This week I happily begin work as a public environmental philosopher at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Northern Forest Institute. Naturally I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how I can be of service to the Adirondack community in this position, so I thought this might be a good forum to explain a little bit about what it means to do philosophy followed by what we’re actually planning to do.
On thinking for a purpose
I see philosophy as an integrated practice of right-thinking and right-doing that has led to my decision to work as a philosopher in the Adirondacks. Years ago I became enlivened by an ecstatic pursuit of Philo Sophia and in the process, I became urgently aware that the subtext of my studies drew me towards philosophy as a lived intention that requires its practitioners to push to the outer edge where thinking becomes action and ideas have impact.
I began to think about philosophy as a method of teaching truth through inquiry out of desire for purpose. I have, since then, tried to imagine how philosophy – long since wedged between the ivory walls of the academy and too far from the streets where Socrates seduced Athens with a glimpse of Sophia, might be reintegrated into the breathing landscape of self and community.
I have come to believe that a connection between theoretical philosophy and the philosophical movement towards community and environmental relationships dissolves the barrier between thought and application. In order to hasten that dissolution, we must step out into communities and try together to understand and resolve meaningful and enduring problems. Because unless the barrier is felled between mindful and practical essays, our arrival on the useful side of inquiry will forever lack the exhilaration of a living philosophy. The work of philosophy and of philosophers does not stop at Truth conveyed from behind podiums or in lecture halls where so-called wisdom is echoed and arced un-fractured by subversive inquiry and unburdened by social responsibility or reconciliation with the complicated muscle and thrust of a real-world struggle. Truth is contested ground where practical action rushes the gates of comfortable expectation with the raucous howl of civil disobedience that is the bedrock of the American philosophical method, my method.
In my role as Environmental Philosopher I will design and deliver programs that integrate theory with praxis with an eye towards understanding the intersection of nature, culture, science and ethics in the Adirondacks. To do this I’ll implement a professional curriculum in community, organizational and environmental ethics as well as a general education curriculum in social, political and environmental ethics. These programs and others will serve students in secondary and higher education as well as the general public, local and regional agencies and organizations.
A few of the programs that I expect to institute in this first year include an ongoing series called Community in Conversation. This initiative will be open to Adirondack residents interested in learning how to transform disagreement into a functional and a progressive reality through facilitated discussions on topics of regional/local concern. A workshop in the Foundations of Applied Ethics will be open to general audiences interested in linking ethical concepts with their application to real-world problems with an emphasis on regional issues. I’m especially excited to begin a forum of Public Intellectuals: Integrating Scholarship with Community that will be open to secondary school students and community leader/mentors to teach ethics that informs leadership to benefit the next generation of local/regional community leaders and public servants as they navigate between ethics, policy and decision making.
Another series of seminars and workshops will explore the way changing norms of ethics and fairness have been positioned to reinforce and challenge environmental and social justice issues by scholars advocating for a new order based on ideological, political and cultural pluralism. In the spring we will hold the First Annual Symposium on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Land-Use Ethics that will follow an open (wide open) call for papers on a diversity of approaches to the social, environmental and political aspects of land use and ethics. I look forward to participation among students and professionals from many of the institutions affiliated with the Adirondack Society for Applied Philosophy (ASAP), now in collaboration with ESF’s Northern Forest Institute. Together we envision a progressive exchange of ideas that continue to evolve into a series of educational experiences hosted by institutions throughout the Northeast and impacting the way the links between philosophy, ethics and environmental and social justice are communicated across curriculums. I encourage you to join us, all are welcome.
I’m eager to begin the important work ahead and I look forward to hearing from each of you about how this project could benefit you and your community directly.
Marianne Patinelli-Dubay is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondacks
Photo: The Adirondack Park superimposed onto a satellite image. Courtesy Adirondack Park Agency.