Box 15, item 951: Paradigmatic roots on environmental problems


Box 15, item 951: Paradigmatic roots on environmental problems


Uncorrected paper (typescript, photocopy).


Title in collection finding aid: RS: Paradigmatic Roots of Environmental Problems uncorrected ts.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 15, item 951


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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[31] leaves. 27.82 MB.




Abstract. Virtually all diagnoses of the roots, and sources, of environmental

problems are defective. While defective diagnoses persist, problems will not
be adequately addressed.
Focal questions ask why human communities so frequently degrade,
impoverish or even destroy their own environments, and more generally why
the whole earth is now in jeopardy through human enterprise. More
immediate answers, sometimes correct so far as they go (which is not far
enough), look to components of environmental impact equations. More
thorough-going answers fall into two classes: first those that do not question
entrenched paradigms, but seek (unsuccessfully) to explain widespread
problems simply through defective practice, and secondly those that, rightly
recognising that defective practice is no adequate answer, look to deeper
paradigmatic sources of problems. A fatal flaw in most of the latter answers
lies in their monistic concentration on a single paradigm, or single narrow
band of paradigms. These flaws are exposed, whence a wider, more
satisfactory answer can be broached.
Background busywork includes firstly, explaining problems and relevant
paradigms and how paradigms operate regarding environmental problems,
and secondly, detailed disentangling of proposed and alleged sources of the
problems. With this done, it is argued that none of these fashionable answers
to the focal questions is satisfactory. A different more complex answer
through broader classes of paradigms is accordingly investigated. Among
significant corollaries, this one stands out: philosophy as portrayed through
its standard history is dismal environmental news.
0. Focal questions and deeper answers.

Human activity is now degrading terrestrial eco-systems at an extraordinarily rapid rate.
In modem times humans have devised sophisticated and sophistical idea-systems which justify
such system degradation; formerly they would have seen such transformation for not mattering,

many still do, transformation as increasing wealth (as in mainstream economics). More
recently they have developed social systems which induct most humans into degradation
procedures (through need, induction into cash economies, and so on) and which weave

entrapping justificatory webs (through agencies, bureaus, courts, and so on).
Whence an increasingly broached question1: Why is this happening? More explicitly,
Why do human communities so frequently degrade and impoverish their environments, their
own habitats? Indeed why do they sometimes, persistently, perhaps over a long period, destroy

their own habitats? More sweepingly, why is the whole earth now perhaps in jeopardy through
human enterprise? The answer to be arrived at to these focal questions is in essence this:
because too many humans, especially those in control of environmentally impacting

enterprises, are committed to or caught within environmentally unfriendly paradigms,
paradigms displaying quite insufficient regard for the health and well-being of relevant habitats

and of the earth.

In sources as diverse as Shepard (first page) and Jacobs (p.23).

Parts of the answers to such focal questions come immediately through environmental
impact equations, conservation laws, and such like. For example, degradation is occurring
through the impact of overpopulation, excessive pollution, damaging or faulty technologies,

and so on. While such answers are important, often correct as far as they go, and while they
may correctly indicate what has to be changed somehow, they are nonetheless somewhat

superficial, and they leave much to be explained. For example, they do not explain why a
community persisted upon a course that deliberately led to such problems, or why it is so

resistant to changes that might reduce impacts and pull it out of its problem-holes. Less

superficial answers look to ideologically entrenched attitudes and commitments, to pervasive
paradigms that underwrite anti-environmental practices, as for instance the wood-production
ideology does forestry practice, even so-called “new forestry”.2

An illustrative example which reveals the power of paradigms in blocking or facilitating
action will shortcut a more elaborate argument, through action theory, to the efficacy of idea­
systems. Consider an unwanted pregnancy, resulting despite due precautions or whatever.

Observe that, more and more there are comparatively safe technologies available to effect

termination and seemingly solve the immediate problem. Ask: why so many people are

opposed to choice of abortion? A very common answer is: because they are operating under an
elaborate paradigm, typically organised religion (bureaucratic Christianity in the West), themes

of which, the creeds of which, prohibit such choices.3 Of course pro-choice considerations are

also paradigmatically embedded, for instance in forms of liberalism. Picturesquely, a social
paradigm imposes controls on action, a system of red and green lights on a captured agent's
routing procedures.

Or with a different picture, paradigms project a steeply impeding

topography on action space.

Paradigms not only guide, control and limit; they also

correlatively give permission, as, for instance, space to play god, freedom to release a new

species or variety which may or has proved a pest or noxious or has been biologically

engineered, liberty to neglect or degrade or vandalize.
The settings in terms of which agents such as humans act and operate, even down-toearth everyday agents, invariably include, not far in the background, paradigms, cultures,
creeds, ideologies, myths or the like, all idea-systems, all involving models (in a technical

sense) of one sort or another. Even the most practical (and vociferously practical) of humans

are governed by background ideosystems. It is in terms of these background ideosystems that a

great deal concerning human practices with respect to natural environments can be explained,
what would otherwise lack satisfactory explanation.4 That explanation comes not however


For main details of this illustrative example, see FF. For more on this style of explanation, see
further Routley.
I am not, however, going to maintain that religion, or a certain religion such as Christianity, is
the main villain of the environmental piece. Religions in general borrowed much in their
damaging articles from philosophies (see below). What I shall be suggesting is that dominant
philosophies do have much to answer for in this regard.
As logical positivists observed, explanation and justification patterns tend to coincide. How
people justify their practices offers an explanation, though perhaps a misleading or superficial


through a single paradigm, as has too often been supposed, but through a bundle of apparently

aligned paradigms.
One working image for what is going on here is appropriately ecological: that of a fig
cluster (similarly a mangrove or bamboo thicket):
Diagram 1: Structural diagram connecting problems with their multiple roots




Observe systematic plurality. Notice however a countervailing human propensity to seek single
answers and uniqueness (as depicted in the rhomboidal box), where causes and sources are
plural. So it is with paradigmatic sources and roots of environmental problems. They are

What is sought are ultimate sources, or roots, not immediate causes. The cause of the

pollution may be a factory that the agent installed, to produce more flim-flam. That too may be
the physical source of the immediate problem. But deeper questioning seeks the reasons for
such production and such factories. While there may be problems with ideas and idea­

structures as causes, as causally efficacious, these problems do not transfer to reasons and
sources. (But there are buried metaphors, and linkages, to be unscrambled: how are “A is

source of B” and “A is a root of B” to be explicated? In terms of directional explanatory and
other rational transmission connections.6)

explanation, of them.
History too is not singular, but plural, as has occasionally been recognized; at the very least there
are plausible alternative histories.
While there is much written on roots and sources of environmental problems or developments
virtually none of it addresses die question of what is meant by the partially buried metaphors ot
roots and sources (the metaphors are evidently different; more literally, plants have roots,
normally below them, streams rise from sources, not roots, normally above them, and so on).
A striking example is supplied by Pepper's useful introductory text. Although this text, The


These deeper sources are important. Without locating them, perhaps all of them (if they

resemble blackberry), problems may not get properly addressed. Should we wrongly locate
roots, then proposed resolutions directed at ±ese, cutting them off or replacing them, will also

go astray, wrongly directed or whatever.
There are several parts to the approach sketched, if it is to be properly elaborated—

including a working classification of environmental problems and their proximate solutions,
and an account of paradigms and their roles—before getting to paradigmatic answers to focal

questions. But we can be brief on the necessary preliminaries, because they have been
addressed elsewhere.
1. Problems and paradigms.

Although these will be duly connected, paradigms implicated in problems, they are different
components, and admit and deserve separate explanation.
la. Environmental problems and proximate solutions.

A definition of ‘environmental problem’, and a classification of such problems, has already

been proposed.7 Observe that the final sets of problems that emerge are not value-framework
independent. What constitutes a major problem on deeper perceptions may be but a minor

problem, or written off as not a problem at all, on shallower perspectives. Among such
indicator problems, that it is here presumed are serious problems, are those of
• sustaining biodiversity and
• maintaining significant wilderness.8
Even if the broad impact of human enterprise is sufficiently reduced to guarantee comfortable

survival of future humans, these, desiderata may not be guaranteed. There will be outstanding

In any event, it is not too difficult to say more or less what environmental problems are
(at worst by furnishing familiar lists), and in many cases to indicate at least in principle how

they are to be resolved. Impact equations, emerging immediately from a classification of

Roots of Modem Environmentalism, presents itself specifically as concerning roots, there is in
fact no explication offered of the crucial roots metaphor, and for that matter no direct account of
what the roots of environmentalism—still less, though quite different, of environmental
problems to which environmentalism answers—are supposed to be (granted there is much
oblique material). It is apparent that Pepper has become rather carried away with the roots
metaphor, throwing it into several chapter headings and applying it pretty indiscriminately to
mean simply elements (from some earlier occurrence); thus for instance, ‘the roots of the theme
of reconciliation of freedom and authority’ (p.193). Such a usage is unsound. Because
rudiments of some idea make an earlier appearance in some authority or work, later workers may
not have arrived at such an idea by expanding on these rudiments; they may have arrived where
they did quite independently or by a different route. The mistake is that of reading a source or
(genetic) causal linkage into a mere temporal injunction: post hoc, propter hoc.
Dictionaries do better, with a short listing for the figurature use of root running: the basis,
bottom, the fundamental part, or that which supplies origin, sustenance, means of development,
etc.’ (Concise English Dictionary). That will serve, for a start.
See Sylvan and Bennett, GE.
As to the extent of the problem in North America, and a proposed remedy, see The Wildlands

problems, reveal how they are to be resolved.9 Namely, by altering relevant impact parameters.

