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Back to the Earth Itself

Charles S. Brown, Ted Toadvine

Publication Year: 2003

This groundbreaking collection explores the intersection of phenomenology with environmental philosophy. It examines the relevance of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas for thinking through the philosophical dilemmas raised by environmental issues, and then proposes new phenomenological approaches to the natural world. The contributors demonstrate phenomenology’s need to engage in an ecological self-evaluation and to root out anthropomorphic assumptions embedded in its own methodology. Calling for a reexamination of beliefs central to the Western philosophical tradition, this book shifts previously marginalized environmental concerns to the forefront and blazes a trail for a new collaboration between phenomenologists and ecologically-minded theorists.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

In the fall of 1999, we invited Wes Jackson and Ed Casey to speak at Emporia State University as part of the First Annual Flint Hills Regional Environmental Colloquium. Our interaction with Wes and Ed at this conference spurred the thinking that led to this volume, and we would like to thank them for this inspiration. We are also grateful to Jane Bunker of the State University of New York Press for her immediate enthusiasm for our ...

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Eco-Phenomenology: An Introduction

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pp. ix-xxi

In one of the oldest stories in the history of philosophy, a witty Thracian maid was said to have mocked Thales as he fell into a hole while watching the sky. Later we learn that Thales, through his sky watching, foresaw a bountiful olive harvest, rented the presses while the prices were cheap, and sold access to the presses for a handsome profit. According to Aristotle, who recounts this tale, Thales intended to demonstrate that philosophers can use their wisdom for practical affairs when they wish. But this ...

I: Ecological Philosophy and the Phenomenological Tradition

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1. The Real and the Good: Phenomenology and the Possibility of an Axiological Rationality

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pp. 3-18

In what ways can an encounter, conversation, or dialogue between ecological philosophy and phenomenology be fruitful? The issues driving ecological philosophy concern the ontological status of human and nonhuman nature, intrinsic value and humanity’s axiological relation to nature, and the boundaries and limits of the moral community. Although such questions seem to lie beyond the methodological restrictions of ...

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2. An Understanding Heart: Reason, Value, and Transcendental Phenomenology

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pp. 19-35

... We can observe the practical impact of that dilemma all about us. Over the past three hundred years we have been duly fruitful, have multiplied and subdued the earth as we are bade in Genesis 1:28, dramatically endangering its ability to sustain our kind of life. Yet in spite of unmistakable warnings we seem driven on by the logic of “progress,” writing off all compassion for its victims as mere sentimentality. It is as if we ...

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3. The Possibility of a Constitutive Phenomenology of the Environment

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pp. 37-50

“Constitutive phenomenology” names the position of the mature philosophy of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). It publicly began with his Ideen I of 1913, and it is also the central tendency of the phenomenological tradition.1 Unfortunately, however, little has been done thus far within this tendency with respect to the environment. Rather than seeking why this has been the case, it is more important on this occasion to show the possibility of carrying out such work in the future. ...

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4. Prolegomena to Any Future Phenomenological Ecology

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pp. 51-72

Is phenomenology a help or a hindrance to a philosophical ecology or a philosophy of the environment? It might seem to go without saying that before this question can be answered definitively, the terms in which it is posed would have to be definitively defined. But not even provisional definitions are easy to give at the outset for some of the terms. Recall, to begin with, Merleau-Ponty’s acknowledgment in the preface to ...

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5. Heidegger’s Phenomenology and Contemporary Environmentalism

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pp. 73-101

The phenomenology developed by Husserl and transformed by Heidegger provided the basic conceptual distinctions for much of twentieth- century continental philosophy. In addition to challenging customary conceptions of selfhood, language, and metaphysics, continental philosophy has also contributed significantly to postmodern ethics and multicultural theory by criticizing humanism and theo-logo-phallo-centrism. In the domain of environmental philosophy, however, continental philosophy ...

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6. Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty: Some of Their Contributions and Limitations for “Environmentalism”

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pp. 103-120

Phenomenology broadly conceived has much to offer “environmentalism.” At the same time, environmentalism implicitly highlights some shortcomings of phenomenology. Without attempting to be comprehensive, this chapter will offer reflections on three classic phenomenologists: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty. Before outlining some of their potential (or actual) contributions and shortcomings, it is necessary to ...

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7. Back to Earth with Reflection and Ecology

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pp. 121-135

Environmental ethics requires an ontological commitment. Even though several different systems of metaphysics seem to provide a suitable philosophical background for environmental ethics, and the major metaphysical schools do not seem to entail any particular system of ethics, I am uneasy about neglecting metaphysics in the study of environmental ethics. I will explore in more detail the nature of the ontological ...

II: New Directions in Eco-Phenomenology

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8. The Primacy of Desire and Its Ecological Consequences

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pp. 139-153

Environmental ethicists are invariably led to construct a philosophy of nature, since the question of whether anthropocentrism is a sound basis for environmental policy rests on the plausibility of attributing intrinsic value to nature. Thus runs the dominant line of reasoning in Anglo-American environmental circles, and the battle lines are drawn by implication: either humans project values on an objective and valueless factual world, or nature enjoys some valuable and/or valuing status in its ...

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9. Phenomenology on (the) Rocks

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pp. 155-169

Humanity has become a major earth-shaping force—acknowledged even by the United States Geological Survey. We radically change our future, our past, the future of our past. “Evolution itself” almost disappeared in a layer of black slick when an oiltanker, latest mammoth of cultural selection, ran aground on the Galápagos rocks, spilling tons of diesel fuel into the archipelago’s waters. Iguanas, giant land tortoises, miniature penguins, flightless cormorants, they all held their breath for a ...

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10. Natural Disasters

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pp. 171-185

When Plato looked at the night sky he saw two distinct sorts of things. One he called the “divine class” of created beings, the fixed stars which moved in their orderly procession across the heavens, movers whose motion was never errant and whose courses never strayed.1 The other he dubbed “the wanderers.”2 Against the background of the heavenly order of divine lights there appeared those luminaries whose movements seemed to work counter to such orderliness, stars whose progress ...

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11. Taking a Glance at the Environment: Preliminary Thoughts on a Promising Topic

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pp. 187-210

An ethics of the environment must begin with the sheer and simple fact of being struck by something wrong happening in the surrounding world. It is by noticing that something is out of joint—does not fit or function well—that a response is elicited and an action induced. Responsive action begins with what John Dewey called the “problematic ...

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12. What is Eco-Phenomenology?

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pp. 211-233

Phenomenology was born out of resistance to the threat of naturalism. But if phenomenology is to be able to think about Nature, it must either rescue Nature itself from naturalism, or work out a new relationship to what it had perceived as the danger of naturalism. Or both. ...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 235-237

Bibliography in Eco-Phenomenology

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pp. 239-248


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pp. 249-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487280
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791456217
Print-ISBN-10: 0791456218

Page Count: 278
Publication Year: 2003