The Silence of Nature

Steven Vogel: "Nature talks, but we just don’t listen."

We, humans, think we only have the ability to speak and thereby eliminate the thought that other animals might also have that same ability. As a result of that, we no longer listen to our environment. Steven Vogel did research on this subject and he says: “Because we do not hear what nature has to say, nor even that it is saying anything at all, we treat natural entities as mere things rather than as other subjects with whom we share a common world.”

Vogel says we need to listen to our environment, because that is the only way to give nature our respect. By listening to nature in a sympathetic way, it is possible to create an non-anthropocentric environmental ethic. Anthropocentrists claim that language, which makes humans more special than non-human things from their point of view, creates a unique moral status. Non-anthropocentrists argue that this use of language has no special moral relevance. As Bentham famously put it: The question isn’t ‘can they talk?’ but ‘can they suffer?’

"The question isn’t ‘can they talk?’ but ‘can they suffer?’"

Jeremy Bentham

But denying the moral relevance of the human ability to speak, it denies that humans are the only creatures who possess this ability. Only on the basis of such a sympathetic listening to nature, an adequate non-anthropocentric environmental ethic is possible.

But Vogel does not believe nature speaks. Here’s why: “I do not believe that it speaks in a way that has the ethical implications the argument just outlined suggests. In what follows I want to examine two recent versions of that argument. My intention will mostly be negative: in both cases, my claim will be that the no- tion of language employed lacks some of the key elements needed to bear the ethical weight the argument requires. In defending this claim, though, I hope as well to make some positive contributions towards understanding the complex connections among language, ethics, and nature.”

In his research paper he explains the connections between language, ethics and nature. He answers questions like why being able to speak might be morally relevant and what language actually is. He also explains why the invention of the alphabet caused the fact that we have forgotten to hear the speech of nature. Interesting questions that make you listen to nature differently.

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