Given this why are they proving so intractable? Why is so little done? Why is so very
little spent, despite all the talk.10 Proximate solutions, about as far as positive science conveys

us, are not a satisfactory stopping point. How is it, given so much scientific information and
expertise, that humans are continuing to sharply degrade, and risk substantially destroying, their

To these, the focal questions of this exercise, there is an array of competing answers on
offer. As we will soon see, most of these answers too simple, and taken as intended as

comprehensive, they are wrong. The questions however are important, because if we fail to get

to bottom of these, there is even less prospect of satisfactory action to turn around a very
difficult situation.

That these issues do not matter, that casual human relationships or how many dollars
uncaring humans can stuff in their pockets, matter more than whole islands of habitats—these

sorts of value judgements (after all matter is a value term par excellence) derive from and are
supported by particular ideologies.
lb. Model-like objects: paradigms, ideologies, cultures ,and so on.

A paradigm was explicated, in previous work, as a model in precisely a generous logical
sense.11 That is, a paradigm amounts to a structure supplied by an elaborate interpretation

function on a general system, i.e. on an integrated relational structure. Naturally it is required

faithful to what it models, the social forms and norms, scientific research programs, etc.

A social paradigm, in contrast to a scientific paradigm, is a paradigm where the propositional
and imperatival theory, the socio-political themes and value judgements, is that of a social

group. A pure culture is but a comprehensive social paradigm, where by “comprehensive” is
meant that it covers a sufficiently comprehensive part of the life-styles and life-forms of the
community concerned. There are now many examples of capsule formulations of the themes

delivered under rival social paradigms and under different cultures; from these formulations we
can work back towards the underlying models.

The basic vehicle, a situations or worlds model, is a semantical object, an item like a
complex universal12 similarly open to a range of construals and reduction attempts, e.g.

metaphysical, conceptual, epistemic, linguistic and so on. Once this is realised, it can be seen

that successive cohorts of philosophers and sociologists have repeated one another in vaguely

discerning essentially the same sorts of underlying structures under different categorisations:
thus, for instance, forms of understanding (Kant), of consciousness (Marx), of life

(Wittgenstein), conceptual schemes




For details see again Greening of Ethics.
See e.g. The cost ofpast environmental policy in OECD countries, Box 1.7, in Pearce et al, p.24.
See Routley, where many environmentally relevant examples are documented. For an analogous
account of culture see Sylvan 86.
It resembles a structured universal, e.g. Plato’s system of forms, Locke’s of complex ideas.


Weltanschauungs, total views (Naess), perspectives, outlooks, ideologies, programs, ... . An
ideology, for instance, in the nonderogatory (non-Marxist) sense is an ideas-system, initially a
propositional system or theory with a relevant domain of ideas operative, from which a
paradigm can be discerned and elaborated.
Paradigms are now regularly presented, in extremely truncated form, through a tabulation

of capsule themes. Here is a combination example:
TABLE 2: Elements of Taoism as contrasted with Deep Ecology and with the dominant
paradigm: an initial capsule formulation ,13


Deep Ecology

Dominant (Western)

Harmony with nature,
±rough Tao

Harmony with nature

Domination over nature

Nature valuable in itself;
“humanism” rejected

Natural environment
valued for itself

Nature a resource;
intrinsic value confined
to humans

Levelling of differences;
wide impartiality

Biocentric egalitarianism

Human supremacy

Supplies ample

Earth supplies limited

Ample resources with

Following Tao-te

Spiritual goals,
especially self-realisation

Material economic growth
a predominant goal



Personal (material)

Doing with enough
(recycling inappropriate)

Doing with enough;


Non-competitive lifestyle;
voluntary simplicity

Cooperative lifestyle

Competitive lifestyle

Decentralised/neighbourhood and village focus

/neighbourhood focus

Centralised/urban centred/
national focus

Hierarchy without
power structure;

grassroots democracy

Power structure

Limited technology

Appropriate technology

High technology

Considerable caution

Precautionary practice

Risking taking (verging
upon adventurism)


This tripartite example is adapted from UTD, where capsule elements of Taoism are duly


As observed, paradigms control action space by some equivalent of directives; red and green

lights duly interpreted. They may not supply direct commands, general obligations and
prohibitions, but may operate more indirectly. For instance an enlightened person, a role

model, a person following Tao, would act this way, not that. (Taoism, like certain modem
ideosystems, eschews deontics.)
Paradigms are absorbed and they guide practice. They commonly form part of actors'

worlds; they are certainly part of actors' programs for practice and considered action in a world.
In a sense then, they are things, programs actors carry round in their heads; so heads have to be

changed, not rolled.
2. Proposed answers to focal questions; a preliminary classification of inadequate answers

and suggested remedies.

Most of the wide range of answers proposed supply a single source, and are defective.
Roughly, virtually everything you have read on this (or may read elsewhere) is wrong.
TABLE 3. Main tabulation of answers and remedies


practice answers






now available


Unintended consequences


now available


Faulty technique,
or technology


Repairs already


Deviation (from
theory, etc.)
Education (for failure
to limit deviance)


a. Deviation
uneliminable, or
b. Adherence
no remedy


Systemic lock-in
(through poverty,
ensnarement in
market forces, etc.)

Trap removal

a. Explains
only certain
cases, and
b. Due to


Insensitivity or


Remedy tried;

Source single paradigm

Remedies proposed (among others)

Christianity (mainstream

Scientific enlightenment, or
alternative (Eastern) religion


Defective paradigm





Protestantism and its ethic







Modified holism

Substance metaphysics
P3a Possessive individualism
P3aa Personalism


Process metaphysics






Pre-industrialism (romanticism)

P5a Technocratic bureaucracy
P5aa. Transnational business







Patriarchy, Masculinism
Human domination
of humans



Further sample listings of this paradigmatic sort (but with the paradigms often subject specific
or partial) include:


Typical remedy suggested


New metaphysics


New metaphysics


C onsequentialism

Mainstrand Anglo-American philosophy:

reductive empiricism-cum-utilitarianism

Continental philosophy



New social science, or ethics



Domination transfer

Domination removal

Infantilism (from Freudian physchology)



And so on.
A very rough recipe runs as follows: draw up a potted list of major movements and factors in
dominant Western thought. Then most elements in that list will have been nominated, likely


separately but perhaps only in combination, by someone as the source of the problems.
That list accordingly continues (even including sometimes entries like Taylorism), but
what is included is representative of the important and more interesting answers to be
encountered. There are other answers however, some varying from interesting to crazy, that we

should also take into account, for instance Shepard's answers. Although Shepard dismisses
ideologies, what he offers is a further ideosystem, of similar dubious or false cast. Strange

answers include pushing it back to human psychology (thus not only Shepard, but also Fox, and
Ehrlich with talk of ‘mental maladaptation’).
Basically, there is something wrong with a society that does that to its habitat. It is sick
— in a popular sense, yes, it is sick. It is the slides that follow, however, that are to be resisted.
The slide begins invitingly: As it is not literally sick, well not physically usually, it must be
mentally sick; that is, sliding further and fast, insane or mad.

But the sources of mental

sickness lie in childhood (as Freudianism erroneously insists). The slide continues to: what we
have are immature societies, frozen at an early stage of development. No doubt there is

something to theme that dominant societies, USA especially (which influences so much now in
other cultures), are locked into youth culture, a sort of late consumptive adolescence.1415No

doubt, too, that maturity — but a environmental maturity — is desirable, even mandatory.
Meanwhile, immaturity is fostered right through human life. Considerable effort is put

into trying to induct older people, who are often marginalised, into active consumptive society,

to spend their money through tourism, on new housing, in those most wasteful of modern
institutions such as airliners and hotels, hospitals and old-age homes, and so forth.
3. Documentation as to some of the acclaimed purer sources.

