You are on page 1of 14

From Louis P. Pojman, ed.

Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and

Application, 3 ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth PublishinglThomson Learning, 2001,
pages 76-89 r

@2001 Wadsworth, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permisssion.

Naturalizing Values: Organisms and Species

Holmes Rolston III is professor of philosophy at ident of the International Society for Environmental
Colorado State University at Fort Collins. He is the pres- Ethics and author of several works on environmental
ethics, including Philosophy Gone Wild: Essays in
Environmental Ethics (1986) and Environmental Ethics:
This paper, "Naturalizing Values," copyright C 1998 Holmes Duties to and Values in the Natural World (1988).
Rolston III, was delivered at the North American Association on
Social Philosophy in December t 998 and appears in print here for
In this essay, Rolston examines the fact/value prob-
the first time. Used by permission of the author. lem as it applies to nature. He argues that values are

76 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
objective in nature, and that just as philosophers are . to shame" (Vogel, 1998). Dragonflies have to change
naturalizing ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, their wing shape in flight without benefit of muscles (as
they should naturalize values. in birds and bats), so they use a flexible aerofoil with
veins that enables the wing surface to twist in direct
In an age of naturalism, philosophers seem as yet response to aerodynamic loading when suddenly chang-
unable to naturalize values. They are naturalizing ing directions or shifting from upstroke to downstroke.
ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. They have con- A hind-wing base mechanism is especially impressive in
nected human ethical behavior to Darwinian reciproc- the way it mixes flexibility and rigidity. "The 'smart'
ity, kin selection, genetic fitness, and so on. They wing-base mechanism is best interpreted as an elegant
analyze human capacities for epistemology with care to means of maintaining downstroke efficiency in the pres-
notice how our human perceptions, our sense organs, ence of these adaptations to improve upstroke useful-
have an evolutionary history. Our mind and its cogni- ness" (Wootton et aI., 1998).
tive capacities are pragmatic ways of functioning in the Botanists report studies in what they caU "a plant's
world. They interpret ideologies and metaphysical dilemma. " Plants need to photosynthesize to gain
views ~s means of coping, worldviews that enable energy from the sun, which requires access to carbon
humans in their societies to cohere and to outcompete dioxide in the atmosphere. They also need to conserve
other societies. Ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics water, vital to their metabolism, and access to atmos-
are survival tools, whatever else they may also become. phere which evaporates water. This forces a trade-off
But philosophers are slow to naturalize axiology. H in leaves between too much and too little exposure to
they do, they try to demonstrate the biological roots of atmosphere. The problem is solved by stomata on the
human values. They show that our values root in our undersides of leaves, which can open and close, letting
biological needs-for food, shelter, security, resources, in or shutting out the air. "The stomatal aperture is
self-defense~ offspring, stability, and status in our soci- controlled by osmotic adjustment in the surrounding
eties. Beyond that, philosophers do not naturalize values cells. In a sophisticated regulatory mechanism, light,
in any deeper sense. They cannot disconnect nature from the carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis, and
humans so that anything else in nature can have any the water status of the plant are integrated to regulate
intrinsic value on its own. That is disconcerting. Nature stomatal aperture for optimization of the plant's ~
comes to have value only when humans take it up into growth and performance" (Grill and Ziegler, 1998).
their experience. This, they may think, is a naturalized The details of such "plant strategies" vary in different
account of value; but, I shall argue here, such analysis species but are quite complex, integrating multiple
has not yet come within reach of a biologically based environmental and metabolic variables-water avail-
account of values. Somewhat curiously, the more obvi- ability, drought, heat, cold, sunlight, water stress, and
ous kind of naturalizing-showing that our values are energy needs in the plant-for sophisticated solutions
framed by our evolutionary embodiment in the world- to the plant's dilemma.
blinds us to the deeper kind of naturalizing-recogniz- Even the cyanobacteria, blue-green algae, which are
ing an evolutionary world in which values, some of relatively primitive single-celled organisms, can track
which we.share, are pervasively embodied in the nonhu- day and night with molecular clocks built with a genetic
man world. oscillator rather similar to those in more advanced
The debate is complex and multi-leveled. We touch organisms. Discovering this, Marcia Barinaga says,
the nerve of it here by focusing on value as this is pres- "Keeping track of day-night cycles is apparently so
ent in living organisms and their species lines. Let's start essential, perhaps because it helps organisms prepare for
by looking over the shoulders of some recent scientists the special physiological needs they will have at various
and their discoveries. times during the daily cycle, that clocks seem to have
arisen multiple times, recreating the same design each
time" (1998).
1. Dragonflies, Leaf Stomata, Reporting a June 1998 conference on "Molecular
Bacterial Clocks, and Genomes Strategies in Evolution," geneticists have found so many
examples of "how the genome readies itself for evolu-
Studies of dragonflies in the Carboniferous show that tion" that they are making a "paradigm shih."
their wings "are proving to be spectacular examples of Abandoning the idea that genetic mutation is entirely
microengineering" giving them "the agile, versatile blind and random, and that genetic errors are sup-
fljght necessary to cateh prey in flight." They are pressed to minimize change, geneticists are impressed
"adapted for high-performance flight" (Wootton et aI., with the innovative, creative capacities in the genome.
1998). "To execute these aerobatic maneuvers, the These "new findings are persuading them that the most
insects come equipped with highly engineered wings successful genomes may be those that have evolved to be
that automatically change their flight shape in response able to change quickly and substantially if necessary"
to airflow, putting the designers of the latest jet fighters (Pennisi, 1998). Genes do this by using transposons-

