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Skeptical Environmentalism

The Limits of Philosophy and Science

Robert Kirkman

Publication Year: 2002

In Skeptical Environmentalism, Robert Kirkman raises doubts about the speculative tendencies elaborated in environmental ethics, deep ecology, social ecology, postmodern ecology, ecofeminism, and environmental pragmatism. Drawing on skeptical principles introduced by David Hume, Kirkman takes issue with key tenets of speculative environmentalism, namely that the natural world is fundamentally relational, that humans have a moral obligation to protect the order of nature, and that understanding the relationship between nature and humankind holds the key to solving the environmental crisis. Engaging the work of Kant, Hegel, Descartes, Rousseau, and Heidegger, among others, Kirkman reveals the relational worldview as an unreliable basis for knowledge and truth claims, and, more dangerously, as harmful to the intellectual sources from which it takes inspiration. Exploring such themes as the way knowledge about nature is formulated, what characterizes an ecological worldview, how environmental worldviews become established, and how we find our place in nature, Skeptical Environmentalism advocates a shift away from the philosopher's privileged position as truth seeker toward a more practical thinking that balances conflicts between values and worldviews.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

No book ever grows in a vacuum. The seeds for Skeptical Environmentalism were planted in 1991, when I was a

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pp. 1-13

Skepticism is a dangerous business, not least because it is so easily misunderstood. In the final section of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume noted that the skeptic, along with the “speculative atheist,” has traditionally been identified as an enemy of religion and so “naturally provokes the indignation of divines and graver philosophers.” More broadly, skepticism...

Part 1: Knowledge

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One: The Nature of Nature

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pp. 17-48

Environmentalism will succeed only if its advocates can bring about a change in the way people behave. How can environmentalists do this? Answers come from all sides: regulate, legislate, litigate, negotiate, innovate, and educate; restructure the marketplace to create new incentives; restructure the schools to create a new kind of citizen; restructure civilization...

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Two: Organism and Mechanism

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pp. 49-84

Given the shortcomings of speculation, it is no surprise that many environmental philosophers turn to the natural sciences to bolster claims on behalf of relatedness. It is also no surprise that ecology is the most common source of inspiration, although evolutionary biology and quantum mechanics have both served...

Part 2: Obligation

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Three: A Place on Earth

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pp. 87-117

In 1765, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was driven into exile following the publication of

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Four: The Moral Compass

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pp. 118-146

However difficult it might be to describe—or prescribe— the place of humans in nature, environmental philosophers continue their search for a moral compass to guide humanity out of the environmental crisis. Aldo Leopold’s land ethic serves as the prototype. He envisioned a historical and evolutionary process by which human ethics become more and more inclusive over...

Part 3: Hope

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Five: Environmentalism without Illusions

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pp. 149-182

There is no need to rehearse the litany of environmental problems that now confront human civilization. From local habitat loss to global climate change, these problems have entered the public imagination through the media and the tireless efforts of environmental advocacy groups. Each problem can be considered on its own and, as such, is troublesome enough. For many,...


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pp. 183-192


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pp. 193-201


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pp. 203-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109248
E-ISBN-10: 0253109248
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253340375

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2002