Box 79, Item 1: Draft of Styles of environmental philosophy: eastern and western modes, values and sources


Box 79, Item 1: Draft of Styles of environmental philosophy: eastern and western modes, values and sources


Typescript of draft, undated.


Unnumbered paper from collection, item number assigned by library staff. One paper digitised from item 1.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 79, Item 1


This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


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Styles of Environmental Philosophy: Eastern and Western Modes, Values and
In a provocative article, Holmes Rolston III challenges those trying to develop an
environmental philosophy from traditional Eastern sources to put up or shut up. Rolston's
challenge (the precise details of which we'll get to) matters, because it sets down what many
have thought but few have dared to say so publicly. It gets t-he dispute out in the open.
Eastern philosophy, like Continental philosophy, is largely garbage, and not worth bothering
about: that is what many in the Anlgo-American scientistic line of philosophical business
really think.

Styles of Philosophizing:

Contrasting Features of Different

Styles of

Historicality. Continental philosophy is characteristically attempted in an evident
historical setting. It is not sharply separated from history of ideas. Analyticaly philosophy is
typically ahistorical.
This historicality posture is one of several that pushes analytic philosophy in a scientific
direction, so that it is carried on like a modern science; continental philosophy is much more
in the humanities tradition, and thus lies on the other side of the "two cultures" divide.

Systematicness. Continental philosophy is much concerned with system building, mainly
varying the traditions, e.g. Kantianism. Analytic philosophy attacks small problems in a
piecemeal way. (It is not without a background systematic framework, this is an unquestioned

The "speculative"

character of continental

philosophy derives from its

systematicness; from its attempt to cover a very broad sweep, e.g.. eventually all
philosophical ground. A result is that it is often very up in the air, not so often getting down
to concrete details, and the "hard" work analytical philosophy prides itself upon (but doesn't
that often do).
Pontifical philosophy, pronouncements from on high by elevated established figures, is a


variety of continental philosophy in the speculative mode.

It is a variety presently well

practiced in the Soviet Union.

Triviality of analytic and language philosophies as seen from article, continental

analytic philosophies are not educatted in the traditions, only a bit

- - - - - --- ---


more than essentials. Erudition matters in continental philosphy, not in analytic. Analytic
can be a young person's game, part of the youth culture of the dominent Western paradigm.
[Thus analytic philosophy seems almost a dilett':1-nte's sport, indulged in by glib young men
with quickness of wit rather than solidness of foundational knowledge. This is not to say that
analytic philosophy does not clarify concepts and solve ancient philosophical chestnuts, but
once the concepts have been clarified and the chestnuts cracked, there is no place for them.
They do not fit into a system or even form a piece of a larger conundrum or add to
philosophic wisdom (for wisdom is not part of the analytic method or a purpose for its results.
On the other hand, Eastern philosophies, for instance Tao, does not c1arify the concepts nor
solve the puzzles, instead it sketches a system. Tao outlines, but does not fill in the picture as
continental philosophies would do. If these three systems were compared to art, painting or
drawing, then analytic philosophy is a clever and detailed thumbnail sketch. It is the
preparatory drawing. It is the student's exercise. It serves a purpose, but it is not fulfilling,
nor satisfactorily revealing. Continental philosophy is the grand masterpiece never finished.
The large picture is begun, but not completed. More and more is constantly added to the
canvas, but the canvas is too large or too complex to finish. Eastern philosophy, Tao, is the
working sketch. It is gives the master plan without giving the detail or the finished product. It
is like a pencil sketch awaiting each individual to fill in the colour. The positions of things are
given but not their significance to the overall work nor their fulness revealed. Yet it must be
kept in mind that Eastern philosophy cannot be represented by a single branch or example.]
No monolithic contrast exists between Eastern and Western styles. Chinese philosophy
differs from Indian philosophy as much as continental philosophy does from analytic
INSERT: In contrast to the mass of fiddly, piecemeal arguments of analytic philosophy,
Tao, for instance, presents little or no argument and little logic. Instead it presents an array
of paradoxes. These form a broad picture on a large scale, that in a fashion similar to
continental philosophy is an almost complete philosophy, but in contrast to continental
philosophy there is no mass of detail. There is almost no detail at all. It is left to the reader
to fill out the picture.

Like continental philosophy Tao requires participant involvement.



Thus the object is not to fill in all the spaces but to give the broad picture so that the
individual can fil] in the details as appropriate. It is a pluralistic framework which allows
scope for expansion and within which the individual can deal with the paradoxes of life.
Unlike Western philosophies that emphasize various sorts of atomistic approaches,
Taoism works from the whole down rather than the atomic up.

