Environmental Ethics

Volume 19, Issue 2, Summer 1997

Peter Wenz
Pages 205-216

Philosophy Class as Commercial

Because commercialism tends toward environmental degradation, selection and treatment of the philosophical canon are environmental matters. Environmentalists and others who teach early modern and modern philosophy should, I argue, alter typical pedogogical approaches that (usually unwittingly) reinforce common assumptions underlying commercialism and promote anti-environmental perspectives. Typical treatments of Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Kant, Hume, and Bentham focus on human selfishness, mind-body dualism, the subjectivity of values, and the mathematical nature of reality, positions that are frequently identified as contributing causes both of the environmental crisis and of commercialism. The alternative, I argue, is to place canonical thinkers in historical perspective within a history of ideas that also includes such writers as Montaigne, Erasmus, Reid, Burke, Goethe, and Emerson. Such courses can be historically accurate, pedagogically sound, and environmentally benign.