Intrinsic Value in Wilderness?

Samsara Chapman, University of Montana

One of the most decisive land use issues in the western United States is the designation and use of wilderness. Wilderness designation implies a non-human, non-utilitarian value in the designated lands. Opposition to wilderness designation originates at least in part in a utilitarian paradigm, but utilitarian language and legal language are often incommensurate with that needed to express intrinsic values, as legal language is often couched in terms of rights, duties, and reciprocal obligations. When legal language is used in an attempt to recognize non-anthropocentric values, among its implications is that nature is at least a full member of the moral community, not just a subject of moral consideration. This unintended by-product of the language used is the source of the conflict. Wildernesss status as a member of the moral community cannot be reconciled with an anthropocentric-based utilitarian paradigm, resulting in cognitive dissonance. A successful language to resolve this dissonance will be able to express both utilitarian and non-utilitarian values in commensurate terminology, affording both paradigms equal value.

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