaps because it was intentionally designed to serve some purpose

         c.      E.g., Tables, chairs, computers, cars

12.    So do restored ecosystems have intrinsic functions (and hence are they artifacts)?

         a.      They were intentionally arranged/designed by humans to serve certain purposes

         b.      Is there function definitive of what they are?

13.    Possible human artifacts that were not intentionally designed:

         a.      Trash pile on the side of the road?

         b.      Global warming???

14.    Does the fact that something was designed for a purpose by humans make it an artifact?

         a.      Not clear in the case of human children (seems strange to call them artifacts)

                   i.       What about cloned or enhanced human children?

         b.      Are cows artifacts?

15.    Calling a cow or a restored ecosystem an artifact is both illuminating an distorting

16.    Must artifacts be “anthropocentric” (=human centered, aimed at benefitting humans) as Katz claims? Reasons to think not:

         a.      Possible nonhuman artifacts (e.g., beaver dams, bird nests)

                   i.       This possibility casts doubt on Katz’s claim that all artifacts are anthropocentric (serve human purposes)  

         b.      If a person builds a bird house or restore an ecosystem, though this is purposeful human behavior, the intentions might include benefitting nature for its own sake (and not just benefitting humans)



18.    Natural = independent of activity of humanity (1st definition to be refined)

19.    Two objections:

20.    Objection one: Nothing natural left

         a.      Human impact on the planet is so pervasive that there is nothing natural left (given this understanding of “natural”)

21.    Katz’s reply: Naturalness comes in degrees

         a.      Natural objects/processes exist as far as possible away from human manipulation, control, domination, and technology

                   i.       Note: that these words are stronger than “human activity” or “human involvement”

         b.      If naturalness comes in degrees why can’t restored ecosystems be natural to a some (very high?) degree?

22.    Objection two: Human actions/products are natural

         a.      Since humans are naturally evolved, their actions are natural too

23.    Katz’s reply: But this would make all human acts natural and equally so and this is not plausible or helpful

         a.      Need to avoid two extremes:

                   i.       All human acts are natural and equally so

                   ii.      No human acts are natural

         b.      Katz: Some human acts are and some are not natural

24.    Human acts that are natural on Katz’s account are “non-technological”

         a.      Those that don’t “go beyond our biological and evolutionary capacities”

         b.      That is, human acts that don’t involve control and alteration by technological processes

         c.      Example: Natural child birth as opposed to Cesarean section



         a.      “Nothing I have said in this essay should be taken as an endorsement of actions that . . . injure areas of the natural environment and leave them in a damaged state. I believe, for example, that Exxon should attempt to clean up and restore the Alaskan waterways and land that was harmed by its corporate negligence. The point of my argument is that we must not misunderstand what we are doing when we attempt to restore... It is a compromise. We are not restoring nature . . . but making the best of a bad situation and cleaning up our mess” (end of article)

26.    Worries

         a.      But it is not clear he is entitled to say this given his arguments

         b.      If restorations create artifacts, then restoring nature would destroy nature by artifactualize it

         c.      Perhaps Katz would argue that human-caused damage to nature has already created an artifact

                   i.       But then restoration would further artifactualize ecosystems on his account

         d.      So though Katz can accept restoration for anthropocentric (human-centered) reasons (it is better for us to have a cleaned up artifactual ecosystem), he would seem unable to accept restoration for nature’s own sake

Questions of Katz’s The Big Lie

1.      What are the two types of reason Katz gives for opposing restoration? (Hint: They have to do with the act of restoration and the result of restoration.)

2.      Define the notion of an “artifact” the way Katz defines it. Is Katz’s account of artifacts a good one?

3.      Are there human artifacts that were not intentionally designed? Are all things intentionally designed by a human properly conceived as artifacts?

4.      What does it mean to claim artifacts are “anthropocentric?” Must all artifacts be anthropocentric? Why or why not?

5.      What does Katz mean by “natural?” What are the two objections to the concept of the natural Katz considers and what is his response to those objections?

6.      Give examples of different degrees of naturalness.

7.      What does Katz think about the claim that all human activities are natural? Does he think any human activities are natural? If so, which ones?

8.      How does Katz relate the natural and the technological?

9.      Would Katz favor restoration of the gulf coast after the recent devastation caused by the gushing oil well? Why or why not?