A World for Us aims to refute physical realism and establish in its place a form of idealism. Physical realism, in the sense in which John Foster understands it, takes the physical world to be something whose existence is both logically independent of the human mind and metaphysically fundamental. Foster identifies a number of problems for this realist view, but his main objection is that it does not accord the world the requisite empirical immanence. The form of idealism that he (...) tries to establish in its place rejects the realist view in both its aspects. It takes the world to be something whose existence is ultimately constituted by facts about human sensory experience, or by some richer complex of non-physical facts in which such experiential facts centrally feature. Foster calls this phenomenalistic idealism. He tries to establish a specific version of such phenomenalistic idealism, in which the experiential facts that centrally feature in the constitutive creation of the world are ones that concern the organization of human sensory experience. The basic idea of this version is that, in the context of certain other constitutively relevant factors, this sensory organization creates the physical world by disposing things to appear systematically world-wise at the human empirical viewpoint. Chief among these other relevant factors is the role of God as the one who is responsible for the sensory organization and ordains the system of appearance it yields. It is this that gives the idealistically created world its objectivity and allows it to qualify as a real world. (shrink)
A new version of the age-old controversy between religion and science has been launched by today’s intelligent design movement. Although ostensibly concerned simply with combating Darwinism, this new creationism seeks to drive a “wedge” into the materialist view of the world, originating with the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and manifested in modern times by Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Intelligent design proponents thus can be seen as challenging not only natural and physical science but social science as well. In this article, (...) we attempt to explain the long history of this controversy, stretching over millennia, and to defend science (especially social science) against the criticisms of intelligent design proponents – by defending science’s materialist roots. (shrink)
Until recently, most commentators, including ecological Marxists, have assumed that Marx's historical materialism was only marginally ecologically sensitive at best, or even that it was explicitly anti-ecological. However, research over the last decade has demonstrated not only that Marx deemed ecological materialism essential to the critique of political economy and to investigations into socialism, but also that his treatment of the coevolution of nature and society was in many ways the most sophisticated to be put forth by any social theorist (...) prior to the late twentieth century. Still, criticisms continue to be leveled at Marx and Engels for their understanding of thermodynamics and the extent to which their work is said to conflict with the core tenets of ecological economics. In this respect, the rejection by Marx and Engels of the pioneering contributions of the Ukrainian socialist Sergei Podolinsky, one of the founders of energetics, has been frequently offered as the chief ecological case against them. Building on an earlier analysis of Marx's and Engels's response to Podolinsky, this article shows that they relied on an open-system, metabolic-energetic model that adhered to all of the main strictures of ecological economics – but one that also (unlike ecological economics) rooted the violation of solar and other environmental-sustainability conditions in the class relations of capitalist society. The result is to generate a deeper understanding of classical historical materialism's ecological approach to economy and society – providing an ecological-materialist critique that can help uncover the systemic roots of today's “treadmill of production” and global environmental crisis. (shrink)
This paper sketches the fundamental characteristics of metaphorical language which enable it to subserve not only the shaping of particular discourses, but also crucial aspects of our powers of enquiry and understanding. It argues that without metaphorical creativity we cannot make adequate sense of the more complex and open-ended aspects of our experience. This is illustrated from the way in which we deploy the closely related key environmental metaphors of 'stewardship' and 'natural capital', including the more specific 'real option' sub-version (...) of the latter idea reported on by other contributions to this Special Issue. But a condition of making such thinking operational and socially productive is the development of a genuine learning society. (shrink)
This paper examines the implications for sustainability policy of environmental uncertainty and indeterminacy, and relates the associated problems with a conventional understanding of sustainable development to Hayek's critique of collective planning. It suggests that the appropriate recourse is not, however, a Hayekian endorsement of the free market, but an extension of his key idea of spontaneous order to characterise the learning society. The argument is illustrated by a practical application: the analysis of natural capital explored in this Special Issue is (...) shown to be directly relevant to the improvement of the UK's headline sustainability indicators package. (shrink)
