Going back at least to the writings of John Stuart Mill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, people have argued for and against maintaining a state of nature. Is there an inherent virtue in leaving alone a naturally occurring condition, or does the human species thrive when we find ways to improve our circumstances? The Ideal of Nature probes whether "nature" and "the natural" are capable of guiding moral deliberations in policy making.
Drawing on philosophy, religion, and political science, The Ideal of Nature examines three questions central to debates over the idea of "nature" in human action. Conceptually, it asks what the term means, how it should be considered, and if it is, even in part, a social construct. From a moral perspective, the contributors question if being "natural" is itself of value or if its worth is only as a means to advance other morally acceptable ends. Politically, essays discuss whether appeals to nature can and should affect public policy and, if so, whether they are moral trump cards or should instead be fitted alongside or weighed against other concerns.
Achieving consensus on these questions has proven elusive and seems unattainable. This should not, however, be an obstacle to moving the debate forward. By bringing together disparate approaches to addressing these concepts, The Ideal of Nature suggests the possibility of intermediate positions that move beyond the usual full-throated defense and blanket dismissal found in much of the debate. Scholars of bioethics, environmental philosophy, religious studies, sociology, public policy, and political theory will find much merit in The Ideal of Nature's lively discussion.
"The Ideal of Nature is a thought-provoking look at the multifaceted topics of biotechnology and the environment through an array of lenses that leave the reader feeling grounded and inspired to explore greater depths of bioethics while avoiding the pitfalls of becoming immersed in extremes."
– Linda Ocasio – Metapsychology
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Gregory E. Kaebnick is the editor of Hastings Center Report, a publication of The Hastings Center, and a coeditor of three books, Reprogenetics: Law, Policy, and Ethical Issues and Genetic Ties and the Family: The Impact of Paternity Testing on Parents and Children, and Synthetic Biology and Morality: Artificial Life and the Bounds of Nature.