Box 21, Item 705: Draft of Grand philosophies and environmental crises: many problems and a few solutions

Title

Box 21, Item 705: Draft of Grand philosophies and environmental crises: many problems and a few solutions

Subject

Printout (photocopy) of draft, with emendations and annotations, dated 23 May 1995.

Description

One of ten papers digitised from item 705.

Creator

Source

The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 21, Item 705

Date

1995-05-23

Contributor

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

Rights

For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

Format

[18] leaves. 50.54 MB.

Type

Manuscript

Text

23.5.95

GRAND PHILOSOPHIES AND ENVIRONMENTAL CRISES:
many problems and a few solutions, i
Much of what follows is organised around the following

thesis, which it

aims to further, to sharpen and support:
mainstream Western philosophy is dismal environmental news,

or still more colloquially and generally, mainstream philosophy continues to be bad socioenvironmental news. Presumably that expands, in turn, to something like: grander mainstream

Western philosophy continues to be a significant factor in the ideologies (or paradigms) that
inform destructive social and environmental practices. There are some striking corollaries,

among them that, like dialectical material in Eastern Europe, such Western philosophy should

be substantially abandoned, its furthering and frequent celebration in the schools and

universities discontinued, its place taken by more benign humble alternatives.
Sharpening the anti-mainstream thesis.

All the qualifications prove to be important.
recessive traditions that are comparatively benign.

because there are lesser or
because small-scale analytic

philosophy for example, while likely operating within a damaging paradigm, may have little or

no impact on its own (consider the impact of a philosopher who spends all research time on the
unexpected examination problem). Weyarn, because classical Taoism affords a counter­

example to the anti-mainstream thesis, virtually however it is sharpened.^ However the
qualification

is decidedly narrower than need be, and moreover gives a misleading

impression. For conspicuous non-Westem philosophy, such as Confucianism and Islam, is

also dismal news. Other major philosophies can, and do, drive environmental destruction as
well. Accordingly too what uniqueness there is to the Western role has to be differently made

out, in terms of its special (though perhaps inessential) linkage to industrialization.

Although it is expositionally advantageous to highlight present serious predicaments in
terms of crz'y<?y, one thing should be clarified at the outset. It is not essential, or even crmca/, to
the main arguments outlined that there should be environmental or other crises. It is enough

that severe

or the like is occurring. Some sort of responsibility for this will afford

a solid basis for criticism of a doctrine or practice.

1

The main tide evolved from that of Caldera,
unsuccessfully) for a Latin-American philosophy.

2

See, for instance, the explication of Taoism in UTD.

anJ CrAyAy, who was searching (rather

2

But, as it happens, conditions for crises are satisfied.^ There are crises conditions in

wany

in wany

(some of which we will simply allude to, as there is copious

documentation). Elsewhere, where crises have not yet broken, there are often near crises
conditions.

Many there are, of course, conspicuously politicians and economists, still labouring
under the impression that the current dominant ideology and its development model is not
obsolete, that all is more or less well. They imagine 'that we are passing through an unusually

severe but still cyclical crisis. That all we have to do is stimulate demand through public

investment and build up enough business confidence so that there is a recovery of private
investment and production. Then we can afford to resume 1 efforts to control environmental and

social problems.4 They have misread the signs. The problems are not merely cyclic or
temporary; they are intensifying (if in a wavelike pattern, with deterioration surging in, then

ebbing somewhat before the next bigger wave).
Nor are larger ideological cycles quite the same, though much of the rhetoric is similar

from cycle to cycle. No longer is it imagined that social or environmental problems can be
substantially resolved next times around business cycles (though the illusion that most of us

will be 'better off persists, conveniently propped by loaded statistics).

Comparisons, features and pedigree.
Of course European civilization has more to answer for than its environmental practice,

and its extraordinarily destructive impact on natural systems, especially non European systems.

It has to answer also for its impact upon humans, in particular classes, cultures or races marked
out as inferior (persisting prominently into this century, emanating from sources of high

Western culture). But for many of these human impacts Western philosophy does nor have to
answer, by contrast with other impacts.

Indicative of dominant environmental attitudes are attitudes towards and treatment of what
were, and often still are, seen as lesser humans: slaves, blacks^women, yokels, children, or so

on. Take women.

Among significant philosophers, virtually the only exception before

contemporary times is J.S. Mill, who, under feminine influence, deplored the subjection of

women. Unfortunately, for all the brilliant and oft-quoted Millean anti-mainstream passages,
Mill himself did not swim far out of the mainstream. Most notably he did not amend his
utilitarianism in the direction already contemplated by Bentham, to take passing account of the

3

For definitional details, see GE. For one of numerous summaries of present dire circumstances, see
Paleocrassas.

