Friday, 12 March 2010

Eco-philosophy!

There are important philosophical issues connected with the idea of ecology: e.g. What is an ecosystem? To what extent can ecology escape being merely anthropocentric (unlike biology)? Does the concept of 'Gaia' as employed in Lovelock's work make philosophical/conceptual sense? To what extent does it make sense to think of ourselves as stewards of the Earth / as the Earth's consciousness or conscience / as 'visitors' to the planet, only 'accidentally' dependent upon it? To what extent are any of these desirable stances to take? What would be the fundamental assumptions of an economics (or a politics - or a philosophy!) that took seriously that we are it seems utterly and inexorably dependent upon Earth systems? Are there inevitable clashes between animal rights and ecologism? Is there / could there be / should there be an ecological ideology or political philosophy to rival liberalism / Maxxism, etc? Must eco-philosophy be political? Is this a bad thing?
The world is in profound ecological crisis. Is there anything more important for philosophers to do than to figure out whether there is anything that we can do to alter this situation? Does the world need new thinking, as John Locke gave us new thinking to 'found' liberalism, as Karl Marx gave us new thinking to found Communism, to deal with this crisis of _our_ time?

5 Comments:

Blogger DocRichard said...

Blimey Rupert, you could have given a bit of prior notice of this.

What is an ecosystem?
An community of organisms in a locality, interacting with each other in a state of mutual dependence with each other and their shared physical environment, functioning as unit.

To what extent can ecology escape being merely anthropocentric (unlike biology)?
Ecology by definition cannot be anthropocentric.

Does the concept of 'Gaia' as employed in Lovelock's work make philosophical/conceptual sense?
Maybe maybe not.

To what extent does it make sense to think of ourselves as stewards of the Earth / as the Earth's consciousness or conscience / as 'visitors' to the planet, only 'accidentally' dependent upon it?
Normative values follow necessarily from a correct understanding of the term "ecology". Accidental dependence makes no sense at all.

To what extent are any of these desirable stances to take?
Depends on whether or not we wish humanity to join the other species we have driven to extinction.

What would be the fundamental assumptions of an economics that took seriously that we are it seems utterly and inexorably dependent upon Earth systems?
* It is impossible to expand forever into a finite space
* It is impossible to take forever from a finite resource.
* Everything is interconnected.


Are there inevitable clashes between animal rights and ecologism?
Pass

Is there / could there be / should there be an ecological ideology or political philosophy to rival liberalism / Maxxism, etc?
Yes
Must eco-philosophy be political? Is this a bad thing?
Yes, and yes, if we foul up.

The world is in profound ecological crisis. Is there anything more important for philosophers to do than to figure out whether there is anything that we can do to alter this situation?
No

Does the world need new thinking, as John Locke gave us new thinking to 'found' liberalism, as Karl Marx gave us new thinking to found Communism, to deal with this crisis of _our_ time?
Yes.

What happens now?
Do I get a mortar board? Or a fail for not understanding the concept of "open ended"?

Regards
Richard

12 March 2010 at 17:30  
Blogger Rupert said...

Thanks, Richard! I like a lot of your answers here. But I think that there really is a lot of room for debate here. For instance, what does one need to presuppose in order to establish that one isn't being anthropocentric in preferring a complex ecosystem including us to a complex ecosystem not including us?
My own view is that we actually have to think very deeply in order to establish what (e.g.) ecosystems and ecology really are, rather than just being the way we like things to be.

12 March 2010 at 18:09  
Blogger DocRichard said...

Hmmm.
"Establish that one isn't being anthropocentric in preferring a complex ecosystem including us to a complex ecosystem not including us?"

Well, complex ecosystems not including us are probably currently in existence in many planets scattered around the universe. I much prefer our (damaged) ecosystem because it is the one that supports me and my loved ones. So to that extent I am necessarily anthropocentric in my preferences.

Again, if we conceive of a future where we have driven ourselves to extinction, the ecosystem that we leave behind would be degraded, but over time would become complex once more. But it is abstract to consider that we could prefer it, because we would not be there to form an opinion.

A misanthrope might prefer it, but would this be a reasonable opinion, or just an expression of whatever childhood experiences drove him to his misanthropy? And he could not be there to confirm or refute his preference. A non-question, surely.

"Anthropocentric" needs definition. Above, we see that the presence of a human mind is needed to form a preference for an ecosystem. If this is anthropocentric, it is not necessarily the same as the anthropocentricity of human based idealisms like individualism, marxism, libertarianism, humanism &c.

Here's a practical case: I am horrified to hear (tell me it ain't true) that indigenous peoples are being driven out of the forest because it has been designated a carbon offset region. This is clearly wrong; the green way to offset is to make the forest people sovereign stewards of the forest. Which shows a human-nature interwovenness, forming a stable ecosystem. The individualistic carbon traders form a false distinction of people and forest, make forest an object instead of a matrix, and violate natural justice and humanity in pursuit of ill-considered forms of carbon offsetting - claiming, the while that they are doing it to help the environment.

Not quite sure how I got here. Everything is interconnected though.

12 March 2010 at 18:40  
Blogger Rupert said...

Yes, I agree with most of this, Richard.
You slightly misunderstood me - I didn't mean to argue that it IS problematicaly anthropocentric to prefer a world including us to a world that does not - far from it! But this WOULD be the consequence of certain theories - some 'Deep Ecologies', for instance, which appear to regard human beings as parasites or something like that. It is to show that they and how are WRONG that we need good eco-philosophy.
As you say, the point is that we are all inter-related. Human beings are PART of the planet, PART of nature.

14 March 2010 at 19:24  
Blogger weggis said...

Rupert,
I don’t need you or philosophy to tell me that I am an Ape and part of the natural world. I suspect that most of my fellow Apes, if pressed, would think likewise. The trouble is that we Human Apes are cushioned in a bubble that has the effect of divorcing us from the reality of that natural world and our reliance upon it.

Your mission, Rupert, should you choose to accept it, is to articulate that to the Daily Sport/Mail/Express/Mirror and Sun readership.

16 March 2010 at 00:31  

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There are important philosophical issues connected with the idea of ecology: e.g. What is an ecosystem? To what extent can ecology escape being merely anthropocentric (unlike biology)? Does the concept of 'Gaia' as employed in Lovelock's work make philosophical/conceptual sense? To what extent does it make sense to think of ourselves as stewards of the Earth / as the Earth's consciousness or conscience / as 'visitors' to the planet, only 'accidentally' dependent upon it? To what extent are any of these desirable stances to take? What would be the fundamental assumptions of an economics (or a politics - or a philosophy!) that took seriously that we are it seems utterly and inexorably dependent upon Earth systems? Are there inevitable clashes between animal rights and ecologism? Is there / could there be / should there be an ecological ideology or political philosophy to rival liberalism / Maxxism, etc? Must eco-philosophy be political? Is this a bad thing?
The world is in profound ecological crisis. Is there anything more important for philosophers to do than to figure out whether there is anything that we can do to alter this situation? Does the world need new thinking, as John Locke gave us new thinking to 'found' liberalism, as Karl Marx gave us new thinking to found Communism, to deal with this crisis of _our_ time?
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