Just submitted the manuscript for Urgent Matters: philosophy as practice in the ecological emergency. It’s been a year and more in the making and is far from the perfect offering that I’d hoped to be able to present to the world, but as my dad used to say, if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. Here’s an extract:
Philosophy has most relevance in times when beliefs are unthinkingly accepted without critical examination, when ideas and ideologies are swallowed unreflectively. This is where the work of philosophy becomes vital since without due diligence, we cannot assess the validity on which opinions are based. It is said that no progress is achievable in philosophy.
Yet, philosophy can make progress because narratives and beliefs evolve in context, and require re-examination when the context changes. This might be a contentious sense of the idea of progress, but it is relevant to our current predicament: we urgently need an intellectually rigorous practice that shifts how we think, see, and act, individually and collectively. What philosophy as a practice offers is a way to help us develop a response, individually and collectively as a species, to our current predicament, but also, critically, to recognise that the bounds of our response and responsibility do not end there.
The Anthropocene makes this abundantly clear: humans co-arise interdependently with all systems, and our impacts affect both global and microscopic, terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric. The impacts are evident both internally, in how our own physiological and psychological systems are affected, and externally. The ecological emergency includes much more than climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, habitat destruction, and all the associated impacts that fragment, and threaten to create collapse, among the systems that created and sustain us.
It also includes fragmentation of societies and communities that break up into ideological islands through attitude polarisation. This, in turn, creates increasing threats to systems by those who seek to promote further exploitation at the expense of attempts to regain some system of cooperation and an attitude of compassion which is at the heart of our survival strategies as a species.
Philosophy has always sought to address questions related both to our place in the universe, and to how to live, given our understanding of our place. Those of us committed to an examined life have used a range of myths, metaphors and narratives to reorientate our own understanding. We also seek ways to exhort to action the increasing numbers of those who would seek to understand what to do about our current predicament, how to do it, and why it matters. Despite its long demise as an academic subject, philosophy has a key role in helping us, as a species, to respond to the ecological emergency. The key question this book seeks to address, then, is what is the practice of philosophy, given the state we find ourselves in?