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Environmental Ethics

Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring 2003

C. A. Bowers
Pages 25-42

The Case against John Dewey as an Environmental and Eco-Justice Philosopher

Environmentally oriented philosophers and educational theorists are now attempting to clarify how the ideas of John Dewey can be used as the basis for changing cultural practices that contribute to the ecological crisis. Although Dewey can be interpreted as a nonanthropocentric thinker and his method of experimental inquiry can be used in eco-management projects, Dewey should not be regarded as an environmental and eco-justice philosopher—and by extension, his followers should not be regarded in this light. (1) Dewey’s emphasis on an experimental mode of inquiry did not take account of the knowledge systems of other cultures—particularly cultures that are more ecologically centered. (2) Dewey’s understanding of language prevented him from recognizing how the root metaphors (meta-cognitive schemata) he took for granted were also the basis, with several exceptions, of the Industrial Revolution. (3) Dewey’s failure to understand the complex nature of tradition, including the different ways in which intergenerational knowledge is shared and renewed, makes it difficult for his followers to address a central eco-justice issue—which is to regenerate within diverse cultural communities the non-commodified forms of knowledge, skills, and relationships that enable individuals and communities to have a smaller ecological footprint.

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