Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Grounding Knowledge

Grounding Knowledge: Environmental Philosophy, Epistemology, and Place

Christopher J. Preston
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Grounding Knowledge
    Book Description:

    Mountains and freeways, oceans and apartment buildings, trees and automobiles: such things lend shape to mental activity, says Christopher J. Preston. Yet Western epistemology, since its origins, has neglected these material factors. Even postmodern perspectives on how we think and know continue to emphasize social and cultural factors over the physical environment. Grounding Knowledge claims that one of the unforeseen consequences of this anthropocentrism has been to ignore the epistemic argument for maintaining diverse natural environments. Grounding Knowledge supplies that argument. Preston first traces the separation of place and mind in Western epistemology. Drawing connections between skepticism and ungrounded knowledge, he then explores how a common insight in the epistemologies of both Kant and Quine sets the scene for more situated accounts of knowledge. After showing how science studies and cognitive science have both recently moved in this direction, Preston draws further evidence for his thesis from fields as far apart as evolutionary biology, anthropology, and religious studies. He asks what these ideas in contemporary epistemology and environmental philosophy mean for environmental policy, concluding that the grounding of knowledge strongly suggests epistemic reasons for the protection of a full range of physical environments in their natural condition. Grounding Knowledge comes at a time of increasing dialogue between the sciences and the humanities about our rootedness in all of our different "worlds." Preston hopes to persuade his readers that "it is not only in our biological but also in our cognitive interests to protect these roots."

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-2726-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Environmental Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    This is a book about the connections between place and mind. It describes how our physical environment comes to play an important role in structuring the way we think. I argue that organisms that know things about the world are situated beings, beings cognitively grounded in the worlds from which they speak. An important part of this grounding is a physical location among material realities such as mountains and freeways, oceans and apartment buildings, trees and automobiles, factories and crowds. These physical things lend shape to mental activity. They comprise some of the important factors relevant to how we know....

  5. 1 Unnatural Knowledge
    (pp. 1-24)

    Twenty years ago, Paul Shepard broke new ground by publishing a number of provocative books exploring the links between the natural environments in which humans evolved and the social, cultural, and intellectual structures that make balanced and creative thought possible. In Nature and Madness, Shepard claimed that the important formative relationship between the infant and primary caregiver is itself situated relative to another equally important series of relationships. He observed that over evolutionary time, caregiving had taken place in the middle of “a surround of living plants, rich in texture, smell, and motion. The unfiltered, unpolluted air, the flicker of...

  6. 2 Grounding Knowledge
    (pp. 25-46)

    The study of mind, thought, and belief simply had to change after Quine. Holding out for a disconnected mind constructing knowledge claims in isolation from any kind of facts about the thinker’s physical situation would have meant moving back down the same old path toward skepticism. Kant and Quine both saw how the intractability of skepticism was the product of a view of knowledge as disconnected from any of the details about the knower and his or her world. Both determined that the knower had to be involved in some way in knowledge production rather than being just the passive...

  7. 3 Organisms and Environments
    (pp. 47-72)

    When John Muir stepped out into the wilderness, what he found there was a curious reflection of himself, a personhood that both was and was not his own. Nature presented to his senses something that he felt was already incorporated deep within the structures of his experience. In going out, he found that he was really going in. What are we to make of this enigmatic claim from one of America’s greatest wilderness advocates? Is Muir caught up in an illusion that causes him to romantically project a union between self and world in the face of his obvious aesthetic...

  8. 4 Active Landscapes
    (pp. 73-99)

    David Abram has described the enveloping earth as “the very ground and horizon of all our knowing.”¹ It had always been clear that the earth provided the ground and horizon for all our embodied experience. Abram’s comment eloquently reminds us that this same earth also grounds all our cognitive experiences. On the basis of the evidence presented in chapters 2 and 3 about the connections between the place and mind, we might begin to agree with Abram and to view with suspicion the ancient and modern credos that reason enables humans to transcend all aspects of our physical location and...

  9. 5 Making Place Matter
    (pp. 100-117)

    The grounding of knowledge described in the last two chapters suggests, at the very least, that it is important to recognize that physical environments are one of several parties operating in the complex set of interactions out of which knowledge and ways of thinking get constructed. If this is correct, then places have an important cognitive role to play. Statements about sense of place should be regarded as not just romantic yearnings but as statements that accurately reflect the fact that people craft some of their very cognitive identity in communion with a landscape. Loss of the character of a...

  10. 6 Preserving Place and Mind
    (pp. 118-136)

    Chapter 5 outlined some of the positive contributions that the ideas articulated in this book make to the academic disciplines of epistemology and environmental philosophy, respectively. It included recommended modifications and additions to contemporary studies of knowledge and to contemporary debates about the moral relationship of humans to nature. As is often the case in academic discourse, the practical consequences of these recommendations for nonacademics might not be particularly obvious. Do specific policy recommendations follow from the abstract, academic claim that place is a hidden subjectivity in knowledge or that the environment should be valued as a cognitive or an...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 137-146)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-154)
  13. Index
    (pp. 155-161)