4

Paleocrassas p. 12: one among many voices.

3

interests and sufferings of other animals. Human chauvinism survived, relatively unscathed,
for all that Mill deplored loss of flowers and habitats, throughout his works.
Features of the anti-mainstream thesis, its justification and relevant qualifications, can be

brought out by considering its pedigree. Partial versions of, or variations upon, an anti­
mainstream thesis can be found in several sources; for instance in the deeper-environmental and

rival-paradigms productions of the 70s. Consider the following examples:
* the contrast of the Cartesian technocratic paradigm with the person planetary paradigm, where

destructive environmental attitudes and practices are ascribed to adherence to the CartesianEnlightenment analytic-reductionist mind-set?

Similar related clusters of contrasts appeared across social sciences, in political science,
sociology and economics. For example

* the dominant modem paradigm, essentially the same as the Cartesian technocratic paradigm
was contrasted, by Rodman, with a benign classical paradigm.

* the dominant social paradigm, another version of the same environmentally oppressive

schemata, was contrasted, by Colgrove and Duff, with the alternative environmental paradigm.
All these and other similar examples were duly elaborated in work on the roles (and limits) of

paradigms in environmental thought and action.6 A critical point is that what social scientists
were digging up (and reditching) was pretty much what mainstream philosophy was espousing

or assuming (and, despite the new global wave of environmentalism, not that much has
changed philosophically).
It is worth recording that restricted versions of these contrasts (which do not touch basic
shallow utilitarian assumptions) are now being presented and considered not only by academic

theorists but by bureaucrats and working politicians and economists. Thus for example

* a new development model, as contrasted with the current development model, outlined by a

member of the European Commission (I. Paleocrassus)—who incidently devotes much space to
documenting the present environmental crises (environs?!; construed in a wide sense, to

encompass decaying and dangerous urban environments often unfit for human habitation).
Many features of the crisis are attributed to a faulty development model, portrayed as once
perhaps appropriate, but no longer so? But there is more, much more to it than that.
5

Just such a contrast was elaborated by Drengson, drawing heavily upon Roszak.
documentation then, see their work.

6

Thus Routley in an exercise with just that title. Needless to add, paradigms are rough and uneven.
Some components of them have much more to answer for than others. For example, possessive
individualism with its self-interest hypothesis, has been a particularly damaging part of dominant social
ideology.

7

Curiously, though his entire discussion circulates aroun^ 'the current

For

model', what

4

The current ubiquitous development model did not derive from nothing, but is, in main,

an Enlightenment parcel, fuelled by ideals of material progress and the like, which is duly

underpinned by the dominant social paradigm.a It is not enough to simply change the
development model; what drives it has also to be changed, namely the supporting philosophy.

Development of pf anti-mainstreamism in recent critical philosophy.

Differently, impacts of thorough-going (deep) environmental ethics, and of deep ecology,
on philosophy and social theory were being assessed. It was observed that very much in
mainstream philosophy would have to be jettisoned or substantially modified.^ Heavily

targetted were forms of idealism, including phenomenalism and existentialism, and forms of
empiricism. But the criticism swept much further, to prevailing metaphysics and 'the limiting
ideological principles of both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment". In effect the criticisms
extended to mainstream Western civilization.

But no doubt claims here are technically different, because, for all the merits of deep
positions, it is not usually being suggested that environmental storms could not be weathered to
some extent under shallow cover, *o or that duly environmental but shallow philosophies are in
some way responsible for gathering environmental crises.

More sweeping anti-mainstream theses have been stated however by Hargrove, by Gare,
and by others, including famous philosophers in their latter days.n To the late Heidegger we
appear to owe a rather interesting (if abominable) argument, which runs as follows:
Western philosophy
— or some such, with

-*

technological mastery (supremacy dominance)

->

environmental destruction

' symbolising leads to, or yields (granted

fo faces a validity

issue).

supply its components. But what can be gleamed indicates that it is a submodel of the dominant
social paradigm. For instance, we are informed that natural resources are treated as 'expendable raw
materials or even worse as free goods' (p.24), in effect as without initial value.
8

For details see DP, and in condensed form Sylvan 95.

9

Notably at the end of EE, pp. 188-9.