Like the lists of proposals and intricated paradigms, the documentation too is somewhat

perfunctory, tending towards notes. While whole theses could be spun out on several of these
topics, already beginning to elicit such treatment, a prime objective here is different from usual:

neither to convict, nor to clear or excuse, but to partially implicate most items cited in the main

tabulation above. Consider, in brief, some of the usually accredited sources:
• Western religion, above all Christianity. The theme that the source of ecological problems,

‘the historical roots of our ecological crisis’, are to be found in Western religion, and
specifically in ‘the Judaeo-Christian belief that mankind was created to have dominion over

nature’, was advanced in a particularly pointed and subsequently influential way by White.
One useful summary of White's line of argument runs as follows:
Allied with technological and scientific developments, orthodox Christianity
has produced arrogant exploitation of nature, and a contemporary ecological
crisis. White's thesis is that the West's successful science and technology

It interestingly matches the locking of primary production systems into pioneering stages such as
preclimax formations. Shepard’s dialectic is investigated in more detail in Appendix 3.
White's article has generated an enormous defensive literature, primarily from Christian
apologists, but also from softer environmentalists and from testy historians of ideas. The whole
area looks in danger of disappearing from intellectual view under a heavy blanketing snowfall,


developed between the 8th and 12th centuries — it is much older than the
scientific revolution though it was not until about 1850 — following the
democratic revolutions — that the science and technology were combined to
produce truly immense powers to change nature. The early development,
however, was paralleled by the development of exploitative attitudes to
nature which seemed to be ‘in harmony with larger intellectual patterns’,
namely the victory of Christianity over paganism. This destroyed the
animistic beliefs whereby men thought twice before they plundered and
destroyed natural objects. It substituted instead a faith in perpetual progress,
a belief that God designed nature for man's benefit and rule, and that action,
not contemplation, was the correct Christian behaviour. Science formed an
extension of theology (for to know God you had to find out how his creation
worked), and technology provided the active means to carry out God's will.
Because today’s attitudes are essentially inherited from Christianity, then it
‘bears the burden of guilt’ for contemporary ecological disruption.16

What has happened with the divisive charge, advanced by White, that Christianity was

the prime source of environmental problems, is particularly instructive. In an attempt to diffuse
the charge Christian apologists pointed to, what there undoubtedly were, recessive strands or
isolated seeds in Christianity which were much more environmentally benign (though some

such as stewardship, which has evolved toward total managerialism and sustainable

development, have proved increasingly problematic). That does little or nothing to meet a more

sensitive criticism that mainstream (or dominant) Christianity has much to answer for as
regards destruction and degradation of natural environments.17 Similar responses are apposite

for attempts to exonerate their wider sources, such as Western philosophy.
Against the sheeting of responsibility to religion, dominant forms of which should
undoubtedly cop some heavy criticism, it has been contended that
philosophy ... is the primary source of most Western ideas [and] is ...
responsible for the ideas and attitudes that inhibit environmental protection
today.... Religion... though often criticized ... as the chief culprit, has played
a much less fundamental role. Most of the environmentally offensive ideas in
Western religion originated not in religion but in Western philosophy.18

• Classical Greek philosophy, above all the peak philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.
Greek philosophers approached natural phenomena in a way that (1)
prevented the development of an ecological perspective, (2) discouraged the
aesthetic appreciation of the natural world, and (3) promoted a conception of
reality that made the idea of nature preservation conceptually difficult, if not




Pepper pp.44-5. Pepper then embarks upon the murky story of alternative interpretations of
Biblical data and the Christian tradition, dredged up by a series of White's critiques. The issue
continues to be debated; for an interesting recent contribution see Callicott.
Each religion is multistranded. But we should look hardest at dominant operative forms. Ask,
first, not what they say, but what they do, and would do.
Hargrove p.15. Certainly the sort of message that Pentecostal missionaries even now try to
preach to resistant Australian Aboriginals, that the earth is just filth, mere rubbish, can be traced
back in direct line to Plato’s attitude to the land, an attitude Hargrove and Plumwood help
Hargrove p.21. Hargrove’s claims may appear to have been confuted by Attfield, but really,
while they have been subject to minor qualification, they have been highlighted: see Appendix 1.
There is a much fuller story still to be told about classical Greek philosophy reassessed
environmentally, of the very different roles and impacts ot Plato (with his unearthly philosophy),
of Aristotle (with his earthier chauvinism), of Stoics and of Epicureans. For a modest beginning,


More sweepingly, they set Western philosophy on a ruinous environmental course, a course
accentuated with the appearance of modem rationalist and empiricist philosophies.
• Cartesian philosophy. The dominant modern environmental approach is sometimes
denominated Cartesianism, or the Cartesian Technocratic paradigm, in honour of Descartes,

upon whom (as a conveniently select individual from a swag of like-minded people) several of

the leading themes and ideas can be pinned.20

While Descartes was undoubtedly

extraordinarily influential, so were others; Newton for one, Locke for another. The paradigm is
accordingly better denominated the Atomist-Empiricist-Technocratic paradigm, or some such.
Evidently it substantially overlaps other modem ideologies, such as that of the Enlightenment,
widely implicated as major sources of environmental problems.
• Western metaphysics. While some conglomeration of the preceding sources and others (some
potted history of Western metaphysics, so to say) may be offered, more often what is presented

is some selection of Western metaphysical elements. Here is one example, plainly exhibiting a
heavy Heideggerean influence:
The root of our environmental problems lie in Western metaphysics. For
metaphysics, Being is presencing; no allowance is made for any other mode
(sheltering, declining, concealing). Once metaphysics has established the
absolute dominion of the present over the not-present or no-longer-present,
the way is paved for the scientific method, with its emphasis on replicability
of results, predicability, quantification, and control. Nature becomes a
“natural resource” —and people become “human resources”. The sources of
anthropocentricism, -imperialism, colonialism, sexism and consumerism can
all be traced back to metaphysics.
Western metaphysics has more or less conquered the world, and there is no
going back. Western metaphysics is more than simply a false consciousness
overlaid on top of “authentic” experience. Being changes historically, and
metaphysics is the index of that change... Metaphysics has a conquering,
exclusive imperative, ... and different [former] modes now exist only as
vestigial trances. They cannot be resurrected through ancient wisdom, native
healing, goddess worship, or any other supposedly intact, dormant system.
We cannot create a “new order”. That would simply be another form of the
Will to Power... We can—and must—turn away from the dominant rhythms
of western metaphysics if we are to avoid the nihilism of a perpetually
ensconced technocratic rationalism.21
An alternative to turning entirely away from Western metaphysics, consists in combining



see Plumwood on Plato, Toulmin on Stoics as contrasted with Epicureans, and Glacken on lesser
or lost Greek strands.
For encapsulation of the Cartesianism paradigm (a dominant dualistic form), summarising
Drengson’s exposition, see Routley, table 5. For certain critical elements of Descartes
contribution, see Appendix 2. Drengson, for one, has helped portray Descartes as the
environmentally evil genius (or demiurge). That some orthodox philosophers, not merely
maverick philosophers, are now rushing to the defence of Descartes should be seen as entirely in
keeping with the character and roles of Western philosophy.
Undisclosed source. Amusingly, I have seen myself accused of ‘reject[ing] in its entirety
mainstream western philosophy and science, ... seen as the cause of the [environmental]
problem’ and instead basing my ‘ecocentric values on Eastern philosophies (thus Bellett). This
charge was levelled on the strength of a peripheral exercise on classical Taoism and Deep
Ecology (now included in UTD).

rejection of standard Western metaphysics (or, less sweepingly, of dominant metaphysics,

characteristically individualistic and atomistic) in favour of development of recessive traditions
or mere Western seeds.

Such a more sophisticated approach, also critical of Western

metaphysics, with atomism a main villain, is pursued by those who promote instead process or

plenum metaphysics.22
• Enlightenment. The source of problems lies in ‘the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment’

(e.g. Dobson). Of course the main doctrines of the Enlightenment substantially overlap those

of modem mainstream philosophy and of Descartes’ philosophy (but they shed dualistic and

theistic scholastic hang-overs).
• Capitalism. The assumption that capitalism is responsible for environmental as well as social
evils, widespread until recently in state-socialist countries (when their own records were
revealed) can be traced back to Marx. According to Marx, with capitalism
for the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a
matter of utility; ceases to be recognised as a power for itself; and the
theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to
subject it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a
means of production.23
But, as observed, the main theme had appeared in earlier philosophy; for instance, the idea of

nature as purely an object for humankind, was advanced in Aristotle: ‘Now if nature makes

nothing incomplete and nothing in vain, the inference must be that she has made all animals for

the sake of man’.24 Aristotle adopted a similar stance on nature as on other species. The theme
was to be oft repeated in subsequent Aristotelianism, and reiterated apparently in shallower
Stoicism. But the subjection of everything to utility appears to be a distinctively modem

♦ Modem industrial society. Modem industrialism (‘the smooth-superhighway of industrial
progress’) is the source, such is an extraordinarily popular theme: ‘... the root causes of the

present crisis lie deep with the very foundations of the industrial paradigm’.25 Similarly ‘roots
[of] the environment crisis ... go deeper to the foundations of modem industrial society .26
Again, ‘the structural roots of the environmental crises [are found in] industrialism, in

commoditization, in commercialism, and in competition and greed’27 The popular theme, that
industrialism is the source, tends to confuse mere means— industrial technology can without




For the first process option, see Gare; for the second, where the plenum is that of a holistic
relativity theory (more exactly holistic relativistic geometrodynamics), see Mathews.
Grundrisse p.409f.
Aristotle, Politics, Book 1, ch.8. What an inference, you might well exclaim. See further
Hargrove p.25.
M. Gabriel, ‘How “attitudes and implements” have brought us to “the end of nature , a paper
presented at UNE Environmental Paradigms Conference, April 1993. Gabriel proposes a
managerial resolution: ‘for us to learn to manage both our relationship to our environment, and
more broadly the environment itself (quotes from abstract of paper). This amounts to the flip
side of an old problematic record. For the “solution” derives from the same defective box as the
evident problem.
Gabriel ibid. Similarly in McLauglin.
Editorial in The Ecologist, Jan-Feb 1992, p.2.


