Question Forum 5

Please refer to the readings assigned for readings assigned for 14 November

1) What are the deficiencies, in the author's view, in Elliot's use of the art-nature analogy to explain the "causal history" of natural entities? (You may refer to sections II and IV).

2) What is the author's definition of a "natural" object? Is there always a strong distinction between what is natural and what is unnatural (artifact)? (You may refer to sections III and V).

3) What would the restoration of nature look like? Who would be responsible for it? How can STS Scholars aid in the restoration of nature and should they?

4) How would a restored nature differ from the original ? (Think about its “purpose.”)
Is this difference at all significant?Why?

5) There exists a belief that humans are capable of creating technology to fix the destruction of nature and that this belief is part of the arrogance of humanity toward nature. Explain arrogance in the context of this statement and the reading. Do you believe that humans are able to create technology to correct this destruction? Explain.

6) Humans are argued to be naturally evolved beings and our actions are natural (Katz, 395). Are we part of nature? Explain.

7) The author discusses Elliot’s restoration thesis as the policy of restoring damaged natural systems, locations, and landscapes. Can you think of any areas, situations, environments, or settings in which you have observed a restoration policy? Discuss.

Amanda Phillips Response
While it appears blatantly evident through the course of Katz’s article, it is essential to point out that his argument relies on an explicit demarcation between ‘natural,’ and ‘artifactual.’ These are two states understood to be completely separate from each other, and thus analytically privileged. Katz’s simple answer for what constitutes the definition of natural is that it is “independent of the actions of humanity” (395). While he admits to taking on this definition, he also points out the pitfalls of such an argument. Namely that technological proliferation makes the distinction between ‘nature’ and ‘not nature’ a challenge and that all human activity could be understood as a ‘natural’ process. He eventually settles on a more nuanced definition of the natural emphasizing autonomy and distance from human manipulation. This bracketing of definitional categories appears to me as fundamentally and troublingly flawed. Katz’s position relies on nature as a priori, that it is nature exists as a fully independent category that can be separated from other realms. Work in STS, specifically from Latour, who we will turn to after the break, emphasizes how this dichotomy does not stand up as an analytical point (Latour 96).

Without turning to Latour quite yet, it seems necessary to emphasize that Katz’s argument seems to rely on normative understandings of realism, referents, and laws. For instance that nature exists autonomously and behave outside of manipulation, as according to its own laws (396). Yet, our past discussions, namely of Goodman and Lauden, seem to suggest that finding the origins of such epistemic phenomena proves challenging from a philosophical point of view. More broadly, I question the use of such clear demarcations in what is essentially a normative political argument. Katz seems poised to use his argument to demonstrate why environmental policy decisions that emphasize a restoration of nature are a compromise. An emphasis on restoration ignores the inherent anthropocentrism of policies that remake nature through human intervention. He advises moving to a policy of prevention. But how does that help intervention or rebuilding efforts? A clear separation of nature and humans seems to work against the potential political obligations that have been negotiated between humans and their environment.

Latour, Bruno. “Laboratories.” Science In Action. Cambridge, Massachusets: Harvard University Press, 1987. 63–100. Print.

Marie Stettler Kleine
The arrogance of restorative theories of conservation that Katz touches on in his piece (446) refers to anthropocentric motives for both trying to manipulate nature for our own gain (destruction) and recreate what we might thing was originally there (restoration). In the same ways that mankind took liberties to use natural resources for their own desires, Katz claims that humans are just as manipulative and deceitful when they try to create what was once “natural.” Reconsidering Elliot’s original analogy of artwork versus a forgery (444), Katz claims that humans are particularly arrogant if they think that they can make an exact replica of the original, without imparting their own biases and changes due to political and social factors.

Katz takes issue with Elliot’s original assumption, that a perfect restoration can be made. He claims that political biases always shape what the ideal picture of untainted nature did or should entail. These constructed ideals lead to manipulating the environment in a way that might be even more detrimental than keeping our distance. This is mostly due to the false sense of gratification and praise for doing restorative conservationism. With a popular rhetoric that supports “going back to the way things were naturally,” it becomes to fight for new strategies that suggest that this tactic is just as self-serving as harvesting for resources.