Rolston: Naturalizing VaJues: Organisms and Species 77

gene segments, mobile elements-that they can use, tion-15-20 different molecules, and 10 or more
rapidly to alter DNA and the resulting protein structures \ ' inhibitors, a total of some 30-40 molecules. Such a cas-
and metabolisms in time of stress. "Chance favors the cade might seem overly complex, but it is really a sophis-
prepared genome," says Lynn Caporale, a biotechnol- ticated form of regulation; there are amplification
ogy geneticist. James Shapiro, a bacterial geneticist at circuits and stabilizing loops, shut-down provisions and
the University of Chicago, comments: "The capability of backup pathways. This is, of course, a causal system,
cells has gone far beyond what we had imagined." but it is more than that; the system is protecting an
"Cells engineer their own genomes" (quoted in Pennisi, organismic self.
1998). Complement can be quite destructive and that is a
The genome in vertebrates, for example, has evolved good thing when it provides immunity for the organism,
quite successful capacities to resist diseases. but it is also a bad thing if it goes out of control. So com-
Transposons turn out to be especially useful in the plement requires tight, fail-safe r~gulation. Immunolo-
acquired immune system, which is not present in inver- gists use here the language of a fine-tuned mechanism:
tebrates, but which was discovered and elaborated in "Because of these regulatory mechanisms, a delicate bal-
vertebrates. "The immune system is a wonderful exam- ance of activation and inhibition of the complement cas-
ple of how a mobile piece of DNA can have an astound- cades is achieved which prevents damage to autologous
ing impact on evolution," says David Schatz of Yale [self] cells and tissues but promotes the effective destruc-
University (quoted in Pennisi, 1998). Innate immunity, tion of foreign organisms" (Abbas et aI., 1991, p. 268).
which is present in vertebrates, is coded in the genes and "The consequences of complement activation are so sig-
"remembers" what has happened in the organismts evo- nificant and potentially dangerous that the system must
lutionary past. But acquired immunity "remembers" be very carefully regulated" (Tizard, 1992, p. 200).
what has come along during the organism's biographi- Some threats and achievements here seem to be "signif-
cal past. An organism gets the disease; then its body icant," "dangerous," "effective," and "damaging";
remembers, forms antigens, and does not get the disease something vital is at stake.
a second time. Can you see that philosophers, looking over the
One has to use language with care; we should guard shoulders of these scientists with their des~riptions of
against overly cognitive language. But scientists do have what is going on, have some value questions to ask? The
to describe what is going on; and there is a kind of immune system is a sophisticated means of preserving
acquired learning in immunity, mechanical though the biological identity at a high level of idiographic organis-
system also is. Immunologists use a term here that mic diversity. All this is going on spontaneously,
philosophers will find revealing. When stem cells from autonomously, without any animal awareness, much
the bone ~arrow mature in the thymus (T cells), this is less any humans thinking about it.
called "thymic education" (Abbas et al., 1991, p. 169). There is praise for those dragonfly wings in the
Once such an educated T cell meets an alien microbe, it . Carboniferous, coming from the scientists who study
not only triggers defenses, it triggers a memory. What them. What is a philosopher to say? "Well, those are
immunologists call "memory cells" are made; these are interesting wings to the scientists who study them, but
both long-lived and reproduce themselves, so that they were of no value to the dragonflies." That seems
acquired immunity can continue for decades, even a life- implausible. Perhaps one can go part way and say:
time. The 'body can remember what sorts of organisms "Well, those wings did have value to the individual
it has met before and be ready for their return. From a dragonflies who owned them. Instrumentally, the drag-
philosophical perspective, we may wish to be circum- onflies found them useful. But a dragonfly is incapable
spect about "memory" cells, as we are about "remem- of intrinsically valuing anything. Much less do these-
bering"; and yet the vocabulary is widespread in wings represent anything of value to the species line.
immunology and seems equally legitimate, say, to the Similar engineering features persist, Wootton and his
use of "memory" in computer science. Additionally, in associates add, in present-day dragonflies, living 320
organisms-as it is not in computers-this is vital to life. million years later than the fossil dragonflies they stud-
Such capacity, is much smarter than mere genetics; the ied in Argentina. That does sound like something that
body has defensive capacities far in excess of anything has been useful for quite a long time. Could that be of
that could have been coded for in the genes. value to the species line?
The immune system has a complex task. A host of The repeated discovery of molecular clocks in those
metabolically and structurally different cells have to be cyanobacteria is important in fulfilling the organisms'
choreographed in organic unity. Further, invader cells, "needs," and that seems pretty much fact of the matter.
myriads of kinds of them, and insider cells gone wrong After that, do we want to insist that nevertheless this has
in many different ways-all these must be seen and elim- no "value" to these organisms or their species lines, who
inated. This has to be done at microscopic and molecu- have several times discovered how these internal clocks,
lar ranges with careful regulation, which involves similarly "designed," increase their adapted fit?
complement molecules that work in a cascade reac- Studying those immune systems, a cell biologist finds

78 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
something "wonderful." But, you will insist, this is only something discovered which was there before we came.
"wonderful" when cell biologists get there to wonder "There can be no value apart from an evaluator, all
about it. Perhaps nothing is "astounding" until a human value is as it were in the eye of the beholder [and] .
being comes around to be astounded. We do not think therefore, is humanly dependent" (1989, p. 26). Such
that the genomes are astounded. Still, the biological value is "anthropogenic" (1992, p. 132).
achievements are there long before we get let in on them.
The source of all value is human consciousness, but it by
Set aside the wonder. In the objective facts-leaf stom-
no means follows that the locus of all value is conscious-
ata, genome evolution, bacterial clocks-is there any-
ness itself•... An intrinsically valuable thing on this
thing there of value?
reading is valuable for its own sake, for itself, but it is
not valuable in itself, that is, completely independently of
any consciousness, since no vaJue can, in principle, be
2. Anthropic Valuers and Their Values altogether independent of a valuing consciousness .
Value is, as it were, projected onto natural objects or
Most philosophers insist there is not. Values in nature
events by the subjective feelings of observers. If all con-
are always "anthropocentric," human-eentered, or at
sciousness were annihilated at a stroke, there would be
least "anthropogenic" (generated by humans). Bryan G.
no good and evil, no beauty and ugliness, no right and
Norton concludes: "Moralists among environmental
wrong; only impassive phenomena would remain. (1989,
ethicists have erred in looking for a value in living
pp. 133-134, 147)
, things that is independent of human valuing. They have
therefore forgotten a most elementary point about valu- What that means, of course, is that the dragonfly wings
~g an~g. Yaluing always ocqus.frQm the viewpoint "good" to-them, or at least of DO- "va!uc" to
of a conscious valuer.... Only the humans are valuing them. Though insects, sand dollars, bacteria, and plants
agents" (1991, p. 251). Norton, of course, believes in may engineer their own genomes, there is nothing valu-
an objective world that he is anxious to conserve. able about any of these activities, much less right or
Walking along a beach, he values, for example, the beautiful. Take our evaluating consciousness away, and
sand dollars (Mellita quinquiesperforata) he .finds there. there remain only impassive phenomena.
He has respect for life (1991, pp. 3-13). He chose a These philosophers have to conclude so because
sand dollar to picture on the cover of his book. Such according to classical value theory only humans produce
encounters make him a better person, give him an value; wild nature is intrinsically valueless. That seems
enlarged sense of his place in the world, and increase his to be a metaphysical claim in Callicott. We can know
wonder over the world he lives in. So he celebrates "the what is there without us: impassive phenomena; we can
character-building transformative value of interactions know what is not there: intrinsic value. Or if not so
with nature" (1987, pp. 10-11). He gets a lot of good ontological, this is at least an epistemological claim, as
out of respecting sand dollars. with Norton: we are unable to know ·what is there with-
But Norton does not want any epistemological out us. All we can know is that some things in nature,
"foundationalism" or "metaphysical realism,;' as before we get there, have the potential to be evaluated
though humans (whether scientists or philosophers) by h~ans. We know this because if and when we
could actually know anything out there in nature inde- humans appear, we may incline, sometimes, t9 value
pendently of ourselves, much less that there are values nature in noninstrumental ways, as when we project
intrinsic to some of these nonhuman organisms out intrinsic value onto sequoia trees while hiking through
there. There is no getting out of our epistemological the forest, or have transformative experiences encoun-
bondage, no getting past "interactions"; it is naive for tering sand dollars on a beach.
humans to claim to know objective value in sand dol- The best we can do is to give a dispositional twist to
lars. Norton regrets that I, when I claim to know more value. To say that n is valuable means that n (some
than "interactions," have fallen into the "devastating object in nature) is able to be valued, if and when human
legacy" of "outmoded" Cartesian dualism, "a bewitch- valuers, H's (some Humans), come along, although n
ment of ossi6ed language" (1992, pp. 216-218, p. 224). has these properties whether or not humans arrive. The
J. Baird Callicott, equally zealous for the conservation object ·plays· its necessary part, though this is not suffi-
of nature, is equally clear about our unique human vaJue- cient without the subject. Nature contains "a range of
ability. All intrinsic value attached to nature is "grounded potential values in nature actualizable upon interaction
in human feelings" but is "projected" onto the natural with consciousness" (Callicott, 1992, p. 129). By this
object that "excites" the value. "Intrinsic vaJue ultimately account there is no actual value ownership autonomous
depends upon human valuers." "Value depends upon to the dragonflies, bacteria, plants, or genome lines-
human sentiments" (1984, p. 305). We humans can and none at least that we can know about. When cellular
ought place such value on natural things, at times, but biologists arrive with their wonder and resolve to
there is no value already in place before we come. Intrinsic admire and perhaps also to conserve these things, there
value is our construct, interactively with nature, but not is value ignition. Intrinsic value in the realized sense

