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June 10, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2008

Mitchell, Andrew
Philosophy

Project Summary

The course that I proposed for the Piedmont Project was an Introduction to Philosophy course (phil 100) that I teach as a course in the Philosophy of Nature. I imagined that through the project I would enjoy some interesting talks and obtain a few key bibliographical references that I could simply add to my existing course. This was ultimately far from the case. I came to see through the project that sustainability was a way of thinking through a course, rather than a particular course content. I also discovered that I had been thinking in ways amenable to sustainability all along insofar as my work focuses on issues of relationality and finitude. I see sustainability as a practice of engagement with the world that is guided by an awareness of the interconnection and relationality of existence. After much thought, I was able to bring my old course into line with my new understanding in three ways: 1) I changed the focus of the course from shifts in historical conceptions of nature to shifts in the relationship between humans and nature. This change provides me with a major reorientation of the course agenda while retaining the same central works. It provides me with a new interpretive framework with which to approach the same materials, now emphasizing the ways in which relationality shows itself in the works in question. 2) I added an experiential component of a nature walk coupled with a writing assignment to relate this experience to a course text. This adds an entirely new dimension to my philosophy course, which is otherwise very historical and textually oriented. 3) I added a text specifically dealing with issues in environmentalism, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, that will allow us to directly discuss the ideas that will be building across the semester. I chose this work for its clear-sighted presentation of the consequences of ignoring our relationality/connectedness with nature. The subsequent criticisms of this classic work do not undermine this idea of a web of nature. In fact, I plan to incorporate these criticisms into class discussion in order to emphasize the ways in which a thinking of sustainability must be an ongoing endeavor and nothing simply over and done with. I hope to leave the students with an understanding that our relationship to nature is determinative of who we are and that an awareness of this fact must change our practices.




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