10

Deep positions divide significantly on this issue. For it is now widely argued that shallow environmentalism
coMp/gJ
heavy technofix— a common position among scientists—is not going to succeed.

11

See Hargrove and Gare, and the ensuing discussion below in the text.
It is a little tempting to suggest that Hargrove presents his thesis as it were by accident, given how
little he actually does to defend it. In the main, Hargrove looks as if he is repeating Roszak and
Drengson rather than proceeding to a larger sounder claim.

5

If something like this enjoyed plausibility, it would support a
philosophy

end.

an evident premiss.

That argument is by contraposition, and

thesis: Western
transmission from

(Thatherites and Wittgensteinians and others of a decidedly mixed

company, reached a similar conclusion, that philosophy should end, by entirely different, very
dubious by-roads.) There are several problems with the Heidegger schema. For one thing, the

argument leaves out other critical components of an important environmental impact equation:
notably excess human population and excess human consumption.
In any event, Heidegger certainly thought that philosophy—as distinct from a quasi-

mstical "thought"—should end. But he exaggerated the importance of such an outcome by
exaggerating, in characteristic German style, the importance of philosophy, the importance of

German philosophy above all. For example he supposes that modem German philosophy
influenced the rise of industrialism and all it brought in train. It can be plausibly contended,
however in characteristic disparaging British style, that philosophy had comparatively little
influence in such ultimately damaging development as European agricultural and industrial
revolutions (for example, technology, but not philosophy, played a role in the invention of

artifical dyes, a development which can be seen as setting European industrialization in train:)

But such examples do not penetrate deep enough to the conditions of an^preparation for change.
There are myriad ways in which philosophy has shaped historical developments: through
its major input into (other) ideologies such as religions, through its place in politics and law.

With Protestan philosophy in ^particular, basic ground for industrialism was prepared, the
further development of highly exploitative Christen attitudes to nature (and to programs) and of
appropriate attitudes to technology, disciplined education and inculcation of a work ethic, and so

on. Or consider, for instance, the fairly direct role of philosophy in the formulation of modem
theories of property (notably by Locke) which enabled dispossession and displacement of native
peoples in coroized lands. Consider its less direct role in the- preparing ground for
(^^(industrialization, the presumption that the earth, its habitats and other inhabitants and its matter

were of no value, but of value only as transformed by industrial activity, that entrepreneurs
were free to do whatever they liked with them. No doubt many untoward things would have

happened without much philosophy, where philosophy had little influence (as with habitat

destruction by excessive populations of animals). But wherever theory operated to influence

12

The form of the argument is extracted from Passmore's end-of-philosophy address (thanks to
Passmore too for further comments). The argument is much harder to find in Heidegger's later
work. But rudiments are present. The first linkage of philosophy and technology is managed by an
extraordinary redefinition of technology (see p.17?)^/For the second linkage Heidegger was
presumably reflecting upon high destructiv&-teehnology of war, nuclear weapons and so on. Note
however that the middle term has changed; so the argument fails, courtesy the ancient fallacy of
equivocation.

"7

?
.

6
practice, philosophy would have served negatively, as a prime element of

That

could be a significant rubber philosophy today.

Whatever the extend (arguably, substantial) to which they actually impinge, main
philosophical traditions and ideologies do have very negative implications for environmental

theory and practice. So much has been argued or alleged, in one fashion or another, in several
contemporary sources.^ For example, Hargrove has recently investigated, in greater detail,

negative implications of mainstream philosophy for three environmental reaches: environmental
attitudes concerned with nature and creature preservation, with nature appreciation, and with
development of a proper ecological perspective. 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

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':-

Firsf/y, insofar as the Church Fathers, medieval Christians and others that 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. Consider the sorts of exceptions:

* minor philosophers, many of whom we know very little about, outside gossip and

speculation, such as Theophrastus, early Stoics, and lesser Epicureans.

13

On the rule in philosophy, and in environmental thought in particular, of resistance, see the
discussion of Rodman's preferred fourth ideal type, Ecological Resistance, REE, p.l46ff.

14

For example, see Hargrove, p.21.

7
* figures who are only secondarily or marginally philosophers, such as Hooke, Boyle, Ray and
Evelyn.

