All posts by jliter

Going Public: Philosophy as a Transformative Expression in the Contemporary World

In spite of good intentions, academic philosophy all too often concerns itself with increasing rationalism (Wilshire 112) and crawls ever deeper into the cold but safe cave of her marriage to science to watch shadows dancing on the walls. Surprisingly, this imprisonment in the intellectualist method is perpetuated by members of all camps – the one mocks, the other bangs their knives and forks. All the while, the problems we face mount in number and intensity: war continues, political partisanship brings us to the brink of disaster, fundamentalist religion attacks the dignity of the other, and the planet continues to warm. All the while manic production, mass consumerism, and faux celebrity continue to dominate the culture at the expense of education and development of meaningful lives.

Thankfully, there seems to be an ever growing sentiment that philosophy must meaningfully evolve and should again concern itself, as a practice, with social engagement. In essence, this really is the question of the value of philosophy in our current period of history; a questioning of the value and simultaneously a response to the professionalization of the discipline in recent years, as described by Wilshire (102). It is a move toward revitalization; a reappropriation of the civic and personal values of compassion and imagination which the practice of philosophy and the arts, such as the Greek tragedy, once had (Nussbaum 93). It has always been a hallmark of the discipline to continuously question itself (Wilshire 102), and this search for meaning in the public sphere, on the basis of thoughtful openness and discourse, is a welcome sign of the continuation of that self-examination.

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Written River, A Journal of Eco-Poetics from Hiraeth Press

Below is an excerpt from my essay “In these Hidden Places: An Ecology of Wild Beauty” appearing in the current issue of the journal Written River from Hiraeth Press. This essay explores the engagement of wild beauty in nature and the effect it has on personal psychospiritual development.

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Written River is a free journal, full of beautiful poetry, nature writing, and art. It can be viewed online HERE. Also check out the number of great titles published by Hiraeth Press. Buy one (or more) and support the wonderful and important work of a small press engaging the critical issue of restoring our relationship to the natural world.

logoAbout Hiraeth Press:

We are passionate about creativity as a means of transforming consciousness, both individually and socially. We hope to participate in a revolution to return poetry to the public discourse and a place in the world which matters. Of the many important issues of our times we feel that our relationship to the environment is of the most fundamental concern. Our publications reflect the ideal that falling in love with the earth is nothing short of revolutionary and that through our relationship to nature we can birth a more enlightened vision of life for the future. We believe that art and poetry are the universal language of the human experience and are thus most capable of transforming our vision of self and world.

And here is the excerpt of my essay “In These Hidden Places”…

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In the Name of Philosophy: Confucianism and the Loss of Sophian Purpose in the West

A common assessment of contemporary western philosophy asserts that in its search for abstract truth, it has become dogmatic, professionalized, and inaccessible. Scholars such as Wilshire (1990), Kupperman (2002), Hadot (2004), and Nussbaum (1997), have argued that while it is readily apparent that philosophy has largely surrendered its quest for wisdom, this has certainly not always been the case. These and others have suggested that a refocusing of western philosophy is required in order to meet its moral obligations of nurturing the ‘good life.’ Drawing out the implications of the above assertions, we find that we are left in a void in the west, without a guiding story to empower us in meeting the many challenges we face. The ‘examined life’ morally obligates philosophers and other thinkers to not only recognize this, but also to strive to offer a means with which to fill that void. Mikhail Epstein (2012) suggests a return to sophian purpose and offers the term sofiophilia to refer to the search for wisdom:

“Sofiofilia absorbs the practical wisdom of the ancients, as found in the Books of Job and Solomn’s parables, Confucius and Lao Tse, and, more recently, Montaigne and Pascal, Goethe and Leo Tolstoy, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. While philosophy has abandoned wisdom and turned into a rigid discipline which limits itself to the systemic organization of notions and a logical analysis of language, sophiophilia searches for new and non-academic venues of living-through-thinking.” (p. 240)

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Damocracy, a film on hydro-power and an ethical dilemma that wasn’t…

Is clean energy worth any price? Certainly, it is worth a high price to lower the human footprint on the earth, both for us living today, and for future generations. But is it worth the destruction and loss of ancient culture, heritage, archeological sites, or the displacement of indigenous people?  Like so many environmental issues, this question is complex and seems to present an ethical dilemma.

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Land Preservation and a Brief Introduction to Environmental Ethics

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM) announced in 2011 the successful completion of a project which transferred 173 acres of land on the coast of Lake Michigan from private ownership to the city of Saugatuck. This project will prevent development and ensure the preservation of this land which is home to endangered species of plants and animals, and provide a place in nature for human recreation (naturenearby.org). Along with the obvious environmental benefits of land preservation, there are many philosophical theories about the value of nature which make land preservation a valuable pursuit. Whether concerned with plant and animal life, human life, or with a more ideological perspective on the inherent value of nature, the preservation and conservation of land should be viewed as a good to be sought after.

