UNT's Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies is widely recognized as a world leader in environmental ethics and environmental philosophy. In Cape Horn, scientists and philosophers have been working since 2000 to create a "field philosophy" that addresses real world environmental problems and better integrate the sciences and humanities.
Field philosophy is an emerging approach to philosophy that emphasizes the use of traditional philosophy in the assessment of tangible, current problems. It differs from "applied philosophy" in the sense that it starts with the problem itself - in the "field" -- and identifies the implicit philosophical issues. In other words, it starts with the problem and not with the philosophy. Because field philosophy starts with a problem not defined by philosophy, it requires the philosopher to be familiar with other pertinent aspects, be they economic, sociological, ecological, or political. Field philosophy is inherently transdisciplinary: it engages philosophical inquiry with recognized problems, and requires the collaboration of philosophers, other academicians, and non-academics, including scientists, policy-makers, stakeholders, and the public.
The field station in Cape Horn, Chile, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to engage in field philosophy. Biologists, ecologists, philosophers, and students from South America and the United States work together in an effort to preserve the biological and cultural diversity indigenous to the area. Rather than merely theorizing about these issues from afar, the field station provides us with the unique opportunity of engaging with local flora and fauna, as well as people living in the region, including remaining members of indigenous cultures that share traditional ecological knowledge that risk being lost as traditional languages are replaced by dominant ones.
In keeping with the spirit of "field philosophy" in southern Chile, we emphasize the importance of biocultural conservation that incorporates the traditions and philosophies of both indigenous people and South American philosophers and scientists building an academic community today. It is essential to hear the perspectives of environmental philosophers living and writing today. As of Fall 2007, the International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) includes a bilingual section on South American environmental philosophy, with the intent of including contemporary voices from South American countries. We hope that working closely with these environmental thinkers will help to constitute a rich philosophical foundation for thinking about issues of biocultural conservation in southern Chile. Every four months, we invite a prominent South American environmental philosopher to discuss the contributions made by philosophers in their country. These insights are very valuable in terms of networking between environmental philosophers in the United States and South America, as well as in terms of gaining a perspective grounded in the various cultures and traditions of South American countries.
Contributor: Charmayne Staloff, Research Assistant, University of North Texas