Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Philosophy

Major Professor

Ph.D, Willis H. Truitt

Keywords

wilderness, land ethics, environmental ethics, environmentalism, environment, philosophy

Abstract

The contemporary concept of wilderness, which is central to environmental theory and activism, is both a help and a hindrance to government policy and to popular environmental beliefs. The Judeo-Christian religious tradition and Locke's property theory provides much of the western cultural and historical basis of humans' environmental attitudes that basically engender exploitation. I argue that a more precise interpretation of Genesis and of Locke reveals that both sources actually promote environmental stewardship while decrying ecological abuse. Next I analyze the history and shortcomings of various wilderness concepts. These shortcomings are all forms of an exclusionist mentality and result in some harmful theoretical and practical applications.

Some of these applications include the separation of humans from nature, and the propensity of governments and the public to allow ecological degradation in non-wilderness areas. Yet there are beneficial aspects to wilderness that contribute to a deeper understanding of human nature and our place in the world. Wilderness helps us to remember our wild and primal aspects that provide a connection with nature. In light of the perils and power of wilderness I offer a new, radical, inclusive, and expansive notion of wilderness that I name "dwellness." Dwellness is a normative ethical position where all areas upon the earth ought to be viewed by people in the same way as wilderness areas are currently viewed, but with some modifications. Unlike wilderness, dwellness includes humans within nature and also contains the idea of sustainable living practices. To support dwellness I turn to Martin Heidegger.

By identifying the world as a place where we dwell and in which we belong, we come to a more profound understanding of Being, or existence, in general and of our own particular modes of being. By learning to look at the world in this new, yet old, way we may then understand how important and central is the world, a mode of Being, to the existence and maintenance of our Being. Finally, I answer some possible objections to dwellness. These objections revolve around problems of industrial pollution (waste), which, under dwellness, would have to be considered natural.

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