any doubt at all vastly facilitate environmental degradation (as well as, less satisfactorily,

subsequent clean-up and environmental repair)— with sources and causes, what directs and
powers those uses of industrial technique and practice.
• Patriarchy. The source is patriarchy, and androgyny; problems derive from mistreatment of
women. ‘Our troubles begin with the invention of male deities located off the planet’.28

‘patriarchy is the source of the environmental crisis’.29 One sample linkage statement runs as


... there is a huge denial ... of the violence perpetrated on women both
historically and ... presently] and ... this the same energy that, turned against
the Earth, is destroying the very life-support systems and rapidly destroying
the conditions that makes complex life possible. The fires that consume the
Amazon are the very same fires that burned 9 million witches and I believe
that there can be no solution of our ecological problems unless we
simultaneously address our gender issues.30
Patriarchy, as source, is evidently a special case of long invoked domination transfer themes:

• Human domination and exploitation of humans: It is an extraordinarily widespread
assumption that the impact of humans (or, until recently, of Man!) on the environment, or
creatures or things in it, is a product of that of humans with each other, typically of groups or
classes. In misleadingly brief form, the source is social: Man’s inhumanity to Man; and the

solution correspondingly is social. Unremarkably, this unlikely assumption comes in a variety

of different forms: early, concerning the mistreatment of animals as an (inevitable) spill-over

from mistreatment of humans, recently concerning maltreatment of nature spilling over from, or
being one with, that of women. The fashionable assumption runs, in one form or another, from

Aquinas through Kant to a range of recent trend setters, including Marcuse, Ulich, Passmore,
Bookchin ... and some leading feminists. In particular, it is part of the very meaning of social

ecology, an ideology shaped and championed by Bookchin: ‘ecological problems arise from
deep-seated social problems’.31 On this theme among others, Bookchin simply follows a

prominent trend in social anarchism set by Kropotkin and his contemporary Reclus:
all see that the domination and exploitation of nature by man is but an
extension of the domination of man by man. Thus, ‘Both Kropotkin and
Reclus ... laid the foundations of a radical theory of human ecology.
Ecological despoliation was seen to reflect imbalances in human relationships
—domination of nature thus following from human domination’.... It follows
that if domineering and exploitative human relationships can be avoided in
small-scale decentralised societies then such societies are also best for a
Quoted in Eckersley p.64, who develops and begins to assess patriarchical source themes. For a
more critical assessment see GEF.
See Seed, quoted in GEF; also Salleh (see e.g. EP3).
John Seed’s Workshop Schedule 1992, Rainforest Information Centre, Lismore, 12. 12.91.
Seed’s extravagant identity claims are but a dramatic extension of that popular tendency to
transform comparison and similarity statements into identity claims. Indeed reductionism often
reaches further, with attempted conversion of all relational statements into identity ones, along
with unrelational property claims.
Bookchin sometimes qualifies this central claim, with ‘nearly all present’, e.g. EP3 p.354. But
he is not strictly entitled to any such qualification, given his invariant theme that the domination
of nature always results from die humans domination ot other humans (see e.g. Clark EP3,
p.346). The text EP3 contains a big section providing a useful introduction to social ecology.


harmonious man-nature relationship.32
Domination and exploitation of one division by another can in turn be seen as a case of
dualism at work, between the one, the dominator or dominating class, and the other, the

• A snare of dualisms. Environmental problems derive from operation of a set of connected
ideologically-entrenched and defective dualisms.33
• Modern educational systems: Roots of environmental problems lie in educational systems.

Or if roots don't, solutions do. However, roots of environmental or social problems do not lie in

educational systems. Parts of their solutions may however. For education is critical, for
instance, in correcting insufficient adherence to established satisfactory arrangements, such as,

so it is claimed, Enlightenment ideals or traditional ethical systems.34 Therewith we are
transported full circle back to defective practice answers.
4. Commentary on, and objections to, proposed answers

A main part of this exercise consists in a detailed critical commentary on the entries in the
main tabulation, and on proposals like them. Small beginnings are made on the exercise, in two
stages reflecting the major division in the main tabulation.
Defective practice answers tend to come from those who presume we are already in

possession of adequate theories, or what approximates them or supplies main elements of them.

(Such answers are also more liable to emanate from conservatives, opposed to new or radical
theories, advanced on the basis of inadequacy of prevailing theories in practice.)

Defective practice answers are especially popular in economic reaches. There was a time,

perhaps not past yet, when all market failures in the shape of negative externalities were passed
off as unintended consequences of economic activity. While outputs or “consequences” such
matters as pollution certainly are, unintended they mostly are not now, without emptying
‘unintended’ of its normal sense. For example, industrialists, apprised of conservation laws and
unsurprised by polluted wastes, who dump their waste where and when regulators and waste­

watchers are not looking, can hardly pretend that that output is an unintended consequence of
their industry. That should now be a bad joke.
Accordingly new green economics insists that we dig deeper—without however

exceeding economic settings—to discover why markets may foreseeably fail and why
environmentally rectifying technology is not delivered.35 Where they usually arrive, travelling



Pepper p.192, with internal quotation from Breitbart. Unfortunately it is all too evident, given
humans could so socially organise, that they could setde into harmonious small-scale
communities which retained but little of pristine natural environments.
Such a proposition, outlined in V. and R. Routley, obtains a much fuller elaboration within
Plumwood. In an interesting way, such a proposal can hardly be wrong, given the conclusion
reached below that a set of defective paradigms in at work. For evidently paradigms can be
covered by dualisms, represented by set of diem in each case, somewhat as numbers can be
represented in binary terms, generated from a basic two-oneness duality.
Thus Passmore, Attfield, and others. For a critical assessment of education, see Sylvan and
Thus e.g. Jacobs, p.24.


within such unduly confined settings, is, like welfare economics before green, at better

regulated markets, with business set as before within frameworks of plans and incentives,
controls and penalties. Environmentally, however, such approaches do not reach very deep, or

tap into underlying paradigmatic problem-sources.
But these sorts of defective practice answers do not always derive from standard
economic sources. A deviation-style answer is much favoured by Marxists to explain failure,

environmental and other, of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern block countries; namely
that true Marxism was not practiced. Unfortunately, even if it had been, environmental

consequences would be no better, given the heavy industrial commitments and environmental

shallowness, at best, of true Marxism.36 Differently, enlightenment liberals like Passmore try
to ascribe failures in Western environmental practice, not to any deficiencies in mainstream

theory, but to deviation from well established principles. Unfortunately adherence to these
“well established principles” is just one way in which the Earth will lose what remains of its

wilderness and remarkable diversity.
Now there are no doubt cases, past especially but also present, some resulting

(collectively) in extensive environmental degradation, where defective practice answers may be
correct. For example, there is harrowing case after harrowing case (brought together in texts
like Topsoil and Civilization ) of degradation of prime agricultural lands by imposed farming

practices, where at least early on (before damage became visible) ignorance and unintended

consequences could be legitimately claimed. In most historical cases we do not have enough
information to be able to say with much assurance that agriculture proceeded until effective

collapse because of continuing ignorance, or because practices were locked-in in one way or
another, or because of sheer obduracy. But we do know more about present agricultural
practices, for example in more arid parts of Australia, concerning both irrigated and dry-land


Many of these practices are undoubtedly sharply degrading lands, and the

consequences of the practices, which cannot plead or pretend ignorance, are sufficiently


But the practices persist, and are encouraged by a sweep of subsidies or

concessions. No doubt some of the practitioners can reasonably claim that they are locked into
bad practices through circumstance, circumstances now beyond their control such as financial

pressures, unfavourable terms-of-trade, and so on, coupled with the need to make a living. But
some, such as companies controlling large tracts of land, can make no such claims or excuses,

nor can claim such things as family precedence, attachment to place, and similar. Their
obdurate practice has to be attributed to something else, most obviously not deviation from

theory, but commitment to an environmentally defective paradigm.
Dealing with defective paradigm answers is an even more complex, and vexed,

It is surprising how much of the practice of later Socialist states is prefigured in texts like The
Communist Manifesto. Thus “industrial armies” are to be set up; credit, communications and
transport are to become state monopolies; “migrants and rebels” are to have dieir property
confiscated; and so on. All this runs contrary to much Marxist apologetics (as A. Urquhart, who
made those points, also observed).