Various sorts of atomistic

Western philosophies have a subject-object distinction or division (ontology); instead Tao has
a different metaphysics based on process or events. If a dynamic system is not determined by
individual processes, then it is better if you descend.
-------------- The opening gambit about language makes a point, but the real point is that
unless an idea adopted from another culture is both desirable for and compatible with the
adopting culture, then it is senseless in the first case and useless in the second case to adopt
the idea. However, centuries of ideological imperialism have shown that an idea can be forced
upon another culture, even if only in a corrupted form, whether or not it is desirable for or
compatible with the 'adopting' culture.
As for the evaluating of scientific description, HR III has made the point that it is an
embarrassment to science that it .cannot teach us to value. Thus it may in some sense be the
wrong approach to attempt to make Taoist thought compatible with scientific description. It
is obvious from the work of Capra that Eastern and Western metaphysics can be made
compatible. Of course, Western science has a 'loaded metaphysical agenda', and it seems to
be a misconception about the nature of that loading that causes so many problems in
accepting value judgments. Here is the old problem that science is supposedly 'value-free' and
'objective' coming to mean that scientific interpretation is merely descriptive and 'value-free'.
However, what is happening is that the hypothetico-reductive paradigm is replacing less
'rigorous' paradigms. etc. etc.
As for the reverence. for life, is it that there are no reasons for revering or respecting life
in biology or is it that biologists are not looking for reasons to revere or respect life? When an
ability like tool use is found in a creature like an assassin bug, the bug is not promoted up
some scale of moral regard, but tool use is dropped from the the list of items warranting
moral regard.


Also there is the point that reverence for life can be directed towards either the abstract
concept of life or towards particular holders of life. To save a species from extinction is to
save the individuals of that species from death, but there is a difference between saying that
life is sacred {in some manner morally considerable) and anything possessing life should be
entitled to respect or regard or not killed. In the way that life is treated in most Western
societies, it is wrong to kill humans in most cases, but it is alright to kill a bull for food unless
that bull is a prize breeding bull or a child's pet or for some other such reason. That is, life is
not revered but the lives of certain creatures are valued because of other constraints. Life in
these latter cases takes on value for instrumental reasons that have nothing to do with
reverence for life in the abstract. Thus if science finds that the cacto-blastis is good for ·
destroying prickly pear, then regard for the life of this caterpiller goes up. A reason is found
for respecting its life. Yet the individual cacto-blastis is still of no consequence and the regard
for the species is coterminous with the need for the species.

---------------Eastern thought is in direct conflict with the dominant social paradigm and lends
substance to various alternatives.
Holmes Rolston III has confused Tao with binary opposition theory. He states, and
correctly so, that the "mystic force binding opposites" will not take you very far. But other
elements will. Tao has many facets and is not limited to binary opposition. It is a relatively
late import to Tao.

While binary opposition is useful concept and has some explanary

purposes, its powers of explanation should not be called upon to bear loads that it was never
meant to carry. Binary opposition is doing too much work in Holmes Rolston III's
understanding. It is like tryijng to base all science on Newton's third law. It is a confusion
between Tao and Yany /Yin. Because Tao is much more than something like the Third Law
means that much of what Rolston has said is irrelevant.
{Richard, these notes are still in a rough and ready form.}
There is a monolithic tendency in the treatment of Eastern philosophy that is very like
the United States' attitude towards nuclear disarmament.

On the one side you have the

West, i.e. the US, and on the other side you have the East, i.e. USSR. Although these two


nations are prominent in the debates they are not the be all, end all of nuclear disarmament
or the sole viewpoint for each side, even if there were only two sides, which there are not.
Eastern philosophy can be broken into Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, etc. In turn,
Indian philosophy can be broken into three brands: 1) net-diamond image or candle image; 2)
Buddhism; 3) Hinduism.
Holmes Rolston III is demanding that Eastern philosophy provide a complete value
inventory, and unless it can meet this requirement then it is not acceptable. This requirement
is too stringent. In looking at the history of philosophy and the history of ideas this stringent
a condition is not demanded. Rolston is unwi11ing to look at an idea or theory unless it gives
a complete account and a formal decision theory, but other ideas have been accepted into our
culture in a piecemeal fashion (indeed the most fashionable philosophical style in our culture
is piecemeal).
Holmes Rolston III spends most of his time setting up paper people or straw tigers. For
example, binary opposition is a peripheral feature of Tao and certainly not as central as
Rolston would have us believe.



Richard Sylvan, “Box 79, Item 1: Draft of Styles of environmental philosophy: eastern and western modes, values and sources,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed December 10, 2023,

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