* medieval and early modem Christians, who typically are not significant philosophers, and in
fact were usually not committed to nature preservation and the like, but to nature management
or perfection.

these minor figures do not afford the clear support for his claims that Attfield has
regularly assumed.15 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 that can be ascertained), often telling against substantial environmental

sensitivity and concern.
As regards the latter matter, there are, inversely, 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
shows that
he was very much aware of at least one problem: the effect of deforestation
on soil quality in Greece during his own lifetime.^
Unfortunately Hargrove does but a comparatively poor job in accounting for what he alleges,

Plato's indifference and lack of ecological concern. 1?
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
15

In work referred to on p. 127. The main historical claims, many of them based on secondary sources,
are stated in his
of Fnvironwgnro/ Concern. A more detailed criticism of these claims
will be attempted elsewhere.

16

Hargrove, p.29.

17

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.

8

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.^

A significantly better critical exercise, as regards not merely Plato, but the extensive and
important neo-Platonic tradition, is effected by Gare, who also advances however an

insufficiently specified version of the anti-mainstream thesis. In fact Gare tends to slide back
and forth from Western civilization and metaphysics, both of which are too wide, to
mechanistic materialism (and social Darwinism), which is much too narrow, particularly if

social Darwinism is included (about which Gare vacillates). The latter leaves out such

damaging sources as Cartesianism and contemporary idealism; the former would include the
recessive Western metaphysical tradition Gare wants to refurbish, what has grown into

"process" philosophy. So while there is a great deal of worthwhile historical documentation to
be found in Gare, the target thesis has so far eluded his critical exercise.
While the restriction of the anti-mainstream thesis to Western doctrine is both somewhat

misleading and more confining than need be, that to mainstream is different. Something of the
sort is essential.

But it itself raises other difficulties, beginning with: what counts as

7K<2m.yfr<?<27?i? How is the image cashed out? A contextual explication is conveniently
straightforward, an abstract definition of 'mainstream' in terms of the principal course or flow

less helpful.

By mainstream Western Philosophy —Western philosophy providing the

context—is meant the principal movements in that philosophy, the chief philosophers and
schools and their relevant philosophical interrelations. And who and what these are gets
shown, nearly ostensively in some cases (with portraits and diagrams), in histories of Western
philosophy. 19 Shorter and less encyclopaedia histories in fact tend to portray just the sought '

mainstream (that they differ somewhat in coverage does not matter, but emphasizes, in a superb

valuational fashion the blurred edges of this typically vague mainstream). Long histories

18

On this classical polarisation of nature and higher humanity, see Plumwood.
elaboration, see Gare.

19

One admirable example in this regard is B. Russell's Wiy^fow of the Wejr, a popular work with a
title that should be viewed henceforth, given that Russell was serious, with some incredulity.

For requisite

It is a little surprising, too, that the usual ameritical apriorism about the natural world and its
other inhabitants, should pervade Russell's work. But consider, to take just one example, the
inaccurate and demeaning comparison of animals with humans that fires up his neglected analysis
Power.

9

usually indicate the mainstream both by the way they apportion their space, and also in their

judgements as to what is important, which were principal movements, and so on.
The essential qualification, to mainstream or similar, is ^Independently grasped by Singer
in his account of the dominant western paradigm and his brief but pointed criticism of

Aristotlianism and mainstream Hebrew and Christian philosophy.
The biblical story of creations, in Genesis, makes clear the Hebrew view of the special

place of human beings in the divine plan:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and
let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of
the air, and over the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth
upon the earth.
And God blessed them, and God said upon them, Be fruitful, and
multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion
over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every
living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Today Christians debate the meaning of this grant of 'dominion'; and those ,
concerned about the environment claim that it should be regarded not as a license
to do as we will with other living things, but rather as a directive to look after
them on God's behalf, and be answerable to God for the way in which we treat
them. There is, however, little justification in the text itself for such an
interpretation; and given the example God set when he drowned almost every
animal on earth in order to punish human beings for their wickedness, it is no
wonder that people should think the flooding of a single river valley is nothing
worth worrying about. After the flood there is a repetition of the grant ofj^\^v
dominion in more onimous language:
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of
the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all the^ moveth upon
the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they
delivered.
The implication is clear: to act in a way that causes fear and dread to everything
that moves on the earth is not improper it is, in fact, in accordance with a God­
given decree.
The most influential early Christian thinkers had no doubts about how man's
dominion was to be understood. 'Doth God care for oxen?' asked Paul, in the
course of a discussion of an Old Testament command to rest one's ox on the
sabbath, but it was only a rhetorical question—he took it for granted that the
answer must be negative, and the command was to be explained in terms of
some benefit to humans. Augustine shared this line of thought; referring to
stories in the New Testament in which Jesus destroyed a fig tree and caused a
herd of pigs to drown, Augustine explained these puzzling incidents as intended
to teach us that 'to refrain from the killing of animals and the destroying of
plants is the height of superstition'.
When Christianity prevailed in the Roman Empire, it also absorbed elements of
the ancient Greek attitude to the natural world. The Greek influence was
entrenched in Christian philosophy by the greatest of the medieval scholastics,
Thomas Aquinas, whose life work was the melding of Christian theology with
the thought of Aristotle. Aristotle regarded nature as a hierarchy in which those
with less reasoning ability exist for the sake of those with more:
Plants exist for the sake of animals, and brute beasts for the sake of
man—domestic animals for his use and food, wild on^ (or at any
rate most of them) for food and other accessories of life, such as
clothing and various tools.

