Defining Environmental Philosophy Essay

Defining Environmental Philosophy Essay

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Defining Environmental Philosophy


The Greek word 'philosophy' means literally the (filial) love of wisdom. But 'wisdom' is not a commonly used word in our society so we need to make some effort to locate its meaning. What is indicated by the tradition in which philosophy seeks wisdom rather than merely knowledge or justified belief?

While Plato and Aristotle did not agree on the basis of wisdom, they clearly did agree that wisdom is acquired with age and that it transcends mere knowledge about the objects surrounding us in the perceived world. Without stretching the issue too far, I also think it can be said that they agreed that wisdom, in the end, is fundamentally moral. It is not surprising, then, that contrasting wisdom with knowledge usually finds our examples of wisdom on the side of suggesting how something should be dealt with best. Consider a simple example. The courses in a particular department have been scheduled at specific times and in particular places. There is much in this matter that we can know or at least have justified belief about. We can know the scheduled times and places by reading in the official course schedule; and we can believe that the chair of the department got the assignments to the Registrar of the college on time so that they could be included in the schedule. On the other hand, whether or not the department has acted wisely in making these choices transcends the facts of the matter and requires deeper consideration of many issues. It should be clear, in saying this, that "acting wisely" means acting for the best.

How can we ever know what "acting for the best" is in a given situation? If we carry the example, above, a little further, we can get some ideas. The selection of a particul...


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...n to pose them. First, are there values to us in identifying and studying natural environments? Hence, does preservation of natural environments matter? Second, is there an ethics of balance in which humans are mutually involved with all the other objects of the world? As mentioned earlier, I believe that many of the answers will be found in literature and art before they are found in the arguments of professional philosophers. And the reason for this is that writers and artists have taken the lead in trying to understand the nature of land as a "place" and in trying to understand the nature of place as human "home." Ethics is essentially a conversation. To include nature in ethical conversations demands a vocabulary of nature --- hence, a keen awareness, detailing of observations, and an enthusiasm for description of the natural world that environs and includes us.

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