business. Let us try to condense main matters to a few themes:
Many of the (incomplete) paradigms listed are not even sufficient for environmental
impasses. They may be seriously mistaken, they may have undesirable intellectual and perhaps

social effects, but a society could persist sustainably with those drawbacks. Thus, for example,
substance metaphysics (under modified Spinozism), dualisms, even patriarchy. The same
might even hold for materialism and mechanism, (assuming these practices can be coherently

made out, that depending on how differentiated ideologies and values are accommodated, and
so forth).
To illustrate: a metaphysics, of any sort, cannot be the whole story, because it does not,

on it own, account for action, anti-environmental or other. Without special bridges from

metaphysics to value-intricating action theory, a sort of naturalistic fallacy operates. Thus
subverted, in essentially Hume’s way, are all the vulgar sources of environmental problems
which take them as derived from metaphysics.
While several—not just one—of the paradigms listed are sufficient—in the right

circumstances (given long historical development, accumulation, and so on37)—none are

necessary. Similar impasses could arise, and locally have arisen, given significantly different

for example given, instead of main Western trouble-making paradigms,

Confucianism or advanced Polynesianism.
At this stage in dialectic, green history or ecohistory, and related virtual histories, enter
decisively. Ponting's Green History of the World begins with a graphic account of the rise and
ecological fall of Easter Island under the impact of Polynesian projects. The work also

conveniently documents many other examples, well-known to biohistorians, of ecological
degradation or collapse, far from the influence of Western paradigms. An important example
(much less speculative than some of the examples because of a comparative wealth of primary
documentation) outlines the destruction of accessible Chinese ecosystems under Confucian

dynasties. What several of these examples also reveal is that no very high level of technology

is needed to inflict serious environmental damage; persistence in pursuit of an ideological
project (with nothing directly to do with basic needs) will suffice.
Other cultures did, or would have (given the technology and numbers), wrecked similar
damage. For instance, deforestation, salination, megafaunal elimination, and so on, were well

established before rise of modem Western paradigms, or in regions outside their influence.

The list of paradigms, as so far presented, is entirely Western in orientation. Moreover

environmental woes are regularly ascribed to Western sources — wrongly. For non-Western

paradigms have led, or would lead given the opportunities (including access to the
technologies), to outcomes as undesirable as under dominant Western paradigm. Witness


While it is easy to imagine ineffectual or incompetent tribes which live benignly
environmentally, by just muddling along, under even the worst of paradigms, that is not really to
the point. A pertinent tribe needs to have developed the structure which leads to problems, to
have the means, and so on.


again Confucianism, for instance, and its role and influence in Asian regions. Confucianism
incorporates human chauvinism par excellence (as well as, some might say, Chinese
chauvinism).38 Or Islam, with its reach across the Middle East.
The main tabulation (of table 3) should accordingly be extended to take due account of
non-Westem paradigms, including for example:
Other Abrahamic religions




Polynesianism, at least in advanced forms as on Easter Island.

What is “Western” is tending to blur also. Is Judaism Western, how western, or Islam? There
is also a tendency to suppose that more Western religions, Abrahamic religions, with their

intense monotheism, are significantly ideologically worse than non-Westem. But the contrasts

are different and much more complex than that. A better divide is into monistic and pluralistic.
Even so, many undesirable social and environmental features are incorporated in or encouraged
by religious pluralisms from the Indian subcontinent.
All the single paradigm answers are inadequate, all are too simple. Even so some are

less inadequate than others. It is the same, more or less, for the combined answers, often to be
encountered. For generally they represent but one thin cross-section of Western paradigms.
While all the single one-source one-shot paradigmatic answers, occur on their own, often

they are combined. For instance, although Descartes is often cited as a villain, more often
criticism of Cartesianism is combined with criticism of other concurrent ideological elements,
such as Baconian empiricism (less incompatibly, Drengson, for one, regularly combines

criticism of the technocratic paradigm with criticism of Cartesianism—though Descartes, for all
his rich and appalling thought, contributed little to the rise of technocratic organisation.)

Similarly Hargrove combines Greek philosophy, as original source, with modern rationalism

and much else.
5. Towards a more satisfactory explanation.

Not only are the paradigmatic roots seriously intertangled (because of connections of one
paradigm with another, because for instance of heavy philosophical inputs into religious

paradigms), but further there is not a single defective paradigm. Rather there is a family or

sheaf of paradigms, commitment to any of which, or any suitable combination of which, in
requisite circumstances, appears to have yielded environmentally untoward outcomes (requisite

circumstances including availability of technology, extent of social support, and so on). Within

that plurality there are of course gradations—and not only gradations but major differences—in

calibre, in environmental friendliness. A Cartesianism which regards animals as mere auto­


Its net of effects extends widely. Consider, e.g., the role of Chinese medicine in decline of large


mata incapable of feeling genuine pain, is significantly worse as regards other life-forms and
their decent treatment than a utilitarianism which positively values animal sentience.
The family is not exclusively Western, or Northern, though (through colonialism and

cultural imperialism) paradigm of these sorts now predominate. Paradigms and cultures of less
“advanced” and third world communities have also operated to enhance environmental

vandalism and degradation locally and regionally.
Industrialization and technological advance are, without doubt, what have inflated
environmental problems from rather localised ones, damaging islands and river catchments, to

grander and global ones. They are the engines, powerhouses, of major problems/9
They did not however run on their own, nor do they continue on their own. Such engines

were not designed and built, fuelled and tended, independently.39
40 They evolved primarily in
the specially favoured culture of capitalism, though parallel developments could have occurred,
and later did, in other prepared and heavily controlled surroundings, such as state socialism.

Now however these engines have been rendered more reliable and less dependent on careful
cultural support, and have been transferred to run in less favourable settings.
TABLE 4: Connected continuing sources of global environmental problems

of technology,
industry and
problems to
other regions


and spread of
problems to
larger regions


within another ,
\ or different /
• framework


various regional



The picture of development of environmental problems preferred accordingly bears passing
resemblance to that now tendered for development of the early Universe, where a source event,
the Big Bang, was followed by a huge inflationary phenomenon. Naturally the resemblance has
limitations; for instance, universe inflation is not terrestrially replicable in the way
industrialization now is (hired or delivered off the shelf, pollution problems and all, with a big
price tag).
Lacking such favourable ideological surroundings, earlier technological “break throughs were
not duly developed: thus early wheels, steam engines, gunpowder, etc.


Even if the whole “West” went into a terminal decline, and its paradigms disappeared into
history, serious environmental exploitation and degradation would continue, driven by other

cultures. For instance, the West could collapse through protracted war, through choking on its
own toxic wastes, or whatever (there are many routes to catastrophic decline, outlined for

instance in “Limits to Growth” scenarios, that could differentially impact on the West).
Degradation would now continue, however; there would be only temporary respite from
environmental crises.
While most of the problems, awfully aggregated in contemporary environmental crises,

are produced or accelerated by — what connects them — contemporary industrial society, not

all environmental problems are or have been of this sort. But many of the other problems, such
as destruction of rainforests by itinerant peasants, can be seen as by-products, or similar; thus,

in the example, the peasants displaced by agribusiness, absentee wealth-holders or similar,

arrived there on industrially-made roads opening the forests, and often wrecked this damage
using industrial machinery.
An environmental friendly culture has to be much more critical concerning certain types
of industrialization, and much more selective regarding technology than present dominant

cultures, Western or non-Westem. While there are such paradigms, on the ideas market, they
mostly lack sophisticated contemporary elaboration.
Examples of more friendly paradigms, that do not lead of themselves to massive

environmental problems and crises include those now tabulated:
TABLE 5: Examples, several flawed, of environmentally friendly paradigms.
Oriental ideologies:

Taoism (classical)

recessive traditions,
now with tiny
followings and little
political influence.

Indigenous cultures:

Australian Aboriginals (e.g. Aranda)
Amazonian Indians, etc.
Western philosophies:




Deep green theories, such as deep ecology.

under certain

Given the remoteness of most of these examples from contemporary life, and difficulties with

their wide adaptability, it is a short step to a familiar conclusion that new paradigms need to be

worked out. Much more intellectual effort should be devoted to such enterprise.
What we have arrived at, then, is a rough classification of paradigms into two large

families: environmentally friendly and unfriendly. No doubt there is a fuzzy residue class

(neither, and perhaps both).
DIAGRAM 6: Broad environmental division of paradigms.

To questions as to why agents adhere, or continue to adhere, to environmentally unfriendly
paradigms, the answers are likewise plural, and diverse (and some match answers in Table 3).

Reasons are psychological, social and cultural (with circularity here encountered), and include

considerations of the following sorts and others: because that is how things are done, or have
always been done; because needs can be met, perhaps only met, in that way, so it is believed;
because there are no alternatives, or none seen, perhaps because none have been sought;
because negative outcomes can be overcome, or do not really matter; and so on.
It is not difficult to indicate, more or less, which paradigms will, if duly, diligently or

religiously practiced, lead to environmental problems and impasse.

