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Grounding Knowledge

Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, and Place

Christopher J. Preston

Publication Year: 2003

Mountains and freeways, oceans and apartment buildings, trees and automobiles: such things lend shape to mental activity, says Christopher J. Preston. Yet Western epistemology, since its origins, has neglected these material factors. Even postmodern perspectives on how we think and know continue to emphasize social and cultural factors over the physical environment.

Grounding Knowledge claims that one of the unforeseen consequences of this anthropocentrism has been to ignore the epistemic argument for maintaining diverse natural environments. Grounding Knowledge supplies that argument. Preston first traces the separation of place and mind in Western epistemology. Drawing connections between skepticism and ungrounded knowledge, he then explores how a common insight in the epistemologies of both Kant and Quine sets the scene for more situated accounts of knowledge. After showing how science studies and cognitive science have both recently moved in this direction, Preston draws further evidence for his thesis from fields as far apart as evolutionary biology, anthropology, and religious studies. He asks what these ideas in contemporary epistemology and environmental philosophy mean for environmental policy, concluding that the grounding of knowledge strongly suggests epistemic reasons for the protection of a full range of physical environments in their natural condition.

Grounding Knowledge comes at a time of increasing dialogue between the sciences and the humanities about our rootedness in all of our different "worlds." Preston hopes to persuade his readers that "it is not only in our biological but also in our cognitive interests to protect these roots."

Published by: University of Georgia Press

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pp. ix-x

I would like to expressmy sincere gratitude to the following people for having given their time—in some cases an awful lot of it—to improve the shape of this manuscript: Nancy Tuana, Mark Johnson, Louise Westling, Scott Pratt, Irene Diamond, Davis Baird, Anne Bezuidenhout, Jan Opsomer, Thomas Lekan, R. I. G. Hughes, Jason Kawall, Jennifer Hollis, and David Strohmaier...

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pp. xi-xviii

This is a book about the connections between place and mind. It describes how our physical environment comes to play an important role in structuring the way we think. I argue that organisms that know things about the world are situated beings, beings cognitively grounded in the worlds from which they speak...

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1. Unnatural Knowledge

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pp. 1-24

Twenty years ago, Paul Shepard broke new ground by publishing a number of provocative books exploring the links between the natural environments in which humans evolved and the social, cultural, and intellectual structures that make balanced and creative thought possible...

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2. Grounding Knowledge

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pp. 25-46

The study of mind, thought, and belief simply had to change after Quine.Holding out for a disconnected mind constructing knowledge claims in isolation from any kind of facts about the thinker’s physical situation would have meant moving back down the same old path toward skepticism. Kant and Quine both saw how the intractability of skepticism was the product of a view of knowledge...

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3. Organisms and Environments

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pp. 47-72

When JohnMuir stepped out into the wilderness, what he found there was a curious reflection of himself, a personhood that both was and was not his own. Nature presented to his senses something that he felt was already incorporated deep within the structures of his experience. In going out, he found that he was really going in. What are we to make of this enigmatic claim from one of America’s greatest wilderness...

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4. Active Landscapes

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pp. 73-99

David Abram has described the enveloping earth as “the very ground and horizon of all our knowing.”1 It had always been clear that the earth provided the ground and horizon for all our embodied experience. Abram’s comment eloquently reminds us that this same earth also grounds all our cognitive experiences...

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5. Making Place Matter

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pp. 100-117

The grounding of knowledge described in the last two chapters suggests, at the very least, that it is important to recognize that physical environments are one of several parties operating in the complex set of interactions out of which knowledge and ways of thinking get constructed. If this is correct, then places have an important cognitive...

6. Preserving Place and Mind

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pp. 118-136


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pp. 137-146


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pp. 147-154


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pp. 155-161

E-ISBN-13: 9780820327266
E-ISBN-10: 0820327263
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820324500
Print-ISBN-10: 0820324507

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2003