Briefly Noted (Vol. 1, No. 7)

Humans in Nature: The World as We Find It and the World as We Create It by Gregory Kaebnick

9780199347216-minAn expensive tome, but it is nevertheless well worth the read. It is yet another book I find myself indebted to related to The Hastings Center, a (truly) conservative think-tank that, among other things, deals with the relationship between nature and our modern technologies (other books and projects include The Eclipse of Man by Charles Rubin and The New Atlantis journal). I’ve yet to encounter a book that so clearly illuminates the nature/artifice distinction. Kaebnick eschews metaphysical speculation common in environmental ethics journals (see, e.g., Holmes Rolston III) and instead goes for a Humean account of morality, based in human nature and compatible with sociobiological insights. Those already aware of my sympathies for Hume will understand why this earns the book so many points.

Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit by Joshua Dienstag

41RzEZ57rKL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_-minRecommend by Chiaroscuro, the definition of a philosophical pessimist. With this book Dienstag hopes to renew interest in what he believes to be a marginalized philosophical tradition: pessimism. Chapter One is by far the most useful chapter for casual readers, expounding on the main tenets of pessimism, such as their criticality of Progress and the notion of human perfectibility. But those seeking to go more in-depth with their studies will be interested in the following chapters, each focusing on a specific pair or trio of philosophers who embody a variation of the pessimistic tradition. These philosophers include: Leopardi and (oddly) Rousseau; Schopenhauer and Freud; Camus, Unamuno, and Cioran; and, in a category all to his own, Nietzsche.

Dienstag also argues that Don Quixote is the quintessential pessimistic figure and that the aphoristic writing style so common among the pessimists is common for good reason: the literary form and the philosophy are, in fact, intimately linked. These, along with the arguments in Chapter One, were two of the most interesting sections for me.

I would recommend this book to those who are interested in the philosophical origins of the wildist critique of Progress and those who are interested in philosophy more broadly.

Reinventing Nature? by Gary Lease and Michael Soule (Eds.)

9781559633109-minThis collection of essays is the essential rejoinder to postmodern theorists from the wilderness conservation crew that also forms the backbone of conservation biology, The Wildlands Network, and The Rewilding Institute. The two best texts are by the editors themselves: the poignant and poetic introduction by Lease and the final essay by Soule. The other essays are still well worth reading, however, especially “Virtually Hunting Reality in the Forests of Simulcra” by Paul Shephard; “The Nature of Reality and the Reality of Nature” by Albert Borgmann; “Concepts of Nature East and West” by Stephen Kellert; and “The Dilemma of Wilderness” by David Graber.

On the other hand, readers can skip “Searching for Common Ground” by N. Katherine Hayes, overladen as it is with humanities jargon and invented words. And while “Cultural Parallax in Viewing North American Habitats” is a good essay, I’d recommend a more thorough approach offered by Dr. John Feeney in “Land Management Among Hunter/Gatherers: Questioning the Ubiquity Claims.”

Topics covered include the tension between wildness and biodiversity, hunter/gatherer land management and the relationship between indigenous peoples and nature, the possibility of a universal context for human values regarding nature, and the nature of reality itself, whether it is social, material, or something else. To illustrate the importance of the book, I’ll say only this: it is the first and perhaps only work I feel I need to turn to in discussions about postmodern critiques of nature. Highly recommended.

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