Some family

characteristics, then, of unfriendly paradigms:

* Combination effects, illustrated through Leibnitzianism. Any which guarantees satisfaction

of all or enough elements of the consumption impact equation, and so would generate excessive

impacts. To illustrate, consider what might be called Leibnitzianism, in honour of Leibnitz

(though Leibnitz's fragmentary work did not initiate any genuine historic school). Leibnitz was
heavily committed to all of human population growth, unfettered technological advance, and

human lifestyles of consumption, in short, to precisely those factors that combine in the impact

recipe to produce excessive human impacts upon environments. There is fair evidence for these
contentions. First, Leibnitz was an early exponent of utilitarianism, indeed he was all-round an

enthusiastic maximizer. From his formulation of utilitarianism, he drew an immediate obvious
corollary: the directive to increase human population (maximizing on aggregate human pleasure

is most obviously achieved by production of more happy humans, other aspects of which
technology and affluence can assure).41 Secondly, Leibnitz was a technology enthusiast; he

was heavily committed to the developments and use of scientific technology, for which he had
all sorts of schemes (e.g. the characteristic universalis intended to encapsulate all of knowledge

in an accessible useable form, a complete calculus duly mechanised, as well as numerous

technological projects.42). Thirdly, he was committed to an affluent lifestyle for himself and

(through symmetry and basic assumptions of utilitarianism) for others. For his own part, he

For Leibnitz’s anticipation of utilitarianism, see Hruschka. For Leibnitz’s immediate application
of the principle, to support human population increase, see p.172.
‘Leibnitz's interest in machinery is illustrated by his complicated plan to drain the Harz mines,
which involved the construction of a new type of windmill, and a virtually friction-free pump’,
Cottingham p.193. For a detailed account of Leibnitz’s extensive entrepreneurial and
technological activities, see Aiton.


abandoned an academic career at an obscure German university ‘in favour of the more active

and lucrative pursuits of the courtier and diplomat’ and, so it turned out, the bright lights of

major European cities and grand tours of Europe.43
Leibnitz has sometimes been accounted environmentally friendly. Some of that apparent
friendliness was due to scholastic conservativism. Thus he was opposed to mechanism; he was
sympathetic to the organic and teleological, which did not contract to isolated human and
superhuman loci. His metaphysical theory of monads, which are centres of living energy,

effectively distributed life everywhere, though not equally. Harmony and order too prevailed

throughout the universe, though under God's maximizing management, the presence of which

they duly established! But even this life-expanding harmonious order, variants of which are
now familiar from Whiteheadian and deep ecological quarters, was not as benign as it has

superficially appeared.

Leibnitz supposed that, by virtue of pre-established harmony and final causes governing

inevitable progress, humans would not go wrong in the longer term in their environmental
activities, that they could not 'cumulatively make undesirable changes in nature’.44 Leibnitz

joyfully foresaw more and more of the Earth coming under cultivation, and its long-term
advancement to a complete intensive garden, even if there were occasional relapses where parts

deteriorated back temporarily towards wild state. Leibnitz even criticised Cartesianism, now
widely regarded as prime villain of the environmental piece, as failing ‘to provide the modal

stimulus .... to the control of nature’ ... ‘to scientific advance’. The idea of control, advancing
to total control, total management, is prophesized in Leibnitz (in a sort of chauvinistic Gaia
hypothesis). He saw ‘order as progressively increasing, with the help of man [as] a finisher of

nature. He boldly applauded the idea of progress to the earth as a unit, assuming both an
orderliness on earth and an orderliness in the changes it had undergone by man’.45 No doubt

Leibnitz’s lifestyle commitments need not (and may not) be reflected in his philosophy, which
may have independent environmental merit, for example as stimulation or input for later

developments. There is unfortunately little evidence that that is so. Nonetheless, substantial

fragments of Leibnitz’s philosophy do admit environmental bending and adaptation, in a way
that Descartes’ philosophy does not at all easily.

An important corollary does emerge: that a promising new metaphysics is no panacea for
improved environmental performance or paradigms. Not merely neutral metaphysics, but even

positive metaphysics, such as certain organic and process theories, are compatible with, and can

be coupled with, damaging social theories and life-styles. It is almost enough to consider the
theories, practices and lifestyles of Aristotle, Leibnitz and Whitehead.46

Cottingham p.24, p.26.
Glacken p.478. As he remarks, these bold assumptions made by Leibnitz have proved wrong.
Glacken p.506.
Leibnitz’s standing in die history of philosophy is somewhat curious. His main achievement,
setting aside his reputation as an intellectual wizard with lots of ideas, appears to be spasmodic
work upon a beautiful ruin, an incomplete (and incompletable) metaphysics, of which only


* Direct untoward effects, illustrated through Cartesianism and Confucianism, or indeed any

system which attributes little or no value to natural items, and perhaps much value to nature
transforming or interfering human (or elite) projects. So it is with Confucianism, which is

entirely human focussed. ‘Centering his attention on man in his present life, Confucius had as
his goal the achievement of a good society characterized by harmonious social relations.’47
The outside world, the nature environment, was of no moral significance. It mattered only

instrumentally, to humans. Descartes went further. Human bodies too were automata, complex

machinery. ‘The exception is [mind, or specifically] thought, and its external manifestation
language: this alone cannot be explained mechanistically—a thesis which leads Descartes to
assert a fundamental divide between human beings and “the beasts”’.48 The remaining world,

the natural environment—lacking humanity, thought, mind—was again of no moral
significance. It possessed derivatively only what value and meaning humans, or minds, chose
to confer or project upon it.
Since, either way, any way, a natural environment devoid of humans had no thoughts,

purposes or interests, no value or meaning of its own, it could not matter what happened to it.
It could be regarded, justifiably, as nothing but a reservoir of resources for humans.49
Cartesians drew just such conclusions; similar conclusions derive from Platonism and
Pentecostalism, and are implicit at least in Confucianism. Descartes again went further. His

practices and methods, like those of Bacon, were ‘aimed at making men the masters and
possessors of nature’.50
* devaluation of natural items as against human elements or artefacts (typically exhibiting

human chauvinism);51 as a corollary,
* entitlement to domination, dominion over nature;
* short-term framework;
* maximization assumptions, coupled with grand projects.
Family characteristic of friendly paradigms will tend to invert (in effect negate) these

features. An environmentally friendly paradigm can be expected to yield environmentally
significant corollaries, such as:
* an end to degrading primary production, wherever it prevails.



Instead ecological forestry

tantalizing fragmentary structures were ever available.
It is not even as if there is a surviving supply of challenging bad arguments that can be put
before baffled students, as with Descartes and Berkeley for instance.
Reese p. 102.
Cottingham p.15. The utter invalidity of Descartes' argument to this divide (cited by
Cottingham) is now comparatively easy to expose, given almost 400 years of hindsight. There
are no such status divides. See further Appendix 2.
Borrowing some nice phraseology from F. Mathews.
See Discourse VI.
Shallow will work out only with right mix ol humans. But in any case, it is implausible. An
appealing ecological dieorem insinuates itself hereabouts: Given certain conditions (such as
short-term vision, techno-fix, ...), shallowness is necessary and sulficient for environmental


and ecological agriculture will come to prevail.
• a calling off of grand ideologically-grounded projects, interfering with or damaging natural

environments, such as major dams, river diversions, demolished islands (e.g. for airports), new

mountains, terraforming, extensive rainmaking, climatic interference, and generally the sweep

of “playing God” projects. A little of this sort of technology can go a very long way.

A short answer can now be ventured to the focal questions: Because most agents are
bound to (locked into, committed to, or captively go along with) environmentally unfriendly

paradigms. As a result the (long-term) health of the rest of environments does not matter, or
matter enough.
6. Resulting unfavourable report on dominant philosophy.

It will hardly have escaped notice that virtually all dominant philosophical roads lead to

Rome, to environmentally unfriendly paradigms.

Stripped of metaphor, there are

environmental conditions of adequacy, which most philosophical systems fail to meet In an
environmentally friendly new world, most philosophy that is remembered, indeed most of the

humanities, is destined for scrapping. Prevailing philosophy is a serious impediment to
satisfactory environmental outcomes. Philosophy, not just Western philosophy, has by and
large been bad environmental news.52 It has supplied, or mightily assisted in supplying, main

unfriendly paradigms under which environments labour. Of course not everything has to be
tipped; much can be salvaged, arguments, subtheories and so on (and with intellectual tipping
there need be little material waste). Nor therefore is it as if an entirely fresh start has to be

made. As well as salvaged bits and pieces (which need to be carefully tested for soundness),
there are recessive paradigms and neglected traditions to look to for suggestions, and

inspiration, and perhaps to rehabilitate.
Richard Sylvan*

via Bungendore, OZ.
APPENDIX 1. Dominant philosophy has aided and abetted ruination of terrestrial


That dominant intellectual paradigms are dismal news for deep (nonchauvinistic)

environmental theory has been previously argued, in contraposed form.53 More recently

Hargrove has investigated, in detail, negative implications of the main philosophical tradition


It may be insisted that philosophy can make no difference, for instance to environmental
practice. It is not an expression of basic needs, or of any such practical matters. Exceptions to
such practical bravado have however to be recognised almost immediately; philosophy soon
enters for organizational, justificatory and explanatory ends. That concession still grossly under­
estimates the extent to which ideas, and more generally paradigms, influence and even govern
action and practice, especially reflective and rational action.
On the substantial point, not dierefore removed through the alleged practical impotence ot
philosophy, see Appendix 1.
An earlier version of this article was presented at die Environmental Paradigms Conference,
University of New England, Armidale, April 93. It would not have been written otherwise.
Notably at the end of EE, pp. 188-9.


