Competing Environmental Ethics in Cooper’s The Pioneers

Sabri Mnassar


This essay examines the environmental worthiness of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers and analyzes the various and competing environmental ethics that Cooper introduces in this novel through his descriptions of the different relationships between humans and the natural world. Among these different environmental ethics are the anthropocentric view of nature, the idea that the natural environment should be valued only for the satisfaction of human needs and interests, and the view that nature has intrinsic value and that it should be valued for its own sake. This essay also examines Cooper’s own preferences and attitudes towards these different environmental ethics. It highlights Cooper’s deep regret and disappointment at the thoughtless destruction of nature, the rapid disappearance of wildlife from the American wilderness and the degradation of the nonhuman natural environment. For these reasons, this essay underlines Cooper’s stature as a pioneer of American literary environmentalism and as an early precursor of the modern Environmental Movement.

Keywords: Cooper, nature, environment, anthropocentrism, extrinsic value, intrinsic value

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