Rolston: Naturalizing Values: Organisms and Species 79

emerges relationally with the appearance of the subjeet- have to move from an anthropocentric to a "sentiocen-
generator. This is something like opening the door of a tric" view. Or, better, from an anthropogenic to a "sen-
refrigerator, when things previously in the dark light up. tiogenic" view. (Please pardon the nonce words).
But axioiogically speaking, nature is always in the Animals can value on their own, provided that they
dark-unless and until humans come. have preferences that can be satisfied or frustrated. A
Perhaps you can begin to see why I am disconcened mother free-tailed bat, a mammal like ourselves, can,
that philosophers can be so naturalistic one moment and using sonar, wend her way out of Bracken Cave, in
so separatist the next. Naturalists wish to claim that we Texas, in total darkness, catch 500-1000 insects each
humans are not metaphysically different from the rest of hour on the wing, and return to find and nurse her own
nature, whether in substance or process. Human activi- young. That gives evidence of bat-valuing; she values
ties and those in wild nature are equally natural. the insects and the pup.
Humans are completely natural in their physiologies and Now, it seems absUfd to say that there are no valuers
in their evolutionary histories. We are a part of nature until humans arrive. There is no better evidence of non-
and not apart from nature. Still, they still practice value human values and valuers than spontaneous wildlife,
apartheid. They resolutely find humans quite axiologi- born free and on its own. Animals hunt and howl; find
cally different, with this unique valuing capacity. That shelter; seek out their habitats and mates; care for their
does set us apart from the rest of nature. young; flee from threats; grow hungry, thirsty, hot,
At the same time that they set us humans apart so tired, excited, sleepy. They suffer injury and lick their
surely, they may also find us so episteinologically igno- wounds. Here we are quite convinced that value is
rant that we cannQt really know what we might share nonanthropogenic,. to say nothing of anthropocentric.
with the nonhuman lives we encounter. In these values These wild animals defend their own lives because
that arise when we interact with nature we are unable to they have a good of their own. There is somebody there
discover anything more than these values. that arise behind the fur or feathers. Our gaze is returned by an
within us, based on some potential nature has for us. But animal that itself has a concerned outlook. Here is value
humans are sealed off from making any further claims right before our eyes, right behind those eyes. Animals
about the objective world. This too is value apartheid. are valueable, able to value things in their world. But we
The anthropogenic view values nature only in associ- may still want to say that value exists only where a sub-
ation with human participation. This leaves us with an ject has an object of interest. Callicott modifies his posi-
uneasy concern that, however generously we may come tion and says that value is not always "anthropogenic";
to care for some nonhuman others, since it is only we it may sometimes be "vertebragenic, since nonhuman
who can place value anywhere, since it is only our own animals, all vertebrates at the very least, are conscious
values that we can attend to ,or know about, humans and therefore may be said, in the widest sense of the
really do remain at the center of concern. Their concern term, to value things" (1992, pp. 132, 138).1
is central to having any value at all. Their concern is all Well, that's a help, since at least the fellow vertebrates
that matters, and it is not always going to be easy to get share in our ability to value things. They value things
up concern for animals, plants, species, or ecosystems instrumentally, no doubt, since they seek other animals,
that really don't matter in themselves, not at least so far plants, and insects for food. They value water to drink,
as anybody knows. dens for shelter, and so on.
We are likely to be concerned only if they matter to Do they value anything intrinsically? Callicott does
and for us, and that is gQing to place humans right back not address this question, but perhaps he would say
at the center. Nature is actually valuable only when it (and I would agree) that a vertebrate animal values its
pleases us, as well as serves us. That seems to be the ulti- own life intrinsically. The deer defends its life as' a
mate truth, even though we penultimately have placed good of its own. Such life is valued without further
intrinsic value on nature, and take our pleasure enjoying contributory reference, even if wolves in turn make use
these natural things for what they are in themselves. of deer for food. Perhaps the mother wolf can value her
Without us there is no such pleasure taken in anything. young intrinsically, since she puts herself at risk to bear
What is value-able, able to value things, is people; young. Perhaps, unawares, she values the ongoing
nature is able to be valued only if there are such able species line. .
people there to do such valuing. Nature is not value- Nevertheless, for both Singer and Callicott, when we
able-able to generate values-on its own, nor do plants run out of psychological experience, value is over.
and animals have any such value-ability. Callicott's vertebragenic value still leaves most of the
world valueless, since the vertebrates are only about 4
percent of the described species. Indeed, since the num-
3. Sentient Valuers and Their Values bers of individuals in vertebrate species is typically much
lower than the numbers of individuals in invertebrate or
Peter Singer offers a more expansive account. It is not plant species, real valuers form only some minuscule
just humans but the higher animals that can value. We fraction of the living organisms on Earth. Nearly every-

