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Material and Ideational Relations Between Humanity and Its Environment Essay

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The concept of a continuum of material and ideational relations between humanity and its environment requires a nuanced approach which avoids generalizations. I theorize that one cannot argue the greater importance of either the material of ideational aspect without making dangerous assumptions. While some scholars may theorize that it is mankind's religious and ethical worldviews which shape the environment, there is also strong evidence supporting the idea of humanity's technologies and surroundings affecting religious and ethical systems. It is necessary, therefore, to acknowledge the fact of each extreme effecting the other. The material world affects the ideational and the ideational affects the material. Before concluding this paper I aim to survey the discourse from either side of the issue and pinpoint the problems with assigning either the ideational or material aspects sole causal responsibility.
Those who believe that humankind's religious and ethical worldviews impact their environment have a variety of evidence and reasons behind their claims. One scholar who focused literally on the change in worldviews was William Harvey. He theorized that the perspectivist attitudes taken by cartographers and influential persons as the world was explored made humanity view “land” as something “capable of domination through human action.” [Harvey, 254] Harvey believed that the way in which humankind viewed the world (through the changing appearance of maps) also changed the way they treated the world. In Lynn White Jr.'s foundational article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, he theorized that the ideologies of Christianity had a similar effect on how humans treated their environment. White argued that Chri...


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...s. Neither the material, nor ideational aspect of human nature interactions is more important in these cases, they are merely different.
The effect the material world has on the worldviews of humanity will frequently then be reflected back as new ideologies change the way humans interact with their environment. The idea that the ideational aspect is more important stems from a belief in human agency and the powerful effect of religious and ethical systems on human action. Conversely, the notion that the material environment and technologies impact human ideas and beliefs derives from human experience and the power of nature to effect change. Both ends of the continuum affect humanity's involvement with the ecosphere in different cases, yet neither human ideas nor nature's potential for great force is the only influence on the way humanity treats its environment.


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