John Foster presents a clear and powerful discussion of a range of topics relating to our understanding of the universe: induction, laws of nature, and the existence of God. He begins by developing a solution to the problem of induction - a solution whose key idea is that the regularities in the workings of nature that have held in our experience hitherto are to be explained by appeal to the controlling influence of laws, as forms of natural necessity. His second (...) line of argument focuses on the issue of what we should take such necessitational laws to be, and whether we can even make sense of them at all. Having considered and rejected various alternatives, Foster puts forward his own proposal: the obtaining of a law consists in the causal imposing of a regularity on the universe as a regularity. With this causal account of laws in place, he is now equipped to offer an argument for theism. His claim is that natural regularities call for explanation, and that, whatever explanatory role we may initially assign to laws, the only plausible ultimate explanation is in terms of the agency of God. Finally, he argues that, once we accept the existence of God, we need to think of him as creating the universe by a method which imposes regularities on it in the relevant law-yielding way. In this new perspective, the original nomological-explanatory solution to the problem of induction becomes a theological-explanatory solution. The Divine Lawmaker is bold and original in its approach, and rich in argument. The issues on which it focuses are among the most important in the whole epistemological and metaphysical spectrum. (shrink)
The Dearing Report emphasised the idea of a 'learning society' as the new context of UK higher education, but conceived this on a model of adaptivity to economically- and technologically-driven change. While there are real shifts in their social relations here with which universities have to reckon, they can also be understood on a much richer model of exploratory social intelligence. The growing concern for environmental sustainability is both a recognition of the need for this alternative model, and a major (...) ground of its importance. (shrink)
The relation between education and sustainability cannot be an external, still less an instrumental one. Sustainability means humans, as individuals and societies, consciously trying to go with the grain of nature. Learning to understand the natural world and the human place in it can only be an active process through which our sense of what counts as going with the grain of nature is continuously constituted and recreated. This process cannot have its agenda set to subserve sustainability criteria which it (...) actually makes meaningful. The policy discourse, parameters and indices of operational sustainability are heuristics, and the conditions for deploying them intelligently are at one and the same time the conditions for a genuinely learning and for a deeply sustainable society. This suggests, too, a basis for reclaiming education in general from the instrumentalising approaches that currently beset it. (shrink)
The regularities in nature, simply by being regularities, call for explanation. There are only two ways in which we could, with any plausibility, try to explain them. One way would be to suppose that they are imposed on the world by God. The other would be to suppose that they reflect the presence of laws of nature, conceived of as forms of natural necessity. But the only way of making sense of the notion of a law of nature, thus conceived, (...) is by construing a law as the causing of the associated regularity, and the only remotely plausible account of such causing would be in terms of the agency of God. So, by whichever route, we are led to the conclusion that the regularities are brought about by God. So the presence of the regularities in nature provides us with a strong case for accepting the existence of God. (shrink)
John Foster addresses the question: what is it to perceive a physical object? He rejects the view that we perceive such objects directly, and argues for a new version of the traditional empiricist account, which locates the immediate objects of perception in the mind. But this account seems to imply that we do not perceive physical objects at all. Foster offers a surprising solution, which involves embracing an idealist view of the physical world.
The received understanding of interdisciplinarity in environmental higher education depends on constructions of the environmental agenda which tacitly privilege positivistic assumptions associated with the physical and biological sciences. If, however, we take seriously the heuristic force of the key humanities disciplines in regard to our environmental situation, precisely this privileging will be at issue. This suggests that collaboration across the full range of intellectual disciplines is needed not just to solve but to frame environmental problems. This requirement, however, may have (...) to be met at the institutional level rather than at that of individual teachers and learners. (shrink)
In Consciousness Explained, Dennett elaborates and defends a materialist?functionalist account of the human mind, and of consciousness in particular. This defence depends crucially on his prior rejection of dualism. Dennett rejects this dualist alternative on three grounds: first, that its version of mind?to?body causation is in conflict with what we know, or have good reason to believe, from the findings of physical science; second, that the very notion of dualistic psychophysical causation is incoherent; and third, that dualism puts the mind (...) beyond the reach of scientific investigation. In each case, his reasoning is unconvincing, and indeed leaves the dualist entirely unscathed. In contrast, without an adequate basis for his rejection of dualism, Dennett himself is left with a theory which is vulnerable to a number of familiar objections. (shrink)
Marking the tercentenary of Berkeley's birth, this collection of previously unpublished essays covers such Berkeleian topics as: imagination, experience, and possibility; the argument against material substance; the physical world; idealism; science; the self; action and inaction; beauty; and the general good. Among the contributors are: Christopher Peacocke, Ernest Sosa, Margaret Wilson, C.C.W. Taylor, and J.O. Urmson.