Analysis: “Ideals of Human Excellence and Preserving Natural Environments”
“Save the Planet,” “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” “Go Green. ” Quotes like these have become a commonality in today’s age. We all are familiar with the large efforts to help preserve the environment. In “Ideals of Human Excellence and Preserving Natural Environments,” Thomas E. Hill Jr. sums up his essay by stating, “The point is not to insinuate that all anti-environmentalists are defective, but to see that those who value such traits as humility, gratitude, and sensitivity to others have reason to promote the love of nature” (688; par. 4) This excerpt provides the thesis behind Hill’s argument.
The author found that it is difficult to make a convincing argument to show that destroying the natural environment is immoral, so he raised a different question that aims towards the person who commits the act and not the act itself. He wanted to explore what committing these acts revealed about a person’s character (682; par. 3). In response to Hill’s dissertation, I came to an unexpected conclusion. While I normally feel that arguments such as this are frivolous and a waste of time, Hill’s argument got me thinking in a different way. In the beginning, I was on the opposing end of his critique.
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However, throughout the reading, there was a gradual shift in my thinking that led me towards Hill’s viewpoint. By the end of the essay, I found that I agreed with the author. Several key points in the reading support and give merit to his thesis. These claims provide a basis to my reasons for supporting Hill’s argument. First, it is important to note Hill’s claim that, “… though indifference to nonsentient nature does not necessarily reflect the absence of virtues, it often signals the absence of certain traits which we want to encourage because they are, in most cases, a natural basis for the development of certain virtues” (683; par. ). This notion is critical because it dampens the anti-environmentalists’ counterargument of asserting that Hill’s claims are too subjective. One way in which he does this is by not talking in absolute terms. Instead, he says, “it often signals” (not always), and “in most cases” (but not all), leaving room for opposers to individualize the claim and make a self-righteous assumption that he or she is not included in the group of “those people. ” This type of language is used by Hill throughout his essay. Another reason for this assertion being important is because, with the use of examples, makes the case more objective.
For example, Hill states that “indifference to nonsentient nature typically reveals absence of either aesthetic sensibility or a disposition to cherish what has enriched one’s life and that these, though not themselves moral virtues, are a natural basis for appreciation of the good in others and gratitude” (683; par. 3). The logical framework of this notion is hard to argue. Being that something is a natural basis for something else creates an objective sense that almost seems factual to even the opposing reader.
The objectivity used throughout Hill’s arguments, along with the use of logical examples, is one of the components that swayed me towards the side of the environmentalist. Though this reason is relatively broad, you will see that my other more specific reasons still reflect the nature of this claim. One of the other reasons that I agree with Hill’s overall perspective is the notion that experiences with nature and experiences with human beings overlap each other. Meaning, how someone responds to and feel about nonsentient things often reflects how they respond to and feel relating to human beings.
Hill states, “unresponsiveness to what is beautiful, awesome, dainty, dumpy, and otherwise aesthetically interesting in nature probably reflects a lack of the openness of mind and spirit necessary to appreciate the best in human beings” (688; par. 1). This makes perfect sense. Let us examine an outside example. Let’s use dogs, for instance. You may have heard the notion to never trust someone who doesn’t like dogs. After recalling the above excerpt by Hill, it is easy to see why this notion regarding dogs exists.
Perhaps how someone feels about dogs provides an accurate reflection as to the type of person someone is. If someone does not like or is indifferent to dogs, it may be safe to say that there is a good chance that they are someone who, in their everyday life, is unaffectionate, closed-off, insensitive, lacks playfulness, etc. Directing the discussion back to the environment, another claim that Hill makes is that “the person who feels no such ‘gratitude’ toward nature is unlikely to show proper gratitude toward people” (688; par. 3).
This further implies that the interactions humans have with all things are interrelated. To add a different dimension to this perspective, it may be useful to mention Hill’s view on humility. He says that humility means to not value things for their utility and what they can do for us, but to instead value them for their own sake and care about what affects them. Hill follows up this claim by saying that if a person sees all nonsentient nature only as a resource and something to use as a benefit to their own self, then that person has not developed a capacity to overcome their own self-importance (686; par 1).
When relating this to the appreciation and respect for nature, it implies that those who are anti-environmentalists lack proper humility and perspective. Humility, like the beforementioned virtues and traits, is one that carries over into all realms of life, including experiences with humans, animals, and the nonsentient world. How one interacts within each domain overlaps into another. The last claim that aids in pushing me towards siding with Hill’s viewpoint is the idea that it is common to come to care for and cherish something that brings one joy.
This assertion is important because it gives a lot of merit to the implication that anti-environmentalists are prone to lack certain virtuous traits. It also helps combat the objection that, “I enjoy natural beauty as much as anyone, but I fail to see what this has to do with preserving the environment independently of human enjoyment and use” (688; par. 2). In response to this objection, Hill asserts, “When a person takes joy in something, it is a common (and perhaps natural) response to come to cherish it. To cherish something is not simply to be happy with it at the moment, but to care for it for its own sake” (688; par. ). Despite this being a magnificently articulated deduction, an objection that failed to be mentioned is the nature of the lives of rapists, serial killers, etc.
These individuals experience joy and pleasure in the activities involving their subjects, however, these activities do not demonstrate a cherishing or care for that person. Moreover, their actions demonstrate the opposite sentiment. This argument can be refuted by the fact that Hill states that cherishing and caring is a common and perhaps natural response to something rom which someone experiences joy. Rapists, serial killers, and the like are not common or considered the norm. The vast majority of the population does not identify as a convicted rapist or serial killer. This cannot be disputed. It can be induced that since the actions of these individuals are not normal, the mindsets of such people are also not normal. Therefore, the “cherish” assertion does not apply to these people (and certain others). There are exceptions to almost every claim and this is one of them.
That being said, Hill says that this common tendency for humans to cherish what enriches their lives may be a natural basis of the virtue known as “gratitude” (688; par. 3). This claim supports Hill’s overall argument that how one treats nature tends to reveal a lot about one’s character. Gratitude is an important trait. When someone enjoys nature and takes joy in its use and does not come to cherish it as in wanting it to survive and thrive, and not merely for its utility, then that constitutes someone who has a tendency of being ungrateful.
This idea not only applies to gratitude, but also to other traits in which we as humans admire and deem important. Early in his essay, Hill stated that the objective was not to question whether the actions of anti-environmentalists are right or wrong, but he wanted to explore what such actions (like the willingness to destroy the environment) reveal about a person. His conclusion implies that those who love and respect nature are more inclined to embody the traits of humility, gratitude, and sensitivity. The claims and examples he made throughout his essay were strong and persuaded me into adopting his side of the argument.
The reasons I agree with Hill’s argument are his use of objectivity and logic, the notion that experiences with nature and human beings overlap one another, and the idea that it is common to come to care for and cherish something that brings a person joy. These assertions are important because they give a lot of merit to the implication that anti-environmentalists are prone to lack certain virtuous traits. It is also a testament to what it reveals about the people of today’s age by their recent efforts in making environmental preservation a top priority.