June 10, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2008

Mitchell, Andrew

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.

Download: Mitchell.pdf (57.2 KB)

Bookmark and Share