The CENHS Philosophy Cluster aims to develop and articulate a distinctive philosophical approach to questions of energy and environment, with strong ties to the wider community of Environmental Philosophy.  This vibrant and growing field addresses new questions about the value of the environment and our obligations toward it, evidence and knowledge from complex models, the grounds of expertise and epistemic authority, the changing meaning of concepts such as “life” and “environment,” and the possibility of non-anthropocentric research in the humanities.  Rice’s Philosophy Cluster aims to contribute to these discussions by focusing on the concept of energy, using this lens to reframe key concepts and arguments.  How do the key questions, concepts and arguments of environmental philosophy change, when the idea of energy is made central?  What connections can be made between the concepts of ‘energy’ and ‘value’? Is the distinction between living vs. non-living energy significant, and if so, in what ways?

Projects addressing these questions are currently being pursued by Gwen Bradford (Philosophy), Melinda Fagan (Philosophy), and Tim Morton (English). Bradford’s concerns the nature and value of achievement.  Achievement and innovation present an interesting puzzle for environmental philosophers.  Harnessing the Earth’s resources for energy and power are among the most significant human achievements.  Does preserving our valuable natural world come at the expense of holding back on the expansion of innovation and achievement? Or does a proper understanding of achievement show that preserving nature itself can be an achievement? Fagan’s research focuses on the ‘living energy’ inherent in stem cells and other developmental systems.  How can we understand these complex dynamic systems, and can biological explanations provide insights about other complex systems – such as the environment?  What should our role be, as planning agents within an intricate ecological system?  Morton’s research focuses directly on ecology relations between philosophy and ecology.  His fourth book, currently in progress, examines ontological and hermeneutical questions about concepts of “environment,” “lifeform,” “global warming” and “Anthropocene.”

In addition to participants’ research, the Philosophy Cluster also brings prominent environmental philosophers to campus for talks and workshops.  Past speakers include Dale Jamieson (NYU) and Kristin Schrader-Frechette (Notre Dame).  Going forward, we will develop stronger ties local scholars (such as researchers at the Center for Environmental Philosophy at the University of North Texas) as well as philosophers with international perspectives on energy, environment, and education.  Teaching and course development are also key activities of the Philosophy Cluster.  Relevant courses include a seminar on philosophy and energy (to be taught Fall 2014), introductory ethics, and philosophy of science, and plans are being made for interdisciplinary courses that combine humanities and engineering.


For further information on Philosophy & Ethics cluster activities please contact Prof. Melinda Fagan (mbf2@rice.edu)