Grounding Knowledge: Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, and Place

Grounding Knowledge: Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, and Place

Grounding Knowledge: Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, and Place

Grounding Knowledge: Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, and Place

Excerpt

This is a book about the connections between place and mind. It describes how our physical environment comes to play an important role in structuring the way we think. I argue that organisms that know things about the world are situated beings, beings cognitively grounded in the worlds from which they speak. An important part of this grounding is a physical location among material realities such as mountains and freeways, oceans and apartment buildings, trees and automobiles, factories and crowds. These physical things lend shape to mental activity. They comprise some of the important factors relevant to how we know.

To give this book an academic location, it is a work in postmodern epistemology. It is “epistemology” because it is a study of what is going on when we claim to know something about the world. It is “postmodern” because it builds upon work in the late twentieth century that began to unravel modernist views of how we know the world. One version of this unraveling is told in the first chapter. Although the book claims a postmodern location, I articulate a version of postmodernism that is deeply ambivalent about some of the signature claims of the movement. In particular, a large part of the point of this book is to show that postmodernists have unwittingly retained one of the critical weaknesses of the view they intended to supersede. This critical weakness is a form of human-centeredness that can usefully be called “anthropocentrism.”

Anthropocentrism is an overemphasis on the centrality of human values and concerns at the expense of nonhuman ones. In ethics, anthropocentrists maintain that humans are the primary—and often the only—centers of value in the world. They deny that anything nonhuman has any value in itself. Nonanthropocentric ethicists, by contrast, regard nonhuman nature as a source of its own value. In epistemology, anthropocentrists likewise are guilty of neglecting the nonhuman world when they offer critical analyses of why thought and belief take the particular shape they do. Anthropocentrists consider only human-centered social factors for explaining the shape of our knowledge claims. A non-anthropocentric epistemology such as the one articulated in this book, like a non-anthropocentric ethic, looks beyond simply social and cultural factors when trying to answer the question of why knowledge is shaped the way it is. Such an epistemology insists that the physical realities of the environments in which beliefs are formed are relevant to the ways people know. It refuses to let knowledge float free of its connections to our embodied and embedded nature in the physical world. In short, a non-anthropocentric . . .

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