10

Since nature makes nothing purposeless or in vain, it is undeniably
true that she has made all animals for sake of man.
In his own major work, the Si/wima
Aquinas followed this passage
from Aristotle almost word for word, adding that the position accords with
God's command, as given in Genesis. In his classification of sins, Aquinas has
room only for sins against God, ourselves, or our neighbours. There is no
possibility of sinning against non-human animals, or against the natural world.
This was the thinking of
C/irfyham/y for at least its first eighteen j
centuries. There were gentler spirits, certainly, like Basil, John Chrysostom^
And Francis of Assisi, but for most of Christian history they have had no
significant impact on the dominant tradition. It is therefore worth emphasising
... major features of this
Weyarn
because these features can
serve as a point of comparison when we discuss different views of the natural
environment.
According to the dominant Western tradition, the natural world exists for the
benefit of human beings. God J^fave human beings dominion over the natural
world, and God does not care how we treat it. Human beings are the only
morally important members of this world. Nature itself is of no intrinsic value,
and the destruction of plants and animals cannot be sinful, unless by this
destruction we harm humans beings.20

/

Singer goes on to labour the familiar point that anthropocentrism of this harsh tradition
need not exclude some concern for the preservation of nature. But for most of recorded history
is has not include^much concern. However, lesser Christian, notably stewardship and
perfectionism, while they lessen some of the brutal impact of domination upon the natural

workd, offer little improvement upon longer term insidious environmental erosion, or as
regards retention of emphasized and enhancement of biodiversity.
As distinctively, the rival humanist paradigm of modem times, running from the French
enlightenment through 20th century Anglo-American empiricism, as exemplified in Russell,
Ayer and Quine among many other luminaries, differs from mainstream Christianity only in

leaving God out of the account (as He does not exist, He is utterly impotent, so to illicitly say).

Exceptional human features themselves, naturalistically achieved, justify dominion and
domination.
Outline of a main argument
Detailed argument for the anti-mainstream thesis, as refined, is, so to say, case by case,

through cases in the mainstream history, considering main philosophers and main schools.

Some of this hard detailed work, some already illustrated, has been carried out, in more or less
detail^ by others: Drengson, Gare, Hargrove, Heidegger and Passmore, among many others.

But, within that uneven treatment, there remain conspicuous gaps. For example, among the
principal 17th century rationalists, while there is much material upon Descartes (along now with

20

Singer pp.265-8, itals added. Singer prefers fracton discourse to the substantially equivalent
(historical linkage diminished) paroJfgm discourse.

11

a conservative back-lash defending Descartes), and some increasingly divisive material upon

Spinoza, there is little at all on Leibnitz.
As there is no prospect here of reworking the dismal history of Western philosophy, case
by case, let us consider a few illustrative examples, which help plug some obvious gaps. Take

again the distinguished early modem rationalists—Descartes, Leibnitz and Spinoza— as

examples. Descartes' significant negative contribution is now well-known, so much so that
Descartes is sometimes represented as the main villain of the environmental pieced Owing to

the premature enthusiasm of various deep ecologists for Spinoza's contribution, the blacker
environmental feature of Spinoza's theory have been enthusiastically exposed to view by a

jubilant opposition. As a result, some deep ecologists have back-tracked, but only a little:
Some Spinoza scholars have recently claimed that an ecological interpretation
of Spinozism is not justified. There are notes in the
where Spinoza
says that we can treat other animals in any way which best suits us. [These
authors] have argued and although the metaphysics is nonanthropocentric,
the ethics is rightfully anthropocentric. Schopenhauer, who was steeped in
Eastern philosophy, was quick to pick up on the anomolous attitude of
Spinoza toward other animals: "Spinoza's contempt for animals, as mere
things for our use, and declared by him to be without right, is thoroughly
Jewish, and in conjunction with pantheism is at the same time absurd and
abominable." Ame Naess and I agree that Schopenhauer was correct in his
criticism of Spinoza. Naess admits that although Spinoza himself was what
we would now call a "speciesist", his system is not speciesist.^
If Spinoza's system includes his anthropocentric ethics (and is not illegitimately restricted to an
ecologically convenient selection from his holistic metaphysics), then it seems Waess is astray.