So, what’s our alternative? Katz is sure to say that human’s interaction with nature is so pervasive that there may not be any place that does not have human intervention and/or destruction (449). This point may just leave folks trying to “keep certain nature pristine” too little too late. If all places have been manipulated by human’s intentions, we may not have an original masterpiece to even know what we are trying to forge. That said, not having a strict dichotomy between nature and artifact blurs the lines of what we should ethically be accountable for maintaining. This argument begs the question even further, asking if we as humans are making the decision of what is being maintained, restored, or destroyed in what ways are our actions natural or artifact? Can we truly see an absolute divide between when human intervene and when they do not? Is there not some gradation that is dependent on our intentions?

Roger B answers:
1. Katz skewers Elliot’s nature/art analogy. Katz’s main point is that art has a creator, but nature does not. Hmmm…., where does he think nature comes from? In section IV, he does use the term creator, but that comes from his analysis of Cebik’s thoughts. The whole essay loops back into the question of whether or not humans are part of nature. All good points to consider and brings me back to my role as a master naturalist when I joined in with others to enthusiastically remove “invasive species”. But as I was doing it, I realized I was trying to disrupt nature to make it meet our standards. The little birds nesting in these invasive species clearly didn’t agree with me.
2. “Intrinsic functions” might delineate the difference between natural and man-made objects. Man-made have intrinsic functions; natural ones do not. However, intrinsic function seems to devolve to exploitation. I think “intrinsic function” as called in the essay should really be “intrinsic function for the material benefit of humanity”. Would a function to benefit the spiritual needs of humanity also pertain? Then we would not look at a forest as a source of wood pulp, but also as a source of solace. The beaver dam discussion makes it clear that Katz does not view human kind as an animal; but the mountain lion in his discussion would view a human as a tasty animal.
3. Restoration of nature would look like humanity treading lightly on the globe. Realizing that every action has an effect on our ecosystem. Every human would be involved. STS has everything to do with this as it educates the next generation of humans. Even education must be viewed differently in the context of humanity’s advancement. The goal of education should become to produce a thinking population, not be a super trade school leading to jobs. There will always be good satisfying work for thinkers and a thinking population will realize that we must become more aware of our presence in the ecosystem. In fairness to our predecessors, the exponential growth of the human population has brought this issue forward as a key to our survival. Jonas tells us that no longer is “Earth, the greatest of gods, … is ageless and unwearied.” (174)
4. Restored nature is a false quest. Restored to what? Before the ice age, directly prior to the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption? Nature is a moving target and humanity is part of it. I’d say leaving our natural environment alone might really be what we mean by “restoring”. Humanity should take what it needs, but not be driven by greed and power.
Finally, thanks for the references. Also, just saw questions 5,6&7, so will be ready to talk about them in class.


Joshua Earle's Response

Q6) Of course humans are natural, so are our actions and creations. We are also artifactual. As Amanda wrote, this false separation between the natural and the artifactual falls apart upon closer inspection. And similarly, without beating the Latourian horse too much, this separation is not just incorrect, it can be counterproductive. Only in a brief, hasty coda, does Katz say that he does not mean that we should not try to fix our messes in the world… but someone who misses his "Hobbes was right." moment, might easily think he was making that argument.

The separation of the natural and the artifactual produces a hierarchy of value, which in this case, is obviously tilted toward the natural as the "right" way for things to be. Katz acknowledges that due to the widespread effects of human technology that nothing at all could be claimed to be natural, and also that humans naturally evolved, but then quickly dismisses these complicating factors and places nature and artifact as two poles of a spectrum. This spectrum only makes the valuation hierarchy more explicit, as those things that hew more toward the artifactual are seen as harmful and bad.

In my view, he dismisses these counterarguments too easily, and similarly too easily just slaps this spectrum on everything as though that helps, when it only reifies his argument. One can not separate the natural from the cultural, nor can one establish an absolute valuation on them. This Borgmannian/Shivan/Turklian call toward non-use of technology ignores one of the fundamental pieces of what it means to be human: the creation and use of technology. If we add in the tool use of animals, the attempted separation becomes even more fraught. If humans were to not use technology to serve our purposes would we even be able to say we were still human? Is it even a useful hypothetical to ask since there is no way we're going to actually do such a thing.

Avoidance of harm to our environment is an obvious good… in general. But one can envision several nature-damaging scenarios, both human-made and not, that might be avoided by the application of human technology (we can now, for instance, steer a large asteroid away from collision with the earth). Then what? Is the entirety of the world considered an artifact because it was saved through the application of technology? What then? Is "nature" then sullied? Do we look differently at the world now? Do we act differently? What is the ultimate effect of an artifactual world that functions exactly as it did before it became artifactual? Do we consider it lesser because it has been "restored"? I find such a judgement suspect at best.

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