80 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
thing on Earth is still quite valueless, unless and until ought to defer to animals who are close enough kin to
these humans come along-and place intrinsic value there. us to share some of our cognitive and perceptual abili-
As Callicott insists, until humans do this, "there simply ties. Beyond that, value is over.
is no inherent :or intrinsic value in nature" (1989, p. Social philosophers are likely to be quite sure about
160). Singer is more generous than Callicott to the inver- this, and quite uncomfortable with the idea of natural
tebrates. Still he claims that we must stop "somewhere values apart from human persons in their society.
between a shrimp and an oyster" (1990, p. 174). Beyond Milton Rokeach defines a value this way: "I consider a
that, he insists, "there is nothing to be taken into value to be a type of belief, centrally located within one's
account" (1990, p. 8). With Singer, too, most of the bio- belief system, about how one ought or ought not to
logical world has yet to be taken into account. behave, or about some end-state of existence worth or
Moving any further is impossible on a sentience- not worth obtaining." These belief systems are culturally
based theory. Value, like a tickle or remorse, must be felt constructed and transmitted; they are personally
to be there. Its esse is percipi. Nonsensed value is non- endorsed, enjoyed, and critiqued. Values have to be
sense. Only beings with "insides" to them have value. thought about, chosen from among options, persistently
There is no unexperienced value, no value without an held, and to satisfy felt preferences (Rokeach, 1968, p.
experiencing valuer. According to the classical para- 124). H so, ipso facto, there are none in mere organisms
digm, so long dominant that to Norton and Callicott it which have no such capacities. So much for the dragon-
seems elementary, there is no value without an experi- flies and their wings, sand dollars, plants with their leaf
encing valuer, just as there are no thoughts without_ a stomata, bacteria with their clocks, and those genomes
thinker, no percepts without a perceiver, no deeds with- getting ready for evolution.
out a doer, no targets without an aimer. Valuing is felt
preferring by human choosers. Extend~g this paradigm,
sentient animals may also value. Nothing else. 4. Organisms and Their Biocentric Values
But the problem with the "no value without a valuer"
axiom is that it is too subjectivist; it look~ for some cen- Maybe the problem is that we have let ourselves get
ter of value located in a subjective self. And we nowhere imprisoned in our own felt experiences. There is an
wish to deny that such valuers are sufficient for value. epistemological problem, but look at it another way.
But that is not the whole account of value. Perhaps there We do have blinders on, psychological and philosophi-
can be no doing science without a scientist, no religion cal blinders, that leave us unable to detect anything but
without ~ believer, no tickle without sonlebody tickled. experientially based valuers and their felt values. So we
But there can be law without a lawgiver, history without are unable to accept a biologicaily based value account
a -historian; there is biology without biologists, physics that is otherwise staring us in the face. Let's take
without physicists, creativity without creators, achieve- another, look at organisms and their biocentric values,
ment without conscious achievers-and value without focusing on plants, to make sure we are not hoping for
experiencing valuers. minimal neural experience.
A sentient valuer is not necessary for value. Another A plant is not an experiencing subject, but neither is
way is for there to be a value-generating system able to it an inanimate object, like a stone. Nor is it a geomor-
generate value, such as a plant or a genome. If you like, phological process, like a river. Plants are quite alive.
that is another meaning of value-er; any x is a valuer if Plants, like all other organisms, are self-actualizing.
x is value-able, able to produce values. Plants are unified entities of the botanical though not of
No, comes the protest, naturalizing value has to be the zoological kind; that is, they are not unitary organ-
kept close in to our human embodiment. We simply do isms highly integrated with centered neural control, but
not have the cognitive capacities to know all this about they are modular organisms, with a meristem that can
other valuers out there. Metaphysics, epistemology, and repeatedly and indefinitely produce new vegetative mod-
ethics can and ought to be naturalized, but that does not -ules, additional stem nodes, and leaves when there is
mean there are any metaphysicians, epistemologists, or available space and resources, as well as new reproduc-
ethicists among the dragonflies, the bacteria, or the tive modules, fruits, and seeds.
plants; we only mean that when humans do these activ- Plants repair injuries and move water, nutrients, and
ities, they do so using their naturally evolved capacities. photosynthate from cell to cell; they store sugars; they
Similarly with axiology, which can and ought to be nat- make tannin and other toxins and regulate their levels in
uralized, that is interpreted in terms of our naturally defense against grazers; they make nectars and emit
evolved capacities. But there are no philosophical axiol- pheromones to influence the behavior of pollinating
ogists in wild nature, any more than there are meta- insects and the responses of other plants; they emit
physicians, epistemologists, or ethicists. allelopathic agents to suppress invaders; they make
Maybe we can extend feelings into the higher ani- thorns, trap insects, and so 00. They can reject geneti-
mals, because evolution does teach their kinship with us. cally incompatible grafts. They have engineered those
So vertebragenic axiology is a possibility. We can and remarkable stomata.

Rolston: Naturalizing Values: Organisms and Species 81

A plant is a spontaneous, self-maintaining system, and soil nutrients, and we arrange for these, we say, The
sustaining and reproducing itself, executing its program, tree is benefiting from them; and benefit is--everywhere
making a way through the world, checking against per- else we encounter it-a value word. Every organism has
formance by means of responsive capacities with which a good-of-its-kind; it defends its own kind as a good
to measure success. Something more than merely physi- kind. In this sense, the genome is a set of conservation
cal causes, even when less than sentience, is operating molecules. To say that the plant has a good of its own
within every organism. There is information superin- seems the plain fact of the matter. The flexible wings did
tending the causes; without it the organism would col- "matter" to the Carboniferous dragonflies. Being pre-
lapse into a sand heap. The information is used to pared for rapid evolution under stress does "matter" to
preserve the plant identity. This information is recorded species lines. Biologists regularly speak of the "selective
in the genes, and such information, unlike matter and value" or "adaptive value" of genetic variations (Ayala,
energy, can be created and destroyed. That is what_wor- 1982, p. 88; Tamarin, 1996, p. 558). Plant activities
ries environmentalists about extinction, for example. In have "survival value," such as the seeds they disperse or
such information lies the secret of life. the thorns they make.
Values are like color, the traditionalists say. Both Natural selection picks out whatever traits an organ-
arise in interaction. Trees are no more valuable than ism has that are valuable to it, relative to its survival.
they are green on their own. This account seems plausi- When natural selection has been at work gathering these
ble if one is asking about certain kinds of values, such as traits into an organism, that organism is able to value on
the fall colors we enjoy. But consider rather the infor- the basis of those traits. It is a valuing organism, even if
mation that makes photosynthesis possible. Photosyn- the organism is not a sentient valuer, much less a verte-
thesis is rather more objective than greenness. What is brate, much less a human evaluator. And those traits,
good for a tree (nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water) is though picked out by natural selection, are innate in the
observer-independent. But is not the good of the tree organism. It is difficult to dissociate the idea of value
(whether it is injured or healthy) equally observer-inde- from natural selection.
pendent? The tree's coping based on DNA coding is Any sentigenic, psychogenic, vertebragenic, or
quite objective (even if, no doubt, there is some observer anthropogenic theory of value has got to argue away all
construction in the theories and instruments by which such natural selection as not dealing with "real" value at
all this is known). The sequoia tree has, after all, been all, but mere function. Those arguments are, in the end,
there two thousand years, whether or not any green- more likely to be stipulations than real arguments. If you
experiencing humans were around. Sequoia semper- stipulate that valuing must be felt valuing, that there
v;rens, the species line, has been around several million must be some subject of a life, then trees are not able to
years, with each of its individual sequoia trees defending value, their leaves and thorns are no good to them, and
a good of their kind. that is so by your definition. But we wish to examine
The tree is value-able {"able-to-value"} itself. If we whether that definition, faced with the facts of biology,
cannot say this, then we will have to ask, as an ope~ is plausible. The sentientist definition covers correctly
question, "Well, the tree has a good of its own, but is but narrowly certain kinds of higher animal valuing-
there anything of value to it?" "This tree was injured namely, that done by humans and their vertebrate rela-
when the elk rubbed its velvet off its antlers, and the tan.. tives-and omits all the rest.
nin secreted there is killing the invading bacteria. But is
this valuable to the tree?" Botanists say that the tree is
irritable in the biological sense; it responds with the 5. Smart Genes, Intelligent Species
repair of injury. Such capacities can be "vital." These
are observations of value in nature with just as much These organisms are found in species lines, and next
certainty as they are biological facts; that is what they we must evaluate species lines and the genetic creativ-
are: facts about value relationships in nature. ity that makes speciation possible. As noticed earlier,
We are really quite certain that organisms use their contemporary geneticists are insisting that thinking of
resources, and one is overinstructed in philosophy who this process as being entirely "blind" misperceives it. 2
denies that such resources are of value to organisms Genes have substantial solution-generating capacities.
instrumentally. But then, why is the tree not defending Though not deliberated in the conscious sense, the
its own life just as much-fact of the matter as its use of process is cognitive, somewhat like computers, which,
nitrogen and photosynthesis to do so? likewise without felt experience, can run problem-
But nothing "matters" to a tree; a plant is -without solving programs. For these genes in organisms, much
minimally sentient awareness-so Callicott, Norton, is vital, as nothing is in a computer. The genome, get-
and Singer protest. By contrast, things do matter to a ting ready to evolve, has a vast array of sophisticated
vertebrate. True, things do not matter to trees; still, a enzymes to cut, splice, digest, rearrange, mutate, reit-
great deal matters for them. We ask, of a failing tree, erate, edit, correct, translocate, invert, and truncate
What's the matter with that tree? If it is lacking sunshine particular gene sequences. There is much redundancy