The negative character of Spinoza's contribution was rediscovered by Bookchin (unversed in
basic deep ecological texts), who applies this finding to lambast deep ecology regarding 'double

standards' in its
one-sided treatment of philosophers and philosophical traditions. Spinoza,
for example is cast frequently as a nouveau Taoist and is interpreted more in
the romantic tradition than in the scholastic one to which he has more
affinities, despite his many differences with medieval thinkers. That this
great thinker was militantly antliopocentric is consistently ignored by deep
ecologists, as far as I have been^able to ascertain. I have yet to encounter
any attempt to explain Spinoza's extraordinary statement: "Besides man, we
know of no particular thing in nature in whose mind we may rejoice, and
whom we can associate with ourselves in friendship or any sort of
fellowship; therefore, whatsoever there be in nature besides man, a regard
for our advantage does not call on us to preserve, but to preserve or destroy
according to its various capabilities, and to adapt to our use as best we

21

Thus for example by Dregson.

22

Session, in Appendix D to Devall and Sessions, p.240.

23

Bookchin, p.261. The quotation from Spinoza's Ethics is fully cited in Bookchin.

<'

12

So much for sensitive treatment of natural environments and their other inhabitants! Spinoza

appears to have irreparably damaged any claim to exceptional positive standing.
So far the third of the great rationalist trio, Leibnitz, appears to have escaped critical re-

....... (in a

history of philosophy). Yet, as it happens, Leibnitz's position can be applied

to illustrate features of considerable green generality. In brief, any philosophy is liable to be

environmentally unfriendly that guarantees satisfaction of all or enough elements of the
consumption impact equation, and so would generate excessive impacts. Leibnitz s overall
position does just that, consider what might be called

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 familiar
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).^ Secondly, Leibnitz was a technology enthusiast;
he was heavily committed to the development and use of scientific technology, for which he had
all sorts of schemes (e.g. not only the

intended to encapsulate all of

knowledge in an accessible useable form, a complete calculus duly mechanised, but as well
numerous technological projects.2$). 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 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.26

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

24

For Leibnitz's anticipation of utilitarianism, see Hruschka. For Leibnitz's immediate application
of the principle, to support human population increase, see p.172.

25

'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.

26

Cottingham p.24, p.26.

13

Leibnitz's philosophy—of a different unauthentic subphilosophy—do admit environmental

bending and adaptation, in a way that Descartes' philosophy does not at all easily.
Leibnitz has sometimes been accounted environmentally friendly. Some of that apparent

friendliness appear due rather 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 'cMwu/Zafive/y make undesirable changes in nature' .27 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 /hi/mg 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' .28
An important corollary does emerge: that a promising new partial 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 philosophies, social theories and life-

27

Glacken p.478. As he remarks, these bold assumptions made by Leibnitz have proved wrong. The
preposterous infaHibihty-in-practice assumption has resurfaced recently in a less attractive aspect of
the Gaia hypothesis as peddled by Lovelock.

28

Glacken p.506.

styles. It is almost enough to consider the theories and practices, commitments and lifestyles of

Aristotle, Leibnitz and Whitehead.^
A different example is furnished by mainstream British philosophy, a philosophy which

has influenced much of the English speaking world for the worse, environmentally and
otherwise. This philosophy is highly empiricist in orientation, with this empiricism expanding

through ethics and social theory in the form of utilitarianism, typically a possessive
individualistic human chauvinistic utilitarianism. 30

Despite appearances and propaganda, there has been compentively little improvement in

recent times. Shallow utilitarianism persists as the main

cal informant of and input

into social sciences, including fashionable new areas such as ecological economics, public
choice theory,... . Incidentally, not much is to be expected in the way of deeper change from
contemporary universities and research institutions from where these new fashions emanate.
For these are, by and large, part of the advanced industrial problematic; they are, almost without

exception, urbanocentric conjectural-knowledge factories. The other main movements in

Anglo-American philosophy are even more conservative, for example analytic philosophy and
its variants, such as cor^epttial analysis, and Wittgensteinianism. For they leave almost
everything as it is, asunvisionmentally unsatisfactory as it is.31

Nor is recent Continental philosophy, a main contrast class, any better, but in many

which are the predominant form. But existentialism and phenomenalism, as well as passe-isms
such as Marxism, are mixed in human chauvinism. Social criticism which has at least seriously A /

addressed wider environmental problems, remains shallow. For example, the communcational'

theory of Habernus favours articulate humans, and includes other animals and the rest of

creation from any but very secondary roles.

