James A. Nash

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Few subjects have generated more moral confusion, and sometimes nonsense, than that of the "rights of nature." Confusion exists in the claims of proponents and opponents, in theological and philosophical ethics, and in the arguments of animal rights advocates and unrepentant anthropocentrists. Significant contributions to the rights debate have, of course, come from all points on the spectrum. However, misconceptions and absurdities have prejudiced the debate. Each contributor to the debate has probably contributed his fair share to the confusion. Even so, the question of the rights of nature cannot be summarily dismissed as the morally irrelevant ponderings of persons beyond the fringe of intellectual respectability. This typical dismissal is a cheap caricature and an ad hominem, not a rational refutation. In fact, something profound is happening in this effort at ethical extension. The rights of nature is the most interesting issue on the frontiers of ethics because it points to the fundamental importance of redefining responsible human relationships with the rest of nature, of which we humans are parts and products. Fortunately, the rights of nature has become a respectable subject for debate in some philosophical, environmental and, most recently, theological circles.

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