82 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
(multiple and variant copies of a gene in multigene The result, according to David S. Thaler, is "the evolu-
families) that shields the species from accidental loss of tion of genetic intelligence" (1994). So it seems that if
a beneficial gene, provides flexibility-both overlap- we recognize that there are smart computers, we must
ping backup and unique detail-on which these also recognize that there are even smarter genes.
enzymes can work. Smarter, and more vital.
John H. Campbell, a molecular geneticist, writes, Leslie E. Orgel, summarizing the origin of life on
"Cells are richly provided with special enzymes to tam- Earth, says "Life emerged only after self-reproducing
per with DNA structure," enzymes that biologists are molecules appeared.... Such molecules yielded a biol-
extracting and using for genetic engineering. But this ogy based on ribonucleic acids. The RNA system then
"engineering" is already going on in spontaneous nature: invented proteins. As the RNA system evolved, proteins
became the main workers in cells, and DNA became the
Gene-processing enzymes also engineer comparable
prime repository of genetic information." "The emer-
changes in genes in vivo.... We have discovered
gence of catalytic RNA was a crucial early step" (1994,
enzymes and enzyme pathways for almost every conceiv-
p. 4). That is interesting, because here is "a crucial early
able change in the structure of genes. The scope for self-
step" among Callicottts mere "impassive phenomena."
engineering of multigene families seems to be limited only
Not only does such problem solving take place early
by the ingenuity of control systems for regulating these
OD, and continuously thereafter, but the genes, over the
pathways. (1983, pp. 408--409)
millennia, get better at it. Past achievements are recapit-
These pathways may have "governors" that are "extra- ulated in the present, with variations; and these results
ordinarily sophisticated." "Self-governed genes are get tested today and then folded into the future.
'smart' machines in the current vernacular sense. Smart Christopher WiHs concludes,
genes suggest smart cells and smart evolution. It is the There is an accumulated wisdom of the genes that actually
promise of radically new genetic and evolutionary prin- makes them better at evolving (and sometimes makes them
ciples that are motivating roday's study ..." (1983, pp. better at not evolving) than were the genes of our distant
410,414). ancestors.... This wisdom consists both of the ways that
In a study of whether species as historical lines can be genes have become organized in the course of evolution
considered "intelligent,» Jonathan Schull concludes: and the ways in which the factors that change the genes
Plant and animal species are information-processing enti- have actually become better at their task. (1989, pp. 6-8)
ties of such complexity, integration, and adaptive compe- At least we seem to be getting better and better impas-
tence that it may be scientifically fruitful to consider them sive phenomena.
intelligent. . .. Plant and animal species process informa- Donald ]. Cram, accepting the Nobel prize for his
tion via multiple nested levels of variation and selection work deciphering how complex and unique biological
in a manner that is surprisingly similar to what must go molecules recognize each other and interlock, concludes:
on in intelligent animals. As biological entities, and as "Few scientists acquainted with the chemistry of biolog-
processors of information, plant and animal species are ical systems at the molecular level can avoid being
no less complicated than, say, monkeys. Their adaptive inspired. Evolution has produced chemical compounds
achievements (the brilliant design and exquisite produc- that are exquisitely organized to accomplish the most
tion of biological organisms) are no less impressive, and complicated and delicate of tasks." Organic chemists
certainly rival those of the animal and electronic systems can hardly "dream of designing and synthesizing" such
to which the term "intelligence" is routinely (and perhaps "marvels" (1988, p. 760). Marvels they may be, but not
validly) applied today. (1990, p. 63) until we get there, Norton must say, and experience
their "transformative value."
Analogies with artificial intelligence in computers are
Talk of a genetic "str~tegy" has become common-
particularly striking. Such cognitive processing is not
place among biologists, not thereby implying conscious-
conscious, but that does not mean it is not intelligent,
ness, but strongly suggesting a problem-solving skill. A
where there are clever means of problem solving in a
marine snail has evolved a "strategy for rapid immobi-
phyletic lineage. Schull continues:
lization of prey" and can "capture prey with remarkable
Gene pools in evolving populations acquire, store, trans- efficiency at:td speed" (Teriau et aI., 1998). Well, maybe
mit, transform, and use vast amounts of fitness-relative "strategy" is a metaphor, but what the facts that under-
information.... The information-processing capacities of lie the metaphor still force is the question whether these
these massively paraJlel distributed processing systems snails "know how" to capture the fish they catch. And
surpasses that of even the most sophisticated man-made this is only one instance of information pervasively pres-
systems.. It seems likely that an evolving species is a
o. • ent as needed for .an organism's competence in its eco-
better simulation of "real" intelligence than even the best logical niche. All biology is cybernetic; the information
computer program likely to be produced by cognitive sci- storage in DNA, the know-how for life, is the principal
entists for many years. (1990, pp. 64, 74) difference between biology and chemistry or physics.

