Epistemology and Environment: The Greening of Belief

Dissertation, University of Oregon (1998)

Following a sequence of papers in the middle of the twentieth century by W. V. O. Quine, epistemologists have increasingly recognized that the agent of knowledge is situated relative to certain social and natural conditions. This 'epistemic location' has been shown by feminist epistemologists to lend shape to the knowledge claims that individuals and communities make. Sensitivity to the facts of epistemic location has led to a process of increasing scrutiny of the range of variables believed to be epistemically significant. ;In this dissertation, I argue for the introduction of local geographical and ecological conditions as an additional epistemically significant variable. After an historically informed discussion of why the situating of knowledge should be done and a survey of contemporary approaches to how it has been done, I construct a synthetic argument for the epistemic significance of place. Examples drawn from ancient philosophy, anthropology, cultural geography, environmental psychology, and personal narrative experience illustrate the agency of place. Next, an argument indicating the continuity between dialectical biology, ecological perception, and enactivist cognitive science illustrates a direction for research on cognition that would continue to take more seriously the significance of place. ;Finally, I suggest through an argument for pluralism that the epistemic significance of place demands that some rich connections be made between environmental philosophy and epistemology. Diverse natural environments should be valued as epistemic sources that ensure the diversity of perspectives and theories necessary for knowledge to progress
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