How does how we think the difference between self and world inflect our possibilities for acting well toward such a world? This question, one that is especially urgent in our time of environmental degradation (often known, due to the disproportionate effects of anthropogenic forces, as the “Anthropocene”), is the focal lens of the present research. Looking to several philosophical movements whose recent iterations possess implications for a philosophy of nature, both in in their foundational concerns and their progressive developments, I develop a series of criteria against which to measure competing philosophical accounts. I first contend that the subjective (and world-skeptical) cast of phenomenological approaches, especially their motivating concern for indelibly anthropocentric structures of consciousness, generates tension in terms of conceptualizing and engaging a vulnerable material world that exceeds given phenomena. In new materialist theory, broadly united by a commitment to bringing materiality qua materiality to the forefront of interdisciplinary thought, radical heterogeneity in styles and objects of theory—in addition to methodological pressures such as performative contradiction—compromise the efficacy, or even coherence, of these frameworks as a viable option. Finally, turning to John Dewey, I argue that a robustly naturalistic metaphysics that is yet responsive to a full range of human values provides an excellent model. For Dewey, the concepts of nature and experience introduce no ontological difference, but instead capture different aspects of living that we may distinguish only purposefully in the course of living; in such a view, biodiversity promises axiological richness, and the meaningfulness of human lives is inextricably tethered to our greater-than-human surroundings. Intelligent inquiry through empirical methodology provides a route for addressing environmental degradation as an authentic problem of our time. This view, furthermore, takes seriously that philosophy (even metaphysics) has a unique and valuable role to play in addressing the environmental crisis, and that pluralism—the use of divergent perspectives and strategies—is permissible so long as we remain vigilant in considering how their use produces genuine differences in thought and action.
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