Robert Elliot, “Faking Nature”


1.      Examples of restoration

         a.      Restoration of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park

         b.      No net loss of wetlands policy (developers may fill this wetland here if they create or restored degraded wetlands someplace else)

         c.      Restoration of Florida Everglades

2.      Elliot’s “restoration thesis

         a.      Restoration of natural environment after destruction/damage creates something of equal/full value

         b.      Mining dunes example

3.      Elliot’s denial of restoration thesis:

         a.      Restoration can never completely restore value

         b.      Once natural object has been destroyed, you can never get back its original value no matter how perfectly you restore it

4.      Elliot’s is a philosophical, not practical/technological objection to restoration

         a.      Argument purports to show that even if the restoration is molecule for molecule identical, the original value is still not returned

5.      Practical/technical objection:

         a.      Restoration is never successful from a technical/practical perspective: You don’t get back the same physical system

         b.      E.g., Wetlands restoration is often a miserable failure; restored wetlands usually don’t work like the original wetlands



7.      Analogy with art argument

         a.      Restored nature is like a reproduction of a piece of art

         b.      Both are much less valuable than the original

         c.      E.g., Van Gogh painting destroyed and then recreated with high tech computer

8.      Elliot’s claim that we value things in part due to their origin, history, and genesis

         a.      Where they came from and the kind of process that created them matter to us

         b.      Examples:

                   i.       Beautiful, delicate little object we value and admire until find out it was caved from the bone of someone killed to make the object

                   ii.      Cougar in the woods one that migrated here from Florida or someone’s escaped house pet?

9.      Relational/external properties count in our valuations, not just internal/intrinsic ones

         a.      Relational properties: Characteristics a thing has only in relation to other things (e.g., being a father)

         b.      Intrinsic/internal properties: Characteristics a thing has apart from its relations (it would still have them if it was the only thing in the world)

         c.      Origin/genesis/causal history is an external/relational property

10.    More examples where relational properties seem to matter to valuation

         a.      London Bridge in Arizona (story)

         b.      Love is historical and relational

                   i.       Value individuals because of their history and relationships with us, not solely for their qualities

                   ii.      We could imagine a person who has all the intrinsic qualities of a person you love but to a much higher degree and you still would not love that person



12.    An important reason we value the natural world is because of its “naturalness”

         a.      And restored landscapes are lacking in this naturalness value

         b.      Restored nature is not natural (=free from significant alteration by humans) and what we valued was a natural environment, not a recreated, human-manipulated nature

         c.      Are restored landscapes purely unnatural?

13.    Meaning of valuing natural entities for their naturalness

         a.      Has a causal origin independent of human intervention

                   i.       Sound of water falling over a dam or roar of wild river down rapids?

                   ii.      Faux falls

         b.      Causal contiguity with past; human intervention break this

         c.      Unmodified by human activity to a high degree

         d.      Part of a world unshaped by human hands

                   i.       “Natural” talent versus engineered talent (Sandel)

                   ii.      Grizzly bear versus a cow

                   iii.     Native long leaf pine versus a genetically “improved” exotic Japanese pine

         e.      Represents a world outside human dominion

         f.       Result of natural process and not human artifice

14.    Elliot is not assuming natural = good and unnatural = bad

         a.      Relationship between natural and value is much more complicated (pp. 86-87)

         b.      False that what is natural is necessarily of value (on balance claim, not claim about natural dimension itself)

                   i.       Cancer cells, and disease/sickness more generally are natural but not good overall

                   ii.      Natural fires, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions can alter lands for the worse

                            (1)    How do?

                   iii.     Transforming an utterly barren, ecologically bankrupt landscape into something richer and more subtle may be a good thing (for nature, presumably)

                            (1)    Humans can improve on nature?

                            (2)    Sinking boats?

                   iv.     But this is compatible with the view that replacing a rich natural environment with a rich artificial one is a bad thing

15.    Naturalness is one factor in determining the value of pieces of the environments

         a.      Does he think naturalness is:

                   i.       Always a positive dimension in itself, but no guarantee that something is good overall? (It could be outweighed by negatives)

         b.      Might some artificial things be better than some natural objects with identical properties

                   i.       E.g., Sand sculpture (make by son or by wind)

                   ii.      Pride in something you built

16.    Quote from 86-87 about relation of natural and good

         a.      “It is appropriate to return to a point mentioned earlier concerning the relationship between the natural and the valuable. It will not do to argue that what is natural is necessarily of value. The environmentalist can comfortably concede this point. He is not claiming that all natural phenomena have value in virtue of being natural. Sickness and disease are natural in a straightforward sense and are certainly not good. Natural phenomena such as fires, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions can totally alter landscapes and alter them for the worse. All of this can be conceded. What the environmentalist wants to claim is that, within certain constraints, the naturalness of a landscape is a reason for preserving it, a determinant of its value. Artificially transforming an utterly barren, ecologically bankrupt landscape into something richer and more subtle may be a good thing. That is a view quite compatible with the belief that replacing a rich natural environment with a rich artificial one is a bad thing. What the environmentalist insists on is that naturalness is one factor in determining the value of pieces of the environment. But that, as I have tried to suggest, is no news. The castle by the Scottish loch is a very different kind of object, value-'wise, from the exact replica in the appropriately shaped environment of some Disneyland of the future. The barrenness of some Cycladic island would stand in a different, better perspective if it were not brought about by human intervention.

Questions for Elliot’s Faking Nature

1.         What is the restoration thesis according to Robert Elliot. What are some practical objections to it? What is the difference between those and Elliot's philosophical objection to it?

2.         Explain how Elliot uses an analogy with art objects to make his case about restored nature.

3.         Evaluate the following claim: "If there is no difference between two things, it would be irrational to value them differently. Thus if a restored landscape is molecule for molecule identical with the original landscape, it is irrational for environmentalists to object to developments which destroy and then perfectly restore the land."

4.         Do history, origin, and genesis matter to how we (do and ought to) value things? What does Elliot think about this? Use an example he gives to make his point.

5.         What is the difference between internal and relational properties? Give examples. How is this relevant to Elliot’s views about restored nature?

6.         What does Elliot say to support the idea that the naturalness of a landscape is a reason to value it?

7.         Does Elliot argue that the natural is invariably (overall) good or better than the artificial? What examples does he use when discussing this point? Evaluate his view on this.