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Conservation, Science and Ethics - (Un)holy trinity?

How has conservation philosophy changed in the past century?

The philosophy and practice of conservation has changed a great deal over the past century but one common factor has been conflict between ‘nature-centred’ and ‘human-centred’ approaches to the ‘natural’ world. Science can tell us a good deal about how to get there, but not a great deal about where we should go. Ethics isn’t much help either – it can help us describe the values people hold but it doesn’t really help us adjudicate between contending positions. At the core of the debates are some fundamental questions about ‘human nature’, and our relations with the rest of the animate (and inanimate) world. One currently topical approach (biophilia) illustrates the 'sociobiological' paradigm in science but this doesn't help us much more than the (now distinctly unfashionable) 'group selection' explanation for human altruism - to each other or to the natural world. Instead, the most fruitful approaches to our (environmental) future lie in our own (biological and social) history, exploration of which is - together with a better understanding of the natural world - the most worthwhile, productive and enjoyable endeavour that we can engage with. History provides some useful perspectives because ultimately conservation is concerned with people’s relationships – with each other as well as with nature. The Hebridean island of Rum – one of our early nature reserves and perhaps the nearest thing to ‘wilderness’ that we have in Britain – provides some interesting illustrations.


Dr Richard Clarke | talks


Date and Time:

14 March 2010 at 11:00 am


2 hours



Conway Hall
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
0207 242 8034

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