Beith touches on phenomenology, ecology, and the environment

On April 20, Professor Don Beith gave a talk titled, “Toward A Humble Ecology: Phenomenological Investigations Of Death In Deep Ecology.”

Beith is a professor of philosophy at the University of Maine. “He grew up in Canada and received his Ph.D in 2013 from McGill University in Montreal. He has a lot of expertise in a lot of phenomenology and continental philosophy and he’s taught in several Canadian universities. Most recently in the 2015-2016 school year, he taught in the philosophy department at the University of British Columbia,  Vancouver and then this year, we’ve been lucky to have him as a faculty member in our department and we’re very fortunate that he’ll be in our department next year,” Douglass Allen, professor of philosophy at UMaine and host of the series, said during his introduction.

Beith recently wrote a dissertation in philosophy. “When I thought about writing this paper, I had in mind this idea that phenomenology is about describing the form an experience takes. It’s sort of straight forward, but a lot of the conclusions it reaches are very counterintuitive and so I thought maybe we can use some of those counterintuitive ideas to [link] together with environmentalism,” Beith said.

“In this paper, I propose to show that phenomenology, a science of consciousness that seems to be anthropocentric and have little to offer ecological concerns, is in fact crucial in resolving conceptual issues in environmentalism,” Beith said.

Beith defined phenomenology as, “A method that works as describing experience as we live it and intending to how the structure of our lived experience [sic] reveal themselves to be possible. Phenomenology is a science of experience conducted within the terms of experience itself. It does not work by describing experience from an outside perspective or as functioning according to external causes like faculties in the mind, neural events in the brain, causes in genes or in other environmental causes.”

For most of the talk, Beith focused on the content contained within his paper. Some of his major points were regarding phenomenology, with some acknowledgement of both ecological and environmental concerns.

“When we are talking about possibilities,” Beith read. “We’re not considering already formed possibilities. These, like the possible range of motion in my arm for example, might not be currently actualized, but they’re already actual and determinant waiting to be realized. Here, we’re concerned about a more radical sense of possibility. It’s not yet active, actual, or determinant.”

Beith ended by sharing a quote from Edmund Husserl, a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology.

“The Earth is not an object in front of us but a grounding soil behind us. The Earth is the body in which we draw our own body without being separate from it but our lived body is not an object in space positioned, but a very original situation in space.” Beith said. But he followed up this quote by describing that we are a situation from the Earth, not positioned in it.

He ended with an opportunity for audience members to ask questions and make comments. Beith’s was the final talk of the series this academic year.

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