for environmental theory and practice, especially/or environmental attitudes concerned with
nature and creature preservation, with nature appreciation and development of a proper
ecological perspective.54 However Hargrove has ventured some of his particularly challenging

themes in insufficiently careful form, thereby leaving himself unnecessarily vulnerable to
criticism and counter-claims. These include the criticisms assembled by Attfield, who, though

not unsympathetic to Hargrove’s case, has excessively weakened the themes. For example,

what Attfield presents as ‘substantially correct’ is Hargrove’s ‘verdict that the history of

philosophy has discouraged preservationist attitudes’, vastly less than Hargrove’s actual
negative verdict which comprehended considerably more than just “preservationist attitudes”,
and recorded a situation conspicuously worse than mere “discouragement” of nature and

creature preservation, as well as much else. Indeed it is worse than Hargrove has charged;

Hargrove’s indictment of mainstream philosophy is itself weaker than that here ventured, which

takes mainstream philosophy as thoroughly implicated in the present escalating environmental
mess, through its roles as a major source and supplier of operative ideas and paradigms.
There is a single qualification, invoked incidentally by Attfield himself, that would

remove much of Attfield’s criticism: a restriction to mainstream philosophy (or differently, to

dominant philosophy). Consider Attfield’s exceptions to ‘the adverse impacts of Western
philosophy’, those alleged ‘philosophical traditions that have encouraged taking nature

seriously’. Firstly, insofar as the Church Fathers, medieval Christians and others Attfield
alludes to are philosophers at all, they are entirely minor figures, unlikely to be known to many

philosophers, and but rarely or never referred to in regular philosophy courses; they do not form

part of mainstream philosophy.55 Secondly, these minor figures do not afford the clear support

for his claims that Attfield has regularly assumed.56 Many of the statements supposed to offer
support are ambivalent, or environmentally dubious, supporting some form of managerialism
(e.g. perfectionism or stewardship); and in any case they have to be set against the remainder of

what a figure says and does (so far as can be ascertained). After all, as regards the latter matter,
there are isolated claims in major philosophers (Plato is regularly cited in this regard) which

may make them appear environmentally aware and even sympathetic.
Although Plato’s philosophy generally suggests that he neither knew or cared
about environmental problems, one passage in the Critias shows that he was
very much aware of at least one problem: the effect of deforestation on soil

See e.g. Hargrove, p.21.
Consider the sorts of exceptions:
• minor philosophers, many of whom we know very little about, outside gossip and speculation,
such as Ilieophrastus, early Stoics, and lesser Epicureans.
• figures who are only secondarily or marginally philosophers, such as Hooke, Boyle, Ray and
• medieval and early modem Christians, who typically are not significant philosophers, and
were usually committed not the nature preservation and the like, but to nature management or
In work referred to on p. 127. The main historical claims, many of them based on secondary
sources, are stated in his The Ethics of Environmental Concern A more detailed criticism of
these claims will be made elsewhere.


quality in Greece during his own lifetime.57
Unfortunately Hargrove does but a comparatively poor job in accounting for what he
alleges, Plato’s indifference and lack of ecological concern.58 The reasons for Plato’s
indifference to serious ecological degradation of forests and soils in Greece can be ascribed to
a combination of several elements of Plato’s philosophy (a natural-world-dismissive ideology)

including: elevation of transcendental forms as what was truly real and really of value,

denigration and dismissal of the everyday natural world as utterly inferior, of entirely lower

existence or even illusory and certainly not of rational concern. This dualistic ontology and
axiology—a wonderfully valuable world of forms standing in complete contrast with the
illusory material world of perception—was supplemented and reinforced by a corresponding

epistemology. Under a tripartite theory of mind, the higher rational part, which gave epistemic

access to the forms, a part exhibited only by humans and more elevated beings, was sharply
separated from the two lower animal parts. Thus under Plato’s conception of the human,
humans and especially the important rational component of the human, stood in opposition to

nature; the distinctively human task is completely separate from nature and concerned with

control of it and its unruly elements. It is because what really has value—rational selves
cavorting among the forms—is separate from nature, transcending it, with nature at best

comprising very inferior copies, of lower existence, that it does not matter what happens to the

earth and earthly things, to mere matter, that is a matter of indifference. 59
APPENDIX 2. On the prominent roles of dominant philosophy in the inferiorization and

mistreatment of (mere) animals.

Although the attitudes concerned reach back to antiquity, and were rationalized in
classical Greek philosophy (through a theory of separate parts, “highest” of which was a soul or
rational component), the whole appalling affair was given an enormous stimulus by Cartesian

Descartes cherished a scheme
for a purely mechanistic science of physiology. Descartes compares the
human body to an ‘automaton’ and argues that had we sufficient knowledge
of the structure of its working parts we could explain even highly complex
behavioural responses in purely mechanical terms. The exception is thought,
and its external manifestation, language: this leads Descartes to assert a
fundamental divide between human beings and ‘the beasts’:
There are no men so dull-witted or stupid—and this includes even madmen—
that they are incapable of arranging various words together and forming an
utterance in order to make their thoughts understood, whereas no animal,
however perfect, can do the like. This is not because they lack the necessary
organs, for we see that magpies and parrots can utter words as we do, and yet
cannot speak as we do (i.e. show that they are thinking what they are saying).
By contrast, even men born deaf and dumb, and thus deprived of speech organs
as much as the beasts, or more so, normally invent their own signs to make


Hargrove, p.29.
This sort of problem arises not merely in regard to Plato, as Attfield observes, with decided
relish. There is little doubt but that Hargrove’s historical excess needs to be sharpened and much
elaborated, and, in some critical areas, rectified.
On this classical polarisation of nature and higher humanity, see Plumwood.


themselves understood ... This shows that the beasts do not merely have less
reason than man, but have no reason at all ...^®
These sorts of considerations have been immensely influential in establishing a received
fundamental ontological divide, not merely between humans and (other) animals, but between
humans and nature. But, as we should now appreciate, they are all subtly, or less subtly, astray,

and do not sustain the conclusion drawn.
Firstly, investigation reveals internal incoherence. No men are incapable of stringing
words together and forming utterances, yet many men are so incapable, not least those who are

dumb. As his differential objective demands, Descartes exaggerates what those bom deaf and
dumb may do—they do not ‘normally invent their own signs’, but may painstakingly learn a

sign language—by contrast with ‘the beasts’. But, as we are now learning, many animals,
whose organs are not well adapted to speech, can also painstakingly learn sign language.

Indeed they may communicate by signs and sounds (though not usually speech) “in the wild”.
There is no sharp cut-off, such as a fundamental divide presumes, between creatures that can, or
do, communicate by signs and sounds, and those who cannot, or do not.
Secondly, even less is there a significant boundary between those that can understand
inputs and reason, and those that cannot, or do not.

None of reasoning, thought and

understanding are inextricably or inexorably tied to speech, nor, more broadly, to language.60
For example, dogs, whose speech is rather limited (though they certainly communicate,

including to humans, by a range of different sounds, as well as signs), can understand and
respond to several hundred commands and the like (that is, to a number of the same order as the

vocabulary of basic languages). As for reasoning, the problem-solving capabilities of many

sorts of animals, especially laboratory rats, are now well (even excessively, for primal comfort)
Regrettably, Descartes has not been on his own, or out on an exceptional limb. Virtually

all past great philosophers insisted, if not on an unbridgeable gap, certainly on a difference in
kind of supreme philosophical importance, between humans and other animals. Only Hume

afforded a conspicuous exception to unedifying philosophical orthodoxy. Worse with other
supposedly fundamental divides, such as that partitioning off nonsentients, there appear to have

been no exceptions. The world was and is sharply divided, so it was and is imagined, into fixed
inflexible categories. Furthermore, despite Hume, Cartesian inputs have persisted, for instance

in the widespread philosophical idea—running contrary to an enormous body of evidence—that

animals have no interests, preferences or intentions, that they receive no satisfaction from what
they do or choose to do, and so on.
Cartesianism certainly assisted, not merely in changing philosophical method importantly,


Cottingham, Three Rationalists, p.15, also quoting Descartes.
For this reason, the “language of thought” conception, pervading much cognitive science, is
decidedly regressive. Nor is it necessary: combinatorial operations, which can perform a fine
representational job, provide an improved replacement for such a “language”: see DP chapter

but in altering metaphysics irrevocably, above all as regards human place in nature. As an

outcome of rectified method,
Philosophy, including physical science, becomes in Descartes a selfcontained discipline, guided by the light of reason; it has no need to be
supplemented by revelation, scripture, or ecclesiastic teaching.62
As to the new physics and its outcome in metaphysics,
despite a certain amount of judicious fudging over whether the earth ‘really’
moves, Descartes was firmly committed to the new Copernican cosmology,
whereby the Earth is dethroned from its central position. The Earth is simply
a planet, it has the same status as Mars and Saturn—‘bodies we do not make
so much of’... . What is more, the sun itself is only one star among
innumerable others, each of which is the centre of its own celestial ‘vortex’.
Descartes [rightly] saw all this as having important implications for human
life. The universe, as conceived of in medieval and scholastic cosmology,
was one which revealed, in all its details, the purposes of a benevolent
creator. In the words of Paracelsus, writing some hundred years before
Descartes ‘all things belonging to nature exist for the benefit of man’. For
Descartes the vastly expanded size of the post-Copernican universe, the
possibility of innumerable other worlds, and the insignificance of our planet
in comparison with the hugeness of the whole, made it impossible to continue
to regard man as the ‘dearest of God’s creatures’.... The belief that all things
exist for our benefit alone, says Descartes ..., involves a presumptuous view
of our status and a failure to recognize the unlimited vastness of God’s
So, in important respects, Cartesianism offered improvements and a way forward.