Modest out-fall.

No doubt the anti-mainstream thesis is not the sort of proposition that most philosophers
care to encounter. For one reason, it may seem like offering free ammunition to those who
29

Leibnitz's standing in the history of philosophy is somewhat curious. His main achievement,
setting aside his reputation as an intellectual wizard with /oty of ideas, appears to be spasmodic
work upon a beautiful ruin, an incomplete (and incompletable) metaphysics, of which only
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.

30

For elaboration and defence of these stark claims, see "Dominant British ideology'.

31

This theme is developed, in a social setting, by Gelher. His case applies, with over more force, to
environmental matters.

15

would like to put an end to philosophy, for political or ideological purposes. But it does not:
not without a serious confusion of change, or end m present dominant form, with end, end

period. For another, it may appear to give reinforcement to those who, with scant justification,
have prematurely pronounced the end of philosophy.32 But this makes a similar confusion.

Spectacular conclusions such as those that have sometimes been drawn from

considerations like those assembled—such as, again, the end of philosophy, the demise of
grand philosophy, the deconstruction of metaphysics— do not then emerge. For one reason, it

is not philosophy, but only certain sorts of grand philosophy, that leads to disaster, and

accordingly is liable to rejection. No end is implied to less grand regional philosophies,
recessive metaphysics, or the like.

Development of some recessive alternative or other—different ones—is now a favoured

alternative idea (thus Gare and others advocating elaboration of process philosophy,
environmentalists favouring ecological paradigms, etc.). But a more effective course, duly
pluralistic, looks to locally and regionally based philosophies, with worthwhile linkages with

local aspirations and regional cultures.33

Once again, there are philosophies and

philosophies—and appalling regional philosophies (e.g. business philosophies, as promoted by

local chambers of commerce; fundamentalist philosophies stroked by organised religions).

Ways out, if they can be found, lie not through reproduction of dominant destructive ideologies

at local levels, but through less damaging alternatives, fitted to ecoregional circumstances.
Some broad corollaries of the anti-mainstream thesis are accordingly evident. Philosophy
teaching and practice should be drastically reorganised, almost everywhere. Many features of

historical approaches would be transformed. "Great thinker" and like series would vanish.
Celebratory aspect of philosophy approached through its history would be abandoned: both the
mainstream historic emphasis and the celebration. Grand but invariably flawed figures from

history would no longer be revered, or celebrated in the same way, even if some of their
argument are retained for exhibition or criticism. There would be new histories of philosophy,
A
different in different regions, with their own pantheons of prominent philosophers, pantheons

not set in stone. Nor would systematic philosophy remain unscathed. For its usual operational

framework is that of the dominant social paradigm. It would be relocated and reoriented.

32

Later authors tend to appeal back to earlier false prophets, notably Heidegger, who really had no
viable arguments. There are other, quite different, equally poor, arguments to an end to philosophy,
for instance those to an end of ideology, from the fall of one awful alternative, soviet
"communism". And so on; see also above.

33

No doubt this is an intended idea in Caldera, for all that it is scarcely articulated or developed.
Similarly in other productions in Latin-American philosophy.

16

There

be an end to the transfer of inappropriate models, technology (including

logical) and practices (as of temperate agriculture to tropical regions). There would be a

reduction in borrowing and unseemly imitations. Borrowed philosophy is inappropriate for
Latin America, or elsewhere in South. Consider French philosophy, which along with
A
Catholicism and Marxism, still tends to swamp what little happens in Latin America. The

mileau in which French philosophy occurs is n^ established, the infrastucture is not in place,

namely a variety of literary criticism and like mags, an active cafe society, and so on. French

philosophy does not export that well and, by and large, should not be imported, for all its
flashy fashionability.34
Regions should try to do their own appropriate intellectual things, importing only what

they really need. Regional philosophies do not, after all, have to start from nothing or

nowhere; they can draw upon and adapt what already has some local basis, perhaps a strong
base. What is more, they can be directly applied to prevent or delay outside destructive

incursions. For illustration, consider the place

recognised values of forests in

delaying grand pulpwood and integrated forestry [abstruction] projects. Through a regional

network a mesh of constraints can be introduced, controlling intrusions of unregulated or

prejudically regulated international capitalism. Compare a promising strategy for trying to
achieve a nuclear free world, building up by free or freed regions.

