Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 33, Issue 2, 2023

Environmental Philosophy as World Philosophy

Charles Brown
Pages 273-288

Leopold, Husserl, Darwin and the Possibility of Intercultural Dialogue

J. Baird Callicott et al. have argued that Aldo Leopold developed a descriptive technique that has something in common with phenomenology and that it would not be farfetched to explore A Sand County Almanac as a kind of Heideggerian clearing in which usually unnoticed beings come to light. They further suggest that Leopold describes animal others as fellow subjects who co-constitute the world and that through his method of observation, description, and reflection Leopold reveals a “multi-perspective experience of a common environment” that discloses an inter-species intersubjectivity comparable to Husserl’s more formal descriptions of intersubjectivity. I shall argue that the similarities between Husserl and Leopold are stronger and deeper than Callicott et al. suggest. Husserl’s method is designed to expose what has been hidden by “ideological positivism,” while Leopold’s method is designed to reveal what has been concealed by what he labels “conventional physics. Both agree that what we might today call a “scientistic worldview” denies, devalues, and dismisses subjectivity, meaning, and value from rational discourse. In Husserl’s view this leads to cultural crisis and barbarism, while in Leopold’s view it leads to ecological catastrophe. For Husserl the only alternative is a cultural renewal rooted in a rethinking of the dominant scientistic worldview while for Leopold the alternative lies in the construction of a new ethical system. These two alternatives are deeply compatible. Finally, I will discuss the ways in which Husserl’s understanding of the intentionality of our subjective experiences and Leopold’s integration of the evolutionary and ecological kinship of humans and non-humans with the social sciences have important implications for the possibility of intercultural understanding and dialogue and thereby allow us to overcome the thesis of incommensurability that denies the possibility of meaningful intercultural understanding and dialogue.