environmentally. But the message was mixed and muffled, as with that concerning final
causes, hostility to which Descartes justified as a corollary. No doubt final causes were used to

smuggle in divine purposes, specifically God’s special concern for the welfare of humans (no

doubt the Church and Church fathers who engaged in this smuggling were not to be trusted).
However undesirable practices could be weeded out, without eradicating respectable ones.
Over-zealous in just this fashion was the common 17th Century slogan, ‘Abandon final causes
and look for underlying structures’, which affords another example of explanatory skimping.64

Sound methodology can admit both internal structures and final causes.


dethroning, relegating or abandoning final causes was a major movement within modern
deanthropocentrization, so far as it has yet proceeded. Lovejoy has highlighted the matter. For,
according to him,
...physico-theological ideas came to rest on the assumption that all other
elements of nature were created for man’s sake, and therefore put man and
nature into an unequal relationship:
Tout est cree pour Thomme is at once the tacit premise and the triumphant
conclusion of that long series of teleological arguments which ... is one of the



Cottingham pp. 176-177. Unfortunately for Descartes’ grand systematic-doubt project, reason
was far from sufficient, and did need supplementation, though not through reinstatement of
established prejudice. Though judiciously shedding some ancient conventional wisdom (e.g.
concerning humans’ privileged control place in nature), Descartes was either forced or else felt
obliged to reinstate much received wisdom, through poorly concealed subterfuges, in order to get
his rationalistic roadshow moving.
Cottingham, ibid.
On the slogan, and the Church, see Cottingham p. 178. On skimping, see DP chapter 11.

most curious moments of human imbecility.65
APPENDIX 3. On Shepard’s approach to focal questions.

A remarkably sustained investigation of the focal questions is found in Shepard’s books.
In his Nature and Madness, he considers and quickly dismisses many of the stock responses to
focal questions suggested by contemporary luminaries (or by himself in earlier work), such as
lack of information, faulty technique, insensibility, greed, political inertia, change to agriculture

and settlement,66.... He would (and should, for his eliminative argument) have also dismissed

industrialization, state and corporate control, and so on.
More disconcertingly, for present purposes, Shepard claims that ‘a history of ideas’—
similarly no doubt a story of paradigms—will not serve; for it ‘is not enough to explain human
behaviour’ (p.3), it ‘seems too easy and academic’ (p.3), itself an easy and superficial criticism.

But if, for instance, the ‘dictum that nature should serve man’ and ‘insistence that animals feels
no pain’ should become widely entrenched, then they may well impact heavily on practice, as

accordingly appears to be the case. His slight further argument appears to miss the intended
target: ‘The meticulous analysis of these philosophies and the discovery that they articulate an

ethos beg the question’ (p.3). How, it can reasonably be inquired? What is offered is but the
facile, false, ‘ideas are impotent’ consideration, fostered by thinking and operating in terms of

causes (e.g. lower p.3), rather than reasons and (rational) explanation, and encouraged through

an attempted move to (what is explanatorily inadequate) pure behaviour. For a simple example
of the familiar explanatory roles of ideas and paradigms, consider an alternative explanation
through them. The admittedly bizarre (“crazy”) ‘turning everything into something man-made

and [or] man-used’ (p.5) is readily explained through dominant paradigms: that is the way it
acquires value, otherwise it is worthless. There is no need at all for psychopathology here.

Correspondingly Shepard briefly reviews and rejects several of the very partial, and often

hopeless, solutions suggested under stock responses to focal questions such as making
information, or better information, more widely available, bringing people from all walks of

like together, encouraging conviviality, hitting problems with smart technology, practicing
conservation, and so on.
Shepard’s own resolution is more readily reached from a further (meta-focal) question

that he proceeds to ask: why do humans persist in degrading their habitats once sources and
solutions are made transparent? He effectively argues by elimination: other sources (read as
causes) do not succeed in providing an answer; but ‘the idea of a sick society’ (which he leaps

to, without argument, p.4) does. Wrong on both counts: On the first because a non-causal
explanation in terms of ideological wiring can provide answers (listen to politicians,


Pepper p.44, quoting Lovejoy.
No doubt a popular picture of human social changes with agriculture and settlement ir simplistic:
that before societies lived in harmony, afterwards they did not. But it is also too simple to go on
to claim, as Shepard does, that ‘the economic and material demands of growing villages and
towns are ... not causes but results of this change’ (p.3). Some demands appear to derive from
factors, such as population pressures, which were among causes of the changes.

representative of the people, again, just a little time). On the second because some industrial
societies are not sick in a normal sense (though some may be), rather sickness has to be so

redefined (such low redefinitions are among underlying subplots67) that having certain
ideological commitments that are carried into practice counts as “sickness”.
So it is that Shepard arrives at his theme of ‘general, culturally-ratified distortions of

childhood, of massive disablement of ontogeny as the basis of irrational and self-destructive
attitudes towards the natural environment’ (p.ix). Succinctly, ‘there are profound psychic
dislocation at the root of modem society’ (p.xii). Psychic disorders have evolved: ‘over the
centuries major institutions and metaphysics might finally celebrate attitudes and ideas
originating in the normal context of immaturity [or]... adolescence ...’ (p. 15).

Having glided easily and invalidly to the idea of sick societies, in a mere three pages,
Shepard proceeds to diagnose in more detail the nature of the alleged sickness.68 It supposedly

arises, like other psychopathy with which it is immediately associated, in infancy, and is
manifest in life-long immaturity, with whole societies stuck in a kind of destractive
adolescence. No doubt there is something to some of what Shepard describes in child and

person development (not the ‘private demons’ and so on) or might well have described. There

is evidently, conspicuously in “new world” societies, wide commitment to a shallow juvenile
culture, adulation or imitation of immature media and sport models and flawed authority

figures, marginalization of the elderly, and so on, coupled with hyper-activity, violence and
vandalism. But, like political commitment to extensive economic activity, this is hardly

satisfactorily accounted for through psychopathological reduction, concentrating the whole
social problematic in the ontogeny of individuals.69 A superior explanation to widespread

individual psychic disorder proceeds through ideological commitment, that industrial human
are raised and educated in, inducted into and committed to, defective ideologies without
coming to know or properly experience alternatives.
The ‘portraits of maturity’ alluded to likewise appear individualistic and culture-bound,

resembling those of deep ecology, directed at embroidery of person and self, through personal

For trickery through redefinition of sickness and madness, Wisdom has already prepared us.
Observe that Shepard’s redefinition of sickness to include sick (i.e. debasing and devaluing)
practices with regard to natural habitats (and conjoined therewith, to, older people) does not
leave no contrast classes. For there remain benign ‘relic tribal’ societies, such as the Manus,
Crow and Comanche, Aranda and !Kung San (p.xii), ‘people who feel themselves to be guests
rather than masters’ (p.6 empasis added)—an elegant analogy.
‘The idea of a sick society’, which as Shepard confesses (on p.4) is hardly new, is reached on the
third page of the main text.
A psychopathic reduction is in part made plausible by reexpression in medical or psychological
terms of what would better be otherwise expressed. Consider, for instance the language of the
following clever paragraph, which infiltrates much with no argument:
‘The person himself is, of course, caught between his inner calendar and the surgeries of
society. His momentum for further growth may be twisted or amputated according to the
hostilities, fears, or fantasies required of him, as his retardation is silently engineered to
domesticate his integrity or to allow him to share in the collective dream of mastery (p.16).
But the trapping of agents between inner directives and social conditions and demands, or
between rival ideologies, can be retold in different, less medical and metaphorical terms.

growth and identity, wider identification and relatedness, self-realization.70 They are not
exactly those of older and ecologically wiser societies. They do not reveal ecologically mature
mixed communities.
Furthermore, comparisons with relic tribal societies, which are important, can be

decoupled from psychopathological analysis and reduction. Different lifeways, commitments
and ideologies, are what they are and do not all reduce to matters of mental health.

Undoubtedly we can learn of and from these different societies. We can still witness ‘smallgroup, leisured, foraging life-ways with[in] natural surroundings.... there is the rub—... for us,

now, that world no longer exists’ (p. 14 rearranged). Nor is it really true that such a world is no
longer accessible to most of us; more leisured small-group ways can be retrieved, some natural
surrounding can even now be restored.
In a curious fashion, Shepard has managed to invert likely causal relations. While a

certain interaction can no doubt be conceded, it is not so much human ill-health that is leading
to environmental degradation, but rather environmental degradation, generally brought about

for other reasons, that is increasingly leading to human ill-health, and in the longer term causing
erosion of life-support systems.

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Richard Sylvan, “Box 15, item 951: Paradigmatic roots on environmental problems,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed December 10, 2023,

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