Nor does a case for ideological regionalism have to start from nothing. Some of the
arguments for regionalism in organisation also support or suggest regionalization in reaches of

ideas, including philosophy. For example, many of the advantages of subsidizarization
transfer.

None of this will be easy, or achieved without effort. Change is generally hard to achieve
against inertia. And most intellectuals, for all their craving to be first in little approved ideas,
are resistant to extensive change. Moreover the changes modestly proposed will not be simple;

there is not, and cannot be, a simple uniform alternative. What is needed is fragmentation,

pluralisation, regionalisation—unpopular, unfashionable ideas.
References

Aiton, E.J., Leibnitz A Biography, Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1985.

Attfield, R.,

/t&rory o/p/tf/ojop/ty

Environmental

Ethics 13(1991) 127-137.

34

We do not quite have world philosophy, any more than the world car (despite American efforts,
including Solomin & Higgins), but the numbermnainstream Odels is now rather small, and almost
all so fai/ are noisy and polluting.
A

17
Attfield, R., The Ethics of Environmental Concern, Second edition, University of

Georgia Press, Athens, 1991.

Bookchin, M., 'R^ZZ-ycoverZng ^voZMfZoK", Environmental Ethics 12(1990) c.261.
Caldera, A.J., Fiiosofia e Crise, Peia filosofia latino-americana, Editora Vozes,
Petropolis, Brasil, 1984.

Devall, B., and Sessions G., Deep Ecology, Salt Lake City, Utah 198 5.
Drengson, A, Beyond Environmental Crisis: from Techocrat to Planetary Person,

Peter Lang, New York, 1989.
Gare, A., Nihilism Incorporated, Eco-logical Press, Bungendore N.S.W., 1993.

Glacken, C.J., Traces on the Rhodian Shore, University of California Press, Berkeley,
1967.

Hargrove, E., Foundations of Environmental Ethics, Prentice Halls, New Jersey, 1989.
Heidegger, M., The End of Philosophy, Harper & Row, New York, 1973.

Hruschka, J., '7%^ gr^a^-yf AappZ/z^jj prZncZpZe anJ

^arZy German anrZcZparfan^ p/

ariZ/rarZan r/z^ozy", Utilitas 3(2)(1991) 165-177.
Passmore, J., '77z^ gzzz7 p/* p/zZZo.yop/zy', address on the occasion of his 80th birthday,

Australian National University, 1994.
Paleocrassas, Y., Environmental crime and punishment.

Towards a new

development model, Austemb, Brussells, 1994.

Plumwood, V., Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Routledge, London, 1993.
Roszak, T., Where the Wasteland^ Ends, Doubleday, Garden City New York, 1972.
Russell, B., Wisdom of the West.
Solomon, R., and Higgins, K., (eds ), From Africa to Zen, An Invitation to World

Philosophy, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, 1993.
Sylvan, R., 'DozzzZnanf I3rZfZ.y/z ZzZ^oZogy', typescript, Canberra, 1995.
Sylvan, R., 7wp<2cf p/gZ^rnafZve <yyyfe/?z.y ozz Z/z^ EzzZZg/z^zzzzz^zzr Prp/^crtypescript, Canberra,

1995.

Sylvan, R., Deep Plurallism, typescript, Canberra, 1992: referred to as DP.
Sylvan, R. and Bennett, D., The Greening of Ethics, White Horse, Cambridge, 1994:
referred to as GE.
Sylvan, R. and Bennett, D., '<y UfopZzzy, 7ho amZ D^p EcoZogyGreen Series #19, Research

School of Social Science Australian National University, 1990; referred to as UTD.

Routley, R., "RoZgj <2K<7 ZZzzzZ^ p/p^r^Zgmjy Zzz g7zvZrozzmg/zZ<2Z r/zozzg/zr azzJ z7crZozz",Green Series
#1, Research School of Social Science, Australian National University, 1982.

Russell, B., Wisdom of the West: a historicai survey of western phiiosophy in its
social and political setting, Ed. P. Foulkes, MacDonald, London, 1959.

Collection

Citation

Richard Sylvan, “Box 21, Item 705: Draft of Grand philosophies and environmental crises: many problems and a few solutions,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed April 23, 2024, https://antipodean-antinuclearism.org/items/show/173.

Output Formats