Attitudes to 'Nature'



As was intimated in the last chapter, humans have a tendency to be egocentric and perceive that their ideology – be it personal, religious or cultural – is ‘right’ and that others are ‘wrong’. For this reason, humans do not always critique their actions and belief systems.

However, given the apparently fragile condition of the world, which would seem to be a product of modern belief systems, there is a growing drive to analyse present day ideology and ethics, particularly those current within Western society.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the pervasive view in Western society is that humans are somehow separate from the natural world and that ‘culture’ is somehow superior to nature – after all, we have the capacity to alter our environments to serve our need. This worldview is unsurprising given that most people now live in cities, where night and day become blurred, the seasons are largely inconsequential and food arrives through third parties.

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Our relationship to the environment ‘verges on the parasitic’ (Wickham-Jones 2010, 4). The increasing distance between humans and ‘nature’ is held by many to be at the heart of the current crisis but, if it is, how did this worldview develop?

From the outset we must be clear that what might now label the ‘natural world’ had no currency for the Classical or medieval scholars. The phrase is never encountered in historical texts because, as either a physical entity or a mental construct, its existence was simply not acknowledged.

Modern western society has no problem with the idea because it has found a philosophical rationale for separating it from us, nature from culture. But this division, false or otherwise, has a relatively short historical pedigree and enjoyed little or no valence before the seventeenth century. Indeed in other parts of the world such disaggregation has yet to occur, as we will see later on in this chapter.