Rolston: Naturalizing Values: Organisms and Species 83

Is a philosopher still going to insist: Well, all this scientists were interested in watching "how bruises left
inventiveness, strategy, remarkable efficiency, wisdom by Shoemaker-Levy disperse" (Horgan, 1994).
of the genes, exquisite organization to accomplish deli- "Wounds" and "bruises" are only journalistic metaphor,
cate tasks, and crucial discoveries in evolution to the even in science journals, when applied to Jupiter. The
contrary, there is nothing of value here? Maybe it is time excited scientists were observing impassive phenomena.
to face up to a crisis? But what do we say when a wolf, injured in a territo-
rial fight, licks its wounds and limps from a bruised leg?
Is that still journalistic metaphor? Or tha·t the elk, rub-
6. An Epistemic Crisis? bing the velvet off its antlers, has "bruised" the tree, and
An Axiological Crisis? that the tannin is secreted to protect this "injury"?
Hard-nosed functionalists can no doubt strip away ideas
The cell biologists, we were saying, have been finding such as "getting ready," "being prepared," also words
something "wonderful" in genome strategies, but it did such as "engineer" and "information," if such words
seem that this was only "wonderful" when cell biolo- require conscious deliberation. But even after this strip-
gists got there to wonder about it. Or at least that noth- ping down, there remains something here that demands
ing was "astounding" until a human being came value language. Maybe you can sanitize the language if
around to be astounded. We do not think that the you have strong enough detergent. But you well may be
genomes have a sense of wonder or are astounded. Still, washing out something important that is going on. In a
the biological achievements are there long before we get Darwinian world, where survival is ever at stake, the
let in on them. Facing up to these facts, which are quite question of value has a way of dirtying up the cleanest
as certain as that we humans are valuers in the world, humanistic value theory.
it can seem "astounding" arrogance to say that, in our We philosophers may protest that we know how to
ignorance of these events, before we arrived there was use words with precision, and scientists can be rather
nothing of value there. careless with them. That is what has dirtied up other-
No, my critics will reply. Rolston has not yet faced up wise perfectly good value theory. Though unsophisti-
to his epistemological naivete; he persists in his ontolog- cated biologists have used "value" regarding plants,
ical realism, unaware of how contemporary philosophy careful analysis will put that kind of "value" in scare
has made any scientific knowing of any objective nature quote~. This so-called value is not a value, really, not
out there impossible, much less any realism about nat- one of interest to philosophers because it is not a value
ural values. Rolston needs to get his Cartesian episte- with interest in itself. Even if we found such interest-
mology and metaphysics naturalized. He will have to taking value, as we do in the higher animals, we humans
realize how scientists are exporting human experiences would still have to evaluate any such animal values
and overlaying nature with them when they set up these before we knew whether any "real" values were present.
frameworks of understanding. We need to recognize th~ True, the female wolf takes an interest in the deer she
metaphors we are projecting onto nature-not so much slays and the pups she feeds. So one can say, biologically
to strip them all away and see nature without metaphor, speaking, that she values the deer and her pups. But we
as to realize that all of our knowing of nature is do not yet know whether there is any "philosophical"
metaphorical. That will take care of his plant "dilem- value here. There could in fact be disvalue-a big bad
mas," of things that "matter" to plants, of genome killer wolf, rearing more such killers in the world. Jack
"engineering," and dragonfly "strategies." Whatever the Ripper was a good killer, good of his kind, but a
values Rolston is finding in nature are being projected very bad person in the world. We humans have to eval-
there by these metaphors. He is not naturalizing values uate what is going on out there, before we can say
at all. whether there is any positive value there.
I agree that sometimes we do need to strip off the Otherwise we will commit the naturalistic fallacy. We
metaphors that scientists may use. When the comet find what biologically is in nature and conclude that
Shoemaker-Levy crashed into Jupiter in July 1994, something valuable is there, something which we may
astronomers watched with interest; some of them even say we ought to protect. Considered as normative organ-
got ecstatic about the size of the explosive impact. Was ismic systems organisms might have goods of their kind
this event of any value, or disvalue? Let us grant that and still they might be bad kinds taken for what they are
nothing matters to Jupiter, nothing matters on Jupiter. in themselves, or considered in the roles they play. There
The swirls in the planetary winds were disrupted by this is a radical gap between finding that these organisms and
outside comet crashing in, but the fierce winds soon species have goods of their kinds and in concluding, in a
mixed up the debris and the flow patterns, after about a philosophical worldview, that these are good kinds. The
month, returned to their pre-impact formations, the gap is between finding animals and plants that have val-
effect of the gigantic impact fading. A headline in Science ues defended on their own, a biological description, and
put it this way: "A Giant Licks Its Wounds" (Kerr, finding that these animals and plants have intrinsic value
1994). John Horgan in Scientific American noted that worthy of philosophical consideration, which ought to

84 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
be preserved. That latter step requires philosophical they survive over the millennia. At least we will have to
analysis past any biological description. recognize the possibility of intrinsic value in nature, and
Man is the measure of things, said Protagoras. it will seem arrogant to retreat into a human-eentered
Humans are the measurers, the valuers of things, even enyironmental ethics. This is true no matter how much
when we measure what they are in themselves. So the anti-foundationalists and the anti-realists protest
humans are the only evaluators who can reflect about that we humans cannot know enough about what these
what is going on at this global scale, who can deliberate animals and plants are like in themselves to escape our
about what they ought to do conserving it. When own blinders.
humans do this, they must set up the scales; and humans Does it not rather seem that when we are describing
are the measurers of things. Animals, organisms, species, what benefits the dragonflies or the snails, the plants
ecosystems, Earth cannot teach us how to do this evalu- with their leaf stomata, or the bacteria with their clocks,
ating. Perhaps not, but still they can and do display what such value is pretty much fact of the matter. If we refuse
it is that is to be evaluated. The axiological scales we con- to recognize such values as objectively there, have we
struct do not constitute the value any more than the sci- committed some fallacy? Rather, the danger is the other
entific scales we erect create what we thereby measure. way round. We commit the subjectivist fallacy if we
What are we evaluating? Among much else, we are think all values lie in subjective experience, and, worse
appraising organisms in species lines with their adaptive still, the anthropocentrist fallacy if we think all values lie
fits. In this evaluation, we do consider our options, and in human options and preferences. These plants and ani-
'. adopt attitudes toward nature with conscious reflection mals do not make man the measure of things at all.
(such as whether we choose and why to save endangered Humans are not so much lighting up value in a merely
species) that may result in the values we humans choose. potentiaUy valuable world, as they are psychologically
But in the biological world which we have under consid- joining ongoing planetary natural history in which there
eration, such capacities drop out. The plants and animals is value wherever there is positive creativity. While such
are Dot so capable. But that does not mean that value dis- creativity can be present in subjects with their interests
appears, only that it shihs to the biological level. and preferences, it can also be present objectively in liv-
An organism cannot survive without situated envi- . ing organisms with their lives defended, and in species
ronmental fitness. There organisms 40 mostly uncon- that defend an identity over time, and in systems that are
sciously (and sometimes consciously) defend their lives self-organizing and that project storied achievements.
and their kinds. Might they be bad kinds? The cautious The valuing human subject in an otherwise valueless
philosophical critic will say that~ even though an organ- world is an insufficient premise for the experienced con-
ism evolves to have a situated environmental fitness, not clusions of those who value natural history.
all such situations are necessarily good arrangements; Conversion to a biological and geological view seems
some can be clumsy or bad. They could involve bad truer to world experience and more logically compelling.
organisms in bad evolutionary patterns-perhaps those This too is a perspective, but ecologically better
efficient and venomous snails, destroying those fish, or informed; we know our place on a home planet, which is
dragonflies so efficient in flight that they devastate their not only our home but that for five or ten million other
prey and upset previously stable ecosystems. Perhaps, at species. From this more objective viewpoint, there is
times. But with rare exceptions, organisms are well something subjective, something philosophically naive,
adapted to the niches they fiU, and remain so as the co- and even something hazardous in a time of ecological cri-
evolutionary process goes OD. By natural selection their sis, about living in a reference frame where one species
ecosystemic roles must mesh with the kinds of goods to takes itself as absolute and values every thing else in
which they are genetically programmed. At least we nature relative to its potential to produce value for itself.
ought to put the burden of proof on a human evaluator
to say why any natural kind is a bad kind and ought not
to call forth admiring respect. Notes
The world is a field of the contest of values. We can
hardly deny that, even if we suppose that those are bad 1. Callicott recognized this possibility from the start,
snails killing those fish, or that pest insects come along, despite his insistence that humans project all the value
eat plant leaves, and capture the stored energy that present in nature (1989, p. 26).
plants would have otherwise used to preserve their own 2. See further analysis and sources in Rolston, 1999, pp.
good kinds. When we recognize how the ecosystem is a 23-37.
perpetuaJ contest of goods in dialectic and exchange, it
will become difficult to say that all or even any of the References
organisms in it are bad kinds, ill-situated in their niches.
The misfits are extinct, or soon will be. Rather it seems Abbas, Abul K., Andrew H. Lichtman, and Jordan S. Pober,
that many of them, maybe even all of them, will have to 1991. Cellular and Molecular Immunology. Philadel-
be respected for the skills and achievements by which phia: W. B. Saunders.

