Robert Elliot's "Faking Nature"
ABSTRACT: Robert Elliot's "Faking Nature," (1) represents one of the strongest philosophical rejections of the ground of restoration ecology ever offered. Here, and in a succession of papers defending the original essay, Elliot argued that ecological restoration was akin to art forgery. Just as a copied art work could not reproduce the value of the original, restored nature could not reproduce the value of nature. I reject Elliot's art forgery analogy, and argue that his paper provides grounds for distinguishing between two forms of restoration that must be given separate normative consideration: (1) malicious restorations, those undertaken as a means of justifying harm to nature, and (2) benevolent restorations, or, those which are akin to art restorations and which cannot serve as justifications for the conditions which would warrant their engagement. This argument will require an investigation of Mark Sagoff's arguments concerning the normative status of art restorations.
"Faking Nature" begins with an identification of a particular kind of pernicious restoration—restoration that is used as a rationalization for the destruction of nature. On this claim, any harm done to nature by humans is ultimately repairable through restoration and therefore should be discounted. Elliot calls this view, the "restoration thesis." Elliot rejects the restoration thesis through an analogy between the relationship between original and replicated works of art and nature. Just as we would not value a replication of a work of art as much as we would value the original, we wouldn't value a replicated bit of nature as much as we would the original thing.
The force of the analogy is provided by an argument that with art, as with nature, we rely on an understanding of its origins in order to ascribe its value. For example, Elliot asks us to imagine a case where developers, needing to run underground pipes through our backyard, ask to remove a valuable piece of sculpture from the yard. But because the sculpture is so fragile it cannot be moved. The developer tells us not to worry, because he will replace the sculpture with an exact replica after he finishes. We will reject the fake for the original because we "value the original as an aesthetic object, as an object with a specific genesis and history." (80) In the same way, Elliot suggests we value nature as an object with a "special kind of continuity with the past." Restoration as an attempt to reproduce nature, particularly as motivated by the restoration thesis, fakes original nature as reproduction of a work of art fakes the original piece.
But after clarifying this initial claim, Elliot suggest that perhaps all restorations, not just those embodied in the restoration thesis, are problematic through a series of examples designed to push the argument that nature has a distinct, originary value. In the first two examples, a lover of wilderness named John is deliberately...