Charting the history of contemporary philosophical and religious beliefs regarding nature, Roderick Nash focuses primarily on changing attitudes toward nature in the United States. His work is the first comprehensive history of the concept that nature has rights and that American liberalism has, in effect, been extended to the nonhuman world.
For more than two centuries, the rights of people were the predominant concern of intellectuals and reformers; in recent years, nature has been granted an ethical status equal to that of people, in what may be the most dramatic expansion of morality in the history of human thought, says Nash ( Wilderness and the American Mind ). He traces the origin of environmental ethics from the Roman jus animalium to the radical groups of today (Greenpeace, Earth First!) and follows the new perspectives on nature through the writings of Aldo Leopold, Rene Dubos and others. Nash notes that some theologians are questioning the Judeo-Christian tradition of anthropocentrism, reinterpreting the Scriptures to include the rights of nature. Natural-rights philosophy is simply the old American ideal of liberty applied to nature, he argues, placing environmental ethics at the forefront of liberal thought in the 20th century. Illustrations. (Dec.)