UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rousseau and modern environmentalism Singer, Kenneth William


Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been analyzed and characterized in many ways, but the relationship between certain aspects of his thought and what can be called eco-philosophy has not been pursued. Rousseau's ideas of man's relationship with nature, his condemnation of bourgeios society, the scientific/mechanistic paradigm and the idea of progress have distinct parallels to the thought of traditional eco-philosophers such as Thoreau, Muir and Leopold. Though Rousseau's thought is decidedly anthropocentric and therefore utilitarian in its ethical content, he did favour a careful stewardship of nature which rejected treating it as a resource to be exploited. Instead, he saw God's handiwork in the natural world and felt a great reverence for it. To facilitate this understanding, he studied botany and took many solitary walks in the wilderness as a means of achieving a greater appreciation of its natural beauty and his place within it. In addition, Rousseau's advocacy of direct democracy and small self-sufficient agrarian communities also reflect modern positions, particularly those of Bookchin, Schumacher and the leaders of the various Green movements. Evidence from his work, thus, will be presented to support the contention that his philosophy has distinct parallels to these modern perspectives. While much of his thought seems hopelessly Utopian in the light of modern realities, there is a great deal that is relevant to the environmental problems modern society faces.

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