Why I Don’t Want to Get STEAMed

STEM education is all the rage: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the collection of disciplines regarded as the most desirable, the most likely to lead to financial success for individuals and economic growth for nations, the obsession of universities and policy makers alike.

I don’t know who was the first to consider the possibility of making a concession to the older and richer tradition of liberal-arts education in the United States, but I’ve also come across the acronym, STEAM, in which the ‘A’ stands for Arts.

That’s nice. Continue reading

Darwinian Humanism

In honor of Darwin Day 2015, I would like to revisit an odd paper I had published in Environmental Values in 2007, titled “Darwinian Humanism: A Proposal for Environmental Ethics“. I would here like to offer a few – I hope tantalizing – excerpts from my final typescript.

In hindsight, it was an odd and audacious paper, but one the right of which helped me to sort out my thinking about some basic distinctions in ethical theory.

According to the abstract:

There are two distinct strands within modern philosophical ethics that are relevant to environmental philosophy: an empiricist strand that seeks a naturalist account of human conduct and a humanist strand rooted in a conception of transcendent human freedom. Each strand has its appeal, but each also raises both strategic and theoretical problems for environmental philosophers. Based on a reading of Kantʼs critical solution to the antinomy of freedom and nature, I recommend that environmental philosophers consider the possibility of a Darwinian humanism, through which moral agents are understood as both free and causally intertwined with the natural world.

Along the way, I devote some attention to Darwin’s treatment of “the moral sense,” especially in The Descent of Man. Here’s an extended excerpt: Continue reading

Hydraulic Fracturing: Risk v. Acceptable Risk

I have said that the first day of our workshop on hydraulic fracturing, in November, brought out a long list of risks related to hydraulic fracturing and, indeed, the engineers and scientists who participated were quite adept at identifying such risks and possibilities for mitigation.

Something else came out during those first sessions, though, which I found troubling.

What I heard was simply a repeated assertion or implication that those who oppose hydraulic fracturing are moved to do so only by emotion, especially by fear. The assertion was reinforced with reference to certain bad actors in the public arena who engage in campaigns based on misinformation, distortion and possibly even fraud to manipulate the emotions of an uninformed public.

The underlying assumption of such claims, I think, is that there is a clean distinction between reason and emotion, and that only those who base their decisions on the methods and findings of the sciences have reason on their side.

Beneath this is a still deeper assumption that quantitative analysis is the essence of rationality. Continue reading

From the Archive: Freedom of Choice: Behavior and Action, Part 2

Carrying on from my last archival post, here is the very next entry in my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth, from April 21, 2010:

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Freedom of Choice: Behavior and Action, Part 2

The distinction raised in my last post comes out of a research project I’ve been pursuing for some years alongside my work in ethics of the built environment. That parallel project is more theoretical than practical, drawing from a range of sources in philosophy, biology, cognitive science, technology studies, and other fields to shed some light on the experience of being a moral agent, I hope revealing something of the character, scope and limits of agency.This theoretical project has spilled over into my more practical project before, perhaps most notably in the final chapter of The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth (p.134), where I consider the limits of ethics in light of the problem of “impure agency” (following Walker 1993, p.241).  The two projects have also begun to intertwine in academic journal articles I’ve written, one of which is forthcoming in Ethics and the Environment, in which I ask, “Did Americans Choose Sprawl?”

Here’s how I summarize the paper in the abstract: Continue reading

From the Archive: Behavior and Action, Part 1

Continuing my reflections on the role of the empirical sciences in understanding human moral experience, I’ve dug into the archives. As a down-payment on further exploration of the idea, I thought I would re-post an entry from my other blog, The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth, from April 10, 2010.

This is part one of two; I’ll re-post the second part on Monday.

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Behavior and Action

I’ve been attending a conference in Atlanta called Emerging Issues Along Urban/Rural Interfaces 3.

Organized by the Auburn Center for Forest Sustainability with support from an office of the USDA Forest Service, among others, the conference brought together ecologists, foresters, social scientists, and others (including two philosophers) to explore various dimensions of environmental change at the advancing edges of metropolitan regions.

From the first day of the conference, I noted a curious duality in discussions of human conduct, both past and present conduct that has led to environmental change and future conduct many at the conference would like to see from people.  In short, conference participants would sometimes talk about action, sometimes about behavior,  and sometimes about both at the same time.

They are not at all the same thing. Continue reading

What’s Science Got to Do With It?

One of the last things I read online, yesterday evening, was a new column in The New York Times online, under the irresistible title, “Where Does Moral Courage Come From?

(The Times has been an unusually rich source for ethical inquiry and reflection, and not only because of the news reported in its pages.)

The author, David Bornstein, relates a number of moving stories of people standing up in the face of injustice, regardless of consequences to themselves.

In second paragraph, though, is a single sentence that, to me, seemed out of place. Continue reading