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Film Reflection: Farming the Seas

Global consumption is a large environmental problem. Everything that is consumed is connected to the environment in some way (Wilk, 2006:418). Providing food for a growing world population is obviously a major concern in terms of human and environmental impact. Natural stocks of fish are being depleted by overfishing, and fish farms are seen by some as a solution to the problem of food shortages (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). This practice introduces more problems than it solves though. Efforts are being made to improve the practice, but it would be more effective to consider and treat these immediate problems as symptoms, and begin to locate and solve the root problem.

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Heidegger’s Da-sein and Environmental Ethics

The formulation of a meaningful environmental ethics is an ongoing philosophical endeavor that has been marked by historical influences and attempts to apply earlier theories to problems on a scale never faced by humanity (Kottak, 2006, p. 41). While these theories have much to offer, it is doubtful to me if any of them are wholly adequate, without some adaptation, to be applied to the complex environmental issues we face today. In my opinion, the inadequacy of earlier ethical systems seems to lie in their attempts to determine the value of some thing. In environmental ethics, this is formulated through attempts to ascertain whether nature has inherent value or purely instrumental value (Simmons, 2006, p. 53). A further question of environmental ethics is on how much future generations should be worthy of moral consideration – if they should play a role in our determination of how to conserve the environment (Pojman, 2008, p. 11). These questions provide an inadequate basis for approaching the environmental crises. In spite of these inadequacies though, I find many of the ideas put forth in earlier ethical theories, especially those of Heidegger, are at least partly valid and provide the beginnings of a foundation to and formulation of my relationship to the environment, and offer a more adequate ethical theory, based on the value of life, for the contemporary human interaction within the environment in general.

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Restoration or Suppression: Who are the Environmental Experts?

Many thinkers, groups, activists, and academic disciplines are working to address the many environmental and cultural challenges we face. In the final analysis though, while these efforts surely are an essential part of addressing the various challenges, they are, at best, only a suppression of symptoms. Ultimately, the crises we face stem from the lack of an overarching vision for the future; at best, we are being led by a fragmented and obsolete vision that guided humanity through what Berry (1988) called the industrial age (p. 82). The current state of environmental affairs is a plethora of complex problems, which, in the still prevailing industrial view, we can only haphazardly address – academia is compartmentalized, professionalized (Wilshire, 1990, p. 99), and commercialized to the point of ineffectiveness; viewpoints on environmental issues, such as questions on the good or ill of income and development, are locked in wildly polarized dichotomies (Beckerman, 2006; Shiva, 2006); and even terminology to be used, such as sustainability (Fricker, 2006) or biodiversity (Escobar, 2006), cannot be agreed upon. We are completely without a holistic worldview that is appropriate for the contemporary environmental situation. Considering this lack of an overarching vision for the future of humanity’s relationship to, or place within, nature, it is painfully clear that there are no experts on the environmental crisis, only egos running dangerously wild and dragging the rest of the world down into their narrow fields of vision.

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Define Biodiversity. Please?

Biodiversity has become a ubiquitous ‘buzzword.’ Dictionary.com defines it as “diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment” (dictionary.com, 2013). This definition reveals the potential absurdity of the idea that “people have created biodiversity, so they are essential to its survival” (Redford, Brandon, & Sanderson, 2006, p. 237). This statement implies, at least on a superficial level, that there was no diversity of species before humans arrived on the scene, and only with human’s creative powers did this diversity arise. Redford et al (2006) dismantle the idea that humans created biodiversity and thus are in some way essential for its survival by pointing out that the word ‘biodiversity’ is only a “meaningful concept,” and different from the actual and real state of affairs to which it refers (Redford et al, 2006, p. 237). This suggests that humans, since they created biodiversity, might be thus essential only to the term, not to the survival of the actual biodiversity found in the world. In a sense, they become responsible for the survival and evolution of the term, not, however, for the survival of actual biodiversity. This indicates a need to isolate the difference between the use of the words essential and responsible. While humans might be dismissed from the essential part of the survival of biodiversity, this does not relieve them of the obligation and ability to protect actual biodiversity. Just because biodiversity can be seen as only a concept does not mean that we are not responsible for protecting the actual, real biodiversity. While perhaps not essential to its survival, this does not negate the need to fully understand the term and the concept, and to thoughtfully approach the conservation of both.

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My Ecological Footprint and a Response to an Irrational Argument

I guess I need to clean up my act. According to the Global Footprint Network’s calculator, my ecological footprint is 4 earths, and 17.7 global acres (Global Footprint Network, 2011). If I follow the suggestions offered by the calculator, my footprint would still be 3.6 earths (Global Footprint Network, 2011). This presents an obvious problem. The minor possible reduction and the fact that even if everyone reduced their footprint there would still be a major issue suggests that the problem is complex and must be thoughtfully and rationally engaged. If technology and the ability it provides to intensify agriculture and justify the use of the earth’s finite resources are to be a solution, as Ridley (2010) suggests, it certainly requires better than the pitiful argumentation that he has provided. I mean, is this guy for real? His total lack of philosophical reasoning would be amusing if it weren’t so dangerous. Even if technology can provide solutions, it does not preclude any benefits to be realized by the lowering of personal footprints.

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