Rolston: Naturalizing Values: Organisms and SpecJes 85

Ayala, Francisco J. 1982. Population and Evolutionary Schull, Jonathan. 1990. "Are Species Intelligent?"
Genetics: A Primer. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin! Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:63-75.
Cummings. Singer, Peter. 1990. Animal Liberation, 2nd ed. New York:
Barinaga, Marcia. 1998. "New Timepiece Has a Familiar New York Review Book.
Ring," Science 281 (4 September}:1429-1431. T~marin, Robert H. 1996. Principles of Genetics, 5th ed.
Callicott, J. Baird. 1984. "Non-anthropocentric Value Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.
Theory and Environmental Ethics," American Teriau, Heinrich, et al. 1998. "Strategy for Rapid Immobil-
Philosophical Quarterly 21:299-309. ization of Prey by a Fish-hunting Marine Snail," Nature
Callicott, J. Baird. 1989. In Defense of the Land Ethic. 381 (9 May):148-15t.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Thaler, David S. 1994. "The Evolution of Genetic Intell-
Callicott, J. Baird. 1992. "Rolston on Intrinsic Value: A igence," Science 264 (8 April):224-225.
Deconstruction," Environmental Ethics 14:129-143. Tizard, Ian R. 199~. Immunology: An Introduction, .3rd ed.
Campbell, John H. 1983. "Evolving Concepts of Multigene Fort Worth, TX: Saunders College Publishing.
Families," Isozymes: Current Topics in Biological and Vogel, Gretchen. 1998. "Insect Wings Point to Early
Medical Research, Volume 10: Genetics and Evolution, Sophistication," Science 282 (23 Oetober}:599-601.
401-417. Wills, Christopher. 1989. The Wisdom of the Genes: New
Cram, Donald J. 1988. "The Design of Molecular Hosts, Pathways in Evolution. New York: Basic Books.
Guests, and Their Complexes," Science 240 (6 May): Wootton, R. J., J. Kuikalova, D. J. S. Newman, and J.
760-767. Muzon. 1998. "Smart Engineering in the Mid-
Grill, Erwin, and Hubert Ziegler. 1998. "A Plant's Carboniferous: How Well Could Palaeozoic I;>ragonflies
Dilemma," Science 282 (9 October):252-254. Fly?" Science 282 (23 October):749-751.
Horgan, John. 1994. "By Jove!" Scientific American 271
(no. 4, October):16-20.
Study Questions
Kerr, Richard A. 1994. "A Giant Licks Its Wounds," Science
266 (7 October):31. 1. What does Rolston mean by naturalizing value? How
Norton, Bryan G. 1987. Why Preserve Natural Variety? does he make a case for this thesis?
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University .Press. 2. What is Rolston's objection to subjectivism in values,
Norton, Bryan G. 1991. Toward Unity Among Environ- the idea that all values arise by sentient beings' valuing
mentalists. New York: Oxford University Press. objects? In another place he calls this the refrigerator-
Norton, Bryan G. 1992. "Epistemology and Environmental light theory of values. The refrigerator light does not
Values," The Monist 75:208-226. come on until someone opens the door. Similarly, the
Orgel, Leslie E. 1994. "The Origin of Life on the Earth," subjectivist says that values only come into existence
Scientific American 271 (no. 4, Oetober):76-83 and when humans or conscious valuers value states of
abstract p. 4. affairs.
Pennisi, Elizabeth. 1998. "How the Genome Readies Itself 3. Discuss the arguments for and against the thesis that
for Evolution," Science 281 (21 August):1131-1134. nature has objective value-that is, it has value whether
Rokeach, Milton. 1968. Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values. San or not conscious beings value nature.
Francisco: lossey-Bass.
Rolston, Holmes, ill. 1999. Genes, Genesis, and God. New
York: Cambridge University Press.

Comments on Holmes Rolston's "Naturalizing Values"

Ned Hettinger is professor of philosophy at the College Holmes Rolston has been forcefully defending the value
of Charleston and the author of several works in envi- of nature for over twenty-five years. He does so again
ronmental ethics. See his essay in Reading 20. here today with his characteristic mix of deep biological
and philosophical insight. It is a pleasure to help us think
about the ideas and arguments of this most able philo-
"A Response to Holmes Rolston rUt" C 1998 Ned Hettinger, was
first delivered at the North American Society for Social Philosophy in sophical defender of nature.
Washington, D.C., in December 1998, and appears here in print for Professor Rolston has argued that much natural value
the first time. It is reprinted by permission of the author. is nonanthropocentric; that is, that nature is valuable

86 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
independently of its use to humans. Humans valuing say, I think~ that there is no value there, because there is
nature as an end and not simply as a means is an exam- not enough "positive creativity" in the processes of that
ple of such nonanthropocentric value. For instance, peo- planet. Rolston has said similar things about the lack of
ple who value the existence of the Aretic National value of clouds and dust devils here on Earth. But he has
Wildlife Refuge--even though they have no intentions also suggested that some abiotic features of the earth are
of ever visiting it-value the Refuge for reasons other remarkable, valuable achievements that ought to call
than its utility to them. Such noninstrumental valuing of forth our admiring respect. Work remains in explaining
nature, though not anthropocentric, is nonetheless why, for example, building roads to the top of fourteen-
anthropogenic. Rolston argues that much natural value thousand-foot mountains destroys value in these geolog-
is also not generated by humans and that it is not depen- ical marvels, while nothing humans could do to Jupiter
dent on humans in any way. Nature's usefulness to non- would destroy any value there.
human sentient animals clearly illustrates these Rolston is known for his defense of "objective" value
human-independent values. Deer are instrumentally in nature, and we again get such a defense today. By
valuable to wolves, whether or not these animals benefit "objective value," I mean value that is not dependent on
humans or are noninstrumentally valued by them. a valuing subject. Rolston rejects the psychological
Sentient animals may also demonstrate another of account of value that allows value only where there are
Rolston's claims: that there is nonanthropogenic intrin- mental states. Value on this subjectivist view is con-
sic value in nature. I don't know whether a mother wolf scious valuing. Rolston points out that instrumental
'can intrinsically value her young as Rolston ~uggests; goods for insentient organisms are clear examples of
wolves may not have the cognitive equipment such judg- nonpsychological, objective values in nature. Insentient
ments of value about others may require. Nevertheless, organisms are not subjects; they have no experiential life
wolves would seem to value the experience of pleasure and thus do not consciously value anything; yet much is
in their lives, immediately and for itself. The presence of good or bad for them. Such biological goods strongly
such intrinsic valuing in nonhuman nature has nothing support objectivism about value.
to do with human utility or valuing. Interestingly, when Rolston finds value in nature, he
Rolston's defense of natural value independent of . tends to posit some valuing of that value. He suggests,
humans goes well beyond the existence of instrumental for example, that because water is' good for trees, trees
value for sentient animals or their possible intrinsic value water, though they obviously do not do so con-
valuings. Rolston argues that instrumental value per- sciously or psychologically. Thus, Rolston rejects that
meates the biological world. The dragonfly's wings are value requires a conscious valuer, but he clings to the
useful to it, and sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water idea that value requires a valuer of some sort. I suggest
are instrumentally valuable for plants, even though he drop this second connection as well. Once we reject a
these organisms do not take a conscious interest in mental state theory of value, we'd do better to drop the
what benefits them. I think Rolston is right that only a assumed necessary connection between value and valu-
philosopher in the grip of a theory would deny ing entirely. Claiming that insentient organisms are valu-
there are instrumental goods for all living beings, ing entities stretches our concept of valuing in a way that
including insentient ones. Rolston suggests that biolog- is not helpful, nor needed. That something is good for a
ical descriptions about what is good for organisms are being does not imply that the being values it. A suicidal
factual statements about values in the natural world. person may not value food, but the food is nonetheless
Here, he suggests, there is no gap between facts and good for her. A vegetarian-fed cat may have a vitamin
values. Biological description alone, however, will not deficiency but not value the supplements she needs. Why
allow us to conclude that water is good for plants in a think a tree needs to value water in order for water to be
way that oil is not also good for machines. As Rolston good for it?
knows, we need an argument to show that what is Rolston argues for both objective instrumental and
good for machines is only good because machines are objective intrinsic value in nature. The pleasures of sen-
useful to humans, while living beings have goods of tient animals mentioned above demonstrate only subjec-
their own that do not require such further contributory tive intrinsic value or intrinsic valuing in nature, not
reference. objective intrinsic value. On one standard view of the
. Rolston also argues that human-independent natur~1 relation between instrumental and intrinsic values, we
value exists in species and ecosystems, because they too can infer the existence of intrinsic goods from the instru-
are the beneficiaries of instrumental value. Particular mental goods of insentient organisms. If instrumental
genes are good or bad for species and certain species are goods are good only insofar as they are a means to some
beneficial or destructive for self-organizing natural sys- other good, and if we rule out an endless series or loop
tems. Rolston avoids the potentially problematic posi- of instrumental values (as some pragmatists would'
tion that value is everywhere in nature, theorizing allow), then objective instrumental goods for insentient
instead that value is present wherever there is positive organisms entail the existence of objective intrinsic
creativity. Thus, nothing matters on Jupiter; which is to goods. If water is instrumentally good for trees without

