The Nature Institute

The Nature Institute 
20 May Hill Road, Ghent, New York 12075  Tel: (518) 672 0116

Home | Our Education Programs | Our Publications | Content Areas | Writings Ordered by Author | Resources and Links | Contact Us | Search

In Context #7 (Spring, 2002, pp. 3-4); copyright 2002 by The Nature Institute

Of Ideas and Essences
Stephen L. Talbott

You will recall that Craig and I had a feature article ("Sowing Technology") in the July/August Sierra—a special issue of that magazine dealing with biotechnology. Subsequently a Sierra reader, Kerry Knudsen, wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that part of the environmental movement "is developing from a cultural romanticism into an eco-mysticism." This trend is evidenced by an "essentialist philosophy"—an "unscientific and idealist philosophy that is irrational because it is based on an essence of Nature, a typological Nature, which does not exist" (Knudsen 2001).

It's a safe bet that Knudsen's concern about essentialism was fueled by Craig's and my reference to the "nature" of particular organisms and by comments such as this:

Instead of a coherent whole expressing an organic unity through every aspect of [an organism's] being, the engineers hand us a bag of separate traits. (Holdrege and Talbott 2001, p. 36)

Only a grasp of the integral unity of the organ