Diana Gu: Permaculture & Ethics


I felt that Joe’s interpretation of intrinsic value was a bit off since he described the value of a flower having intrinsic value because he finds it beautiful. In actuality, in the realm of environmental ethics and how we ascribe value, this kind of description would imply an instrumental value. Intrinsic value describes something that has value in itself– something that would have value regardless if there were an individual there to value it; something that has value just by existing. Regardless, it reminded me of how I felt when trying to engage in a philosophical or ethical conversations with one of my many philosophizing peers before I had taken political philosophy or this course. Without knowing the language and vocabulary and having a mutual understanding of basic definitions of key ethical/philosophical terms, it’s very difficult to have a meaningful conversation– otherwise you might end up arguing about facts (definitions). It made me appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to learn more about this field that is otherwise really difficult to engage in.

Anyway, I felt that the goals of permaculture were very commendable in taking into account mimicry of natural processes and caring for the land in a way that was sustainable and not exploitative necessarily. However, I was kind of skeptical at his emphasis on the instrumental aspect of permaculture without much mention of how to incorporate or meet the needs of the surrounding biota. He pressed upon the importance of soil and its benefits to carbon sequestration but I wish he could have spoke more on the benefits of permaculture on local organisms and how to reduce the impact of the disturbance that comes along with altering a landscape. I think as humans we have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for learning things from nature and incorporating its processes and forget that we have a responsibility to use that knowledge in non-exploitive ways that account for our anthropogenic impacts.

This lecture reminded me a little bit of the reading about Lynn White and her narrative of the European plow. I thought this example really embodied literally and symbolically the evolving relationship between human and technology. The shift from subsistence farming to farming to acquire the resources to have more oxen, to have a bigger plow altered attitudes towards farming and nature as a whole. Permaculture seems to be an evolution and a move towards creating an agricultural landscape that isn’t always changing, where fruit aren’t ripped from the ground every few months to make space for new ones, and soil and biota can thrive with minimal disturbance to the land. This contrasts greatly with the values and goals of the story that White depicts though the same attitudes are still quite prevalent in most large-scale agriculture-based societies.


3 responses »

  1. I agree with you that Joe described an instrumental value for the environment, but perhaps he was caught off guard by the question. I myself find it difficult to describe why something has intrinsic value. It is also important to note that things can have both intrinsic and instrumental value. If we went back and gave him the definition of each then we could find out what he really thinks.
    The relation to Lynn White is a good argument. I think people get sidetracked easily when they start to do something for the good of everyone and get caught up in their success. I suppose we should think of some way to remind ourselves and each other of our original goals and futures aims. There are two easy ways that I can think of. First, we should write them somewhere we’ll see them every day. Secondly, we should talk to others about them as a way to get them on board, improve our ideas, and get excited about them. This will strengthen our ideas and motivate ourselves to continue. With these methods permaculture can be brought back to the intrinsic side of things. Joe’s speech clearly brought up a lot of different topics and I think that means he gave a good lecture.

  2. I agree that Joe’s interpretation of intrinsic value was a bit off because to say that a flower has intrinsic value because it is beautiful still stems from a human putting a value on a piece of nature due to how the human benefits from the flower. In this case, the flower has aesthetic benefits to a human and thus what Joe was talking about was more instrumental value as opposed to intrinsic value-value for the sake of existence. However, I do agree with leftuntaken’s comment about how if Joe was given the proper instruction about the difference between intrinsic value and instrumental value then maybe he would give a more valid answer. In regards to when you mentioned, “However, I was kind of skeptical at his emphasis on the instrumental aspect of permaculture without much mention of how to incorporate or meet the needs of the surrounding biota,” I feel that he harped on the instrumental value of permaculture in his presentation because as we previously learned in class, many aspects of environmentalism, especially when it involves cutting down on over-consumption, needs to be presented to the public in a more instrumental way in order for the public to accept these new ways of living. Intrinsic value can only go so far when trying to persuade people to adopt a new way of life such as being involved in permaculture before people begin to ask, “what’s in it for me?” For although I feel that meeting the needs of nature is important, meeting the needs is of humans is equally important. That’s why I believe that Joe should have incorporated instrumental and little more intrinsic value arguments to permaculture in his presentation.

  3. I also found some interesting points in Joe’s lecture, but was left wanting more. The mimicry of natural processes was by far the most interesting of the points he made, creating a complete ecosystem, that serves humans as well is a remarkable goal. But I also had some issues with his lecture, I can’t really yet see how permaculture would be applicable as a large scale solution. Population being as high as it is, I don’t see any chance that we can all have “food” forest that we can work on for years, hoping to one day reap the benefits. I also failed to understand very well the carbon sequestration part of the process. I just could not understand how the process works, and will do my own research about it in the near future.

    The problem of language is another all together, many people have very defined world views, but lack the means of communicating it. (I among them) I believe that this creates barriers but those barriers are by no means impenetrable.

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