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  • F/Actual Knowing:Putting Facts and Values in Place
  • Holmes Rolston III (bio)

Knowing needs to be actualized, an act of ours, yet also a discovery of what is actually, factually there. In place ourselves, we manage some awareness of other places. Agents in our knowing, we co-respond, and this emplaces us. But we humans have powers of dis-placement too, of taking up, whether empathetically or objectively, the situations of others, other humans, sometimes others than humans. How do our facts depend on our acts? Do we humans always put in place, or sometimes find put, placed there before us, what we variously value on Earth?

To put this provocatively: We need to "green" our beliefs; but every educated person knows that nothing out there is really "green." "Seeing green" is an interaction experience. Perhaps this perceptual experience is a model for the whole: all of our human concepts and percepts color up the world. This is true alike of facts and of values, discoveries and evaluations. Such knowing might be well enough placed, but it is always and only "placed." Our geographical position controls our epistemic composition. Epistemology is inevitably anthropocentric; we are always located in the center of our knowing.

But what if the "green" we see is mostly chlorophyll? Photosynthesis is not something we can see at all. In place on Earth, we humans breathe oxygen and would die in minutes without it; we depend on photosynthesis at the foundation of our food chains. We know our own respiratory [End Page 137] and trophic interactions with the plants, and this not simply at the native range experiences of breathing and eating. We have figured out the oxygen/carbon-dioxide/water cycles taking place at molecular levels.

Now it seems, however, that we are discovering ourselves placed where the facts are bigger than our acts, including our respiratory (and perceptual) interactions; these extend systemically and are hardly anthropocentric. Epistemologically, we have more to evaluate. "Greening" our belief, environmentally grounding it, will require knowing and appropriately respecting these vital life processes—of which we are a part, but which also are "in place" and "take place" apart from us.

1. Embodied, Knowledgeable Persons

Whatever knowledge we gain has to "come through" at our native range. That seems uncontroversial, but what are the implications? Knowledge is relative to our location, our embodiment, our size, our terrestrial habitat. This situation constricts, it may be claimed, what can "come through." Mark Johnson concludes: "Our consciousness and rationality are tied to our bodily orientations and interactions in and with our environment. Our embodiment is essential to who we are, to what meaning is, and to our ability to draw rational inferences and to be creative." He urges us to "put the body back into the mind," that is, epistemologically, to become aware of how the body is there, willy-nilly (1987, xxxviii, xxxvi). Joining with George Lakoff, he claims: "Reason, even in its most abstract form, makes use of, rather than transcends, our animal nature" (Lakoff and Johnson 1999, 4).

Katherine Hayles continues: "To be incorporated within a different body would be to live in a different world." She features "interactivity" and explains:

Interactivity foregrounds rather than obscures the importance of embodiment. In the interaction model, the body does more than provide a biological support system for the mind. Interaction is possible only because we are embodied, and the precise conditions of our embodiment have everything to do with the nature of those interactions. The range and nature of sensory stimuli available to us, the contexts that affect how those sensory stimuli achieve meaning, the habituated movements and postures that we learn through culture and that are encoded for gender, ethnicity, and class—all affect how learning takes place and how the world comes into being for us.

(1995, 56) [End Page 138]

All this seems true, if one means that with reincarnation our native range experiences would be different. Wolves have keen noses and with them they experience, if you like, a different world. But the survival value of wolf noses, a situated knowledge for them, is equally true for humans, wolves, and elk, because all three...


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