- Alienation and Nature in Environmental Philosophy by Simon Hailwood
Aldo Leopold once declared that there were two “spiritual dangers” in not owning a farm, with one being “the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace” (Leopold 1989, 6). The dangers that Leopold was signaling were various, of course, but in that essay they primarily gathered around the problems caused by human distance from nature’s operations, the manners in which we can become divorced from the roots of life by a failure to recognize the processes from which food and heat derive. However, Leopold did not repudiate the technologies involved in running a farm-house, and he clearly recognized that significant paradoxes are involved in the use of human gadgetry for such purposes as sport hunting. The questions thus arise as to whether it is sensible or valuable at any point to speak of modern humans as having become alienated from nature, and if so, what such claims may mean. It is into this tangled bank of knotty conceptual problems that Simon Hailwood bravely ventures in his new book. In doing so he expands and builds upon arguments about liberalism and nature’s otherness that he has previously advanced elsewhere, most notably in his 2004 book How to Be a Green Liberal, and further develops his analysis through examination of pragmatism, Marxian thought, climate change, the end of nature thesis, environmental justice, and eco-phenomenology.
The motivation for Hailwood’s inquiry comes from his recognition that there “has not been much discussion of what is really added to our picture of the problems by saying that they are a matter of our ‘alienation from nature’ rather than simply ignorance, short-sightedness, greed, [End Page 111] injustice, laziness, and unhealthy sedentary lifestyles”, so the book aims to “discuss what ‘alienation from nature’ should mean” and “explore the notion as one that is indeed helpful in the context of our complex, multi-faceted environmental crisis” (4). However, the notion is not to be understood in a simplistic one-size-fits-all manner. Rather, it must be pluralistic in drawing upon a range of traditions, it must engage in “distinguishing different senses of alienation and different senses of nature, corresponding to different environmental contexts,” and it will then be found, as Hailwood attempts to show, that several of “these different senses of alienation and nature can be mapped onto each other to produce different interrelated senses of alienation from nature, some of which are to be viewed positively, as something to be accepted or even encouraged, rather than avoided or overcome” (11, emphasis in original). In our current situation of environmental crisis, the differing senses of the concept need to be thought of as having interconnected entailment relations—that is, being concerned for one will entail concern for the others—and these different entailments and relations will encompass different particular environmental concerns. Accordingly, descriptions of the connected senses of alienation from nature will elucidate the entailments between different environmental issues, the relationships involved can be better viewed and understood from an appropriate range of angles through a pluralistic approach to such alienation, and this in turn will enable a better grasp of ways in which progress can and must be achieved on an interconnected range of fronts rather than ignoring or sacrificing some concerns for the sake of others.
This explanatory declaration of intent dealt with, we may now say more about the book’s structure and arguments. Composed of an introduction and eight chapters, Hailwood begins the volume proper by working through some preliminary clarifications of terminology, their interrelationships and their applications in Chapter 1. A pluralistic emphasis on the ways in which distinguishing humanized nature—which Hailwood calls “landscape,” the natural world insofar as it has already been “shaped and interpreted by humanity for human-oriented ends” (16)—from non-human nature must be a matter of degree duly sets the scene for Chapter 2, in which the focus turns to pragmatist philosophy. Hailwood conceives of...