Hettinger: Comments on Holmes Rolston's "Naturalizing Values" 87

further contributory reference, then the flourishing of valuable, then the actual value of the earth is guaranteed
trees must be good-in-itself. even if humans or other real valuers never arrive on the
The question remains, however, whether we humans scene. On this version of subjectivism, the possibility of
should value such goods and additionally whether we such idealized valuers is sufficient to actualize value.
have obligations to morally consider them. That some Thus, I think a version of subjectivism can avoid this
being has a good of its own or that some entity is flour- problem Rolston has identified.
ishing does not automatically mean we should value that Finally, I'd like to consider Rolston's suggestion that
good or flourishing. That bureaucracies are flourishing there is "something hazardous in a time of ecological cri-
does not require us to approve of this situation, and, as sis" about theories of natural value that do no find val-
Rolston suggests, the happiness of Jack the Ripper is not ues in nature but rather in the human response to nature.
a good we ought to value. I agree with Rolston, how- Is it important for environmental policy that our theory
ever, that the burden is very much on thos~ who sugges~ of nature's value be nonanthropocentric and nonanthro-
that the goods of natural organisms, species, and ecosys- pogenic? Although anthropocentric values are of crucial
tems are bad goods of this sort. Unless there is some con- importance in environmental policy, I believe it is dan-
sideration to the contrary, that something is flourishing gerous to limit our defense of nature to arguments based
or has a good of its own presents a prima facie reason on its usefulness to us. This is especially true if what one
for valuing it. There remains, however, the further ques- wants to defend is a wild, autonomous nature. Humans
tion about our obligation to promote some acknowl- often find a technologically enhanced and controlled
edged good. Some theories of right action do not nature of most use to them.
connect obligation with promotion of the good. Some I am much less confident that it makes a pragmatic
account is needed as to why we humans ought to pre- difference whether we view nature's noninstrumental
serve, protect, and restore these goods in nonhuman value as objective or as the result of human intrinsic
nature. Here and elsewhere, Rolston's compelling valuing. Is our defense of nature more powerful, com-
descriptions of the remarkable characteristics of natural pelling, and effective if nature is seen to have intrinsic
organisms and systems and the story he tells about value on its own, rather than having intrinsic value
humans' place in nature goes a long way to providing bestowed on it by humans who value it for its own sake?
such an account. One worry is that a subjectivist account of nature's
One of the most intuitively powerful arguments value would be open to the charge that we are foisting
Rolston presents for nonanthropogenic value in nature an idiosyncratic value onto those who don't appreciate
is that it is arrogant to think that for hundreds of mil- nature in this way. But wouldn't the objectivist defender
lions of years flourishing nature on Earth was actually of nature be open to a similar charge that she wants us
valueless and then became valuable when humans to act to protect values whose existence others don't
arrived to bestow value on it. If all value depends on acknowledge? I do think that a certain conception of the
conscious human valuing, Rolston suggests we would objective value of nature would allow for a response to
not be able to say that the earth in the age of the early a liberal critic of environmental policies that is not avail-
dragonflies was of any actual value. And this is some- able to subjectivists. For the liberal, liberty-limiting laws
thing that most of us want to say. However, those who are only justifiable when they prevent harm to others or
think all value is a function of valuing subjects argue unjust treatment of them. If we conceive of nature as
that they can say this. Even if humans are the source of having its own good that we can harm and as a valuable
all value that does not preclude humans from assigning other that we must treat justly, then laws and policies
value to a world where they do not exist. Subjectivists that protect nature will pass the liberal's test for justifi-
argue that because humans are here now and intrinsi- able constraints on human liberty. A subjectivist who
cally value those earlier epochs, we can truthfully say claims that we ought to value nature for its own sake
that the world of the dragonflies was valuable back will not be able to make the case that those whose
then. There is no requirement that the valued thing be actions disregard such values are harming nonhuman
contemporaneous with the valuer. others, treating them unjustly, and thus that they may be
Still, a subjectivist's account of value might seem. justifiably constrained from such acts by society.
committed to the view that a world in which valuers
never exist is one ~n which the flourishing earth is never
Study Questions
valued and thus lacks actual value. To use Rolston's
analogy, the refrigerator door in such a world will never 1. Does Hettinger completely agree with Rolston on the
be opened, and thus the light of value will never shine on objective value of nature? If not, where does he differ?
the flourishing earth in that world. However, an ideal 2. How, according to Hettinger, could a subjectivist
observer version of subjectivism about value seems able respond to Rolston's theory? A subjectivist on values
to handle this problem. If what is of value is what ideal holds that without conscious valuers, no values exist.
observers would value, and if we assume that such ideal 3. What is the difference between value that is anthro-
valuers would find the flourishing nonhuman earth pocentric and value that is anthropogenic? Give an

88 Chapter Three: Does Nature Have Intrinsic Value? Biocentric and Ecocentric Ethics and Deep Ecology
exampJe of an anthropogenic value that is not anthro- liberal critic of environmental laws that is not possible
pocentric. on a subjectivist account of nature's value. Do you think
4. Explain why Hettinger thinks that a certain account of he is right?
nature's value as objective can provide a response to a