Does Earth's natural environment have value in and of itself?

That is, should human beings regard Earth’s non-human biosphere as having some value independent of its usefulness to humans? (Including esthetic usefulness, i.e., human appreciation of nature’s beauty.)

I think so. But, more emphatically, I think this is a question which is not seriously pondered very often. It is the kind of question to which most people’s reaction would be either, “Of course! What a stupid question!” or “Of course not! What a stupid question!”

Well, a non-human biosphere wouldn’t have us to debate whether or not it was important. Humans assign importance to things pretty arbitrarily, as demonstrated by our propensity to only help the cute animals. I don’t think it would or wouldn’t be valuable, it would just be.

Value to whom or to what ? There’s no such thing as intrinsic or absolute value. And since as far as we know, we’re the only ones around to assign abstract values to abstract things, asking what value the Earth has from a non-human P.O.V. is either meaningless or impossible to answer, I’m not sure which.

“Value” is a human concept. From a purely objective point of view, one configuration of atoms has no inherently greater value than another.

I’m thinking that there isn’t any aspect of the non-human biosphere that isn’t at least tangentially useful to humans. It’s all part of a whole, and all of it is useful in so far as it keeps humans alive and breeding.

What did you have in mind exact for parts of the biosphere that aren’t at least tangentially useful to humans?


No, I’m asking whether the Earth has value from a human POV but independently of human needs or desires.

The only value the earth and/or the environment and/or anything has for humans is its usefulness to humans. Of course, people derive usefullnes differently, and some people “use” nature just to bask in the fact it exists and is pretty and stuff. And some people want to use it up until it’s gone. But it has no value to the person indifferent about its existence.

Oh…then the answer is obviously no, not unless some other sapient species comes along.


As the only known environment that supports life in the universe, I’d say it’s intrinsically valuable regardless of humanity itself. If tomorrow all humans drop dead there is a possibility that, in due time another species of sentient (as sentient as to begin to ponder about values and such things) could arise. That new species would most definetely find its environment valuable too.
Just as well, an alien visitor would find a biosphere as something valuable because of its (as far as we know) rarity.
Lastly, even if all other life forms in the planet are not capable, or inclined to ponder on the value of the rock they inhabit, they alse extract value from its environment.

Then logically, the answer can only be no, at least from a rational point of view.
If tomorrow all humans left Earth and migrated to Mars. What would their children, born Martians, care about the Earth’s biosphere ?

A religious person might hold that Earth is the place God gave to us and thus is a unique and special planet, I suppose. But objectively, it isn’t, far from it.

Since you’re including appreciation for nature’s beauty in “needs or desires”, I would say your question isn’t terribly useful. Valuing the Earth from “a human point of view” and excluding human desires from this pretty much rules out everything in my opinion. The answer is “no”, but it isn’t a very interesting question and answer, and doesn’t provide a whole lot of insight into the world.

If you’re talking about intrinsic value, in other words, independent of a human value system, then that is perhaps a more interesting question. I still think the answer is “no”. :slight_smile:

There is definitely a value placed on the Earth that is not based on material needs, otherwise we would not have state parks or the like, but this is excluded from the question.

I don’t think it’s a stupid question at all. I think it’s the one thing on Earth which is objectively & categorically valuable, rather than merely subjectively or hypothetically valuable. And this is not obvious to those trained to measure value in subjective terms, & needs to be pointed out.

ETA: Wow, I’m really going against the stream here.

Okay, I’ll bite. What’s the basis for your assessment that the non-human biosphere is objectively & categorically valuable?

We’ll also note that if you’re a human, then any reason you find it valuable is explicitly excluded from the equation.

How is value measured?

A thing is, a thing is not, a thing can be destroyed, a thing can or cannot be replaced. The rarer something is, the more valuable it is. The more depends on a thing, the more utile that thing is. And of course, things are of primal value to themselves. Also, living things are of value to their descendants.

:dubious: Well, obviously we’re talking about the way in which I perceive its value. But if its value is intrinsic, that’s not voided by me recognizing that fact.

I don’t really give a flying fuck what humans think, as a matter of social convention, is valuable.

Money? A mere cultural tool to keep privilege in the hands of Alpha & Beta apes.
Prestige? An artifact purely restricted to the human mind. Not even dogs care.
Personal wealth, opportunity, luxury, etc.? Of value to you, of negative value to me as your rival ape. Really. Utterly local & subjective.

But consider this: Eve is of value to all of us because we descend from her–for any definition of “Eve.” But the one I think most illuminating is not some fabulous woman from The Dawn of Time, but a woman who existed midst natural history, with time stretching deeply behind her.

Any fertile living creature is a potential Eve, right now. The future of an entire category of lifeform can depend on it. And that’s a value that doesn’t care what one species of monkeys thinks.

To answer this question, I have to ask another question: can seagulls see the color “red”?

After all, they lack a word for it, and we might say they lack the concept for “red” therefore, and so we might conclude that they cannot see red. Nonetheless, they certainly behave as though they can distinguish between red and other colors.

Likewise, dogs lack a word for “value,” and we might say they therefore lack the concept of “value.” Nevertheless, if you’ve ever tried to take a dog’s food bowl away while she’s eating, it’s pretty clear taht she behaves as though that food is valuable to her.

It seems to me that plenty of animals, almost certainly all animals with a central nervous system, assign relative values to different aspects of their habitat. As such, I’d say the answer to this is a trivial “yes”: certainly there are values to the natural environment independent of humans. The parrot fish values living coral above dead coral, and so the living coral has value independent of humans.

But that doesn’t give anything an intrinsic value, merely a relative, ethnocentric (or even individualocentric) one. To a dog, living coral has absolutely no value. There is no element of the Earth’s biosphere that is valued by each and everyone of its denizens.

Not necessarily. I have sitting next to my computer a crumpled fortune from a fortune cookie. No other slip of paper is crumpled exactly the way this one is. Not only is it rare, it is unique in all the universe! And yet, it is worthless.

Assessing the rarity of an object requires distinguishing between features we consider important and those we consider trivial. The rarity of my fortune cookie fortune depends upon features that most humans would consider trivial: the precise configurations of its folds. But that judgement is subjective.

So, you are asking if humans need or desire the Earth, given that they don’t? What is the difference between having value from a human point of view, and, humans needing or desiring something? I think needing or desiring something would include valuing it.

Speaking more broadly, value isn’t a thing that can be had in and of itself. It is only a response that comes from somebody. Even when we use the term “intrinsic value”, I think we mean by it “extrinsic value that is so widely recognized that it may be taken for granted in most human contexts”, like gold for instance.

Now, humans aren’t the only creatures that care about the Earth. If we ruined it, a great many other sentient beings would be saddened, hurt, and more.

But a great many others would also be glad, too, depending on the nature of the ruin. If global warming raised sea levels by 10%, fish would have even more space to reproduce, for example. If we saturated the atmosphere with so much CO2 and/or nitrogen that we couldn’t breathe it anymore, plants would thrive. And so on, and so forth. Heck, even if we eradicated every atom of life and scrubbed it down to the bedrock, it would still not be ruined : Mars is beautiful, isn’t it ?

There’s no “ruining” the Earth, only modifying it to our subjective disadvantage.

Can anyone really claim the environmental movement is about anything other than preserving nature in the context of it’s usefulness and beauty? Seriously, if I was given a choice between being mildly inconvenienced or allowing every living thing in the universe that will never have any usefulness to humans to die, why would I choose to be inconvenienced?