In the end, it’s our future that’s going to be changed: Enquiring about the environment with freedom and responsibility
Keywords:environment, community, enquiry, freedom, responsibility
The environmental crisis—because of its complexity, urgency, unpredictability, and scale—requires a defence of the educational role of philosophy and an account of how to implement philosophical pedagogy in the exploration of environmental issues. This is the aim of this paper. As we face an uncertain future, all educators must consider what knowledge and “know-how” young people need, and what kind of people they need to become, if they are to survive and thrive in this changing world. Philosophical educators cannot assume the ongoing utility of their practice, nor can they expect that their practice should remain the same. In the context of the current crisis, the philosophical exploration of emerging environmental issues raises challenges for those who work in the spirit of Community of Enquiry and these challenges require both discipline and flexibility from practitioners and participants. This paper outlines some of the adaptations that I have used to try and respond flexibly to this predicament. But I also defend an issue on which I believe philosophical educators should hold the line—namely the importance of being non-directive on matters that are philosophically contentious. I defend the view that despite the existential nature of this emergency and its profound urgency, it is not the role of philosophical educators to convince or coerce philosophical learners to adopt particular views on the philosophical questions that this crisis raises. This is because all philosophical enquiry involves creating an environment of freedom and responsibility with respect to what participants believe to be right and true and what they do as a result. Participants in enquiry must be epistemically free to explore and evaluate philosophical questions as they see fit, but they must also be epistemically responsible for the evidence and arguments on which their provisional judgements rest. Equally, participants in enquiry must be ethically free to respond to philosophical problems in ways that express and cultivate their authentic character and commitments, but they remain ethically responsible for their true motivations, their professed values and for the real-life consequences of their words and actions, and their silences and inaction. This paper explores some ways to optimise freedom and responsibility in all forms of philosophical enquiry, drawing specifically on examples of my work with young people on philosophically contentious environmental issues. These examples also highlight some of the adaptations that I have developed to address the challenges that environmental enquiry brings.
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