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Environmental Values

Is Environmentalism a Humanism?

Lewis P. Hinchman

Environmental Values 13(2004): 3-29. doi: 10.3197/096327104772444802

Environmental theorists, seeking the origin of Western exploitative attitudes toward nature, have directed their attacks against 'humanism'. This essay argues that such criticisms are misplaced. Humanism has much closer affinities to environmentalism than the latter's advocates believe. As early as the Renaissance, and certainly by the late eighteenth century, humanists were developing historically-conscious, hermeneutically-grounded modes of understanding, rather than the abstract, mathematical models of nature often associated with them. In its twentieth-century versions humanism also shares much of the mistrust of consumerism, instrumental reason, and 'worldlessness' that marks environmentalist literature. Nevertheless, humanism is indeed committed to the principle that human beings are and ought to be free, and opposes theoretical approaches that suppress freedom. Reconciling humanism and environmentalism thus involves two steps: resisting the former's tendency to treat nature and freedom as metaphysical polarities, and drawing environmental theory away from flirtation with deterministic, biologistic worldviews. The essay concludes by suggesting Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac as the paradigm case of environmental thought with roots in humanist approaches.

KEYWORDS: Environmentalism, humanism, hermeneutics, phenomenology

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles:

Editorial. Emily Brady

Naturalism and Environmentalism: A Reply to Hinchman. Brian H. Baxter

Darwinian Humanism: A Proposal for Environmental Philosophy. Robert Kirkman

What We Owe the Romantics. Lewis P. Hinchman and Sandra K. Hinchman

This article is available online (PDF format) from Ingenta Journals. Access is free if your institution subscribes to Environmental Values. Reprints of this article can be ordered from ingenta or the British Library

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