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Traditional Knowledge in a Time of Crisis: Climate Change, Culture and Communication

  • Pacific Worlds Institute


Science as it has come to be defined in Western thought is at the root of our current environmental problems. This article reviews the historical trajectory of specific facets in Western thought, including the disenchantment of nature, the apotheosis of reason, the technological domination of nature, and the Puritan temper. Illuminating this history points out that what is called “rational” and what popularly acceptable as “science” is in fact a by-product of specific historical, cultural, and political circumstances, and has produced a culture of “scientism” that is ideological, not value-free, and is in fact contrary to the open inquiry of science. These ideas are linked to economic rationality, colonialism, and human rights, severing modern humans from our Indigenous roots and fostering an ideology of rapacious environmental exploitation. The author proposes “indigeneity” as embracing the holistic knowledge and wisdom found in traditional cultures while also utilizing the advances in science and other areas of human endeavor. Specifically, the paper argues for bringing about a new cultural discourse that helps reshape human behavior into a more sustainable direction. The role of communication and storytelling is emphasized, with an example given in the story of Polynesian voyaging and the five values of the voyaging canoe.
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Sustainability Science
ISSN 1862-4065
Sustain Sci
DOI 10.1007/s11625-015-0305-9
Traditional knowledge in a time of
crisis: climate change, culture and
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SPECIAL FEATURE: ORIGINAL ARTICLE Weaving Indigenous and Sustainability Sciences to
Diversify Our Methods (WIS2DOM)
Traditional knowledge in a time of crisis: climate change, culture
and communication
R. D. K. Herman
Received: 25 September 2014 / Accepted: 15 April 2015
Springer Japan (outside the USA) 2015
Abstract Science as it has come to be defined in Western
thought is at the root of our current environmental prob-
lems. This article reviews the historical trajectory of
specific facets in Western thought, including the disen-
chantment of nature, the apotheosis of reason, the techno-
logical domination of nature, and the Puritan temper.
Illuminating this history points out that what is called
‘rational’’ and what popularly acceptable as ‘‘science’’ is
in fact a by-product of specific historical, cultural, and
political circumstances, and has produced a culture of
‘scientism’’ that is ideological, not value-free, and is in
fact contrary to the open inquiry of science. These ideas are
linked to economic rationality, colonialism, and human
rights, severing modern humans from our Indigenous roots
and fostering an ideology of rapacious environmental ex-
ploitation. The author proposes ‘‘indigeneity’’ as embrac-
ing the holistic knowledge and wisdom found in traditional
cultures while also utilizing the advances in science and
other areas of human endeavor. Specifically, the paper ar-
gues for bringing about a new cultural discourse that helps
reshape human behavior into a more sustainable direction.
The role of communication and storytelling is emphasized,
with an example given in the story of Polynesian voyaging
and the five values of the voyaging canoe.
Keywords Sustainability Values Scientism
Indigenous Wisdom
Two years ago an invitation was circulated around the
Smithsonian to attend a meeting at the National Academies
of Science. Their Social and Behavioral group was working
on a document regarding Climate Change, and since I was
curious to see what they were up to, I went. I did not realize
that the invitation was to be a ‘‘spectator.’’ The group itself
sat around a large rectangle of tables with individual mi-
crophones, while perhaps another 20–30 of us sat in chairs
around the periphery. The working group had already been
at work on a draft document, and this was time for feedback.
When discussion of the document began, the key drafter
of it stated in his opening remarks that the one thing for sure
they had agreed on was that the document was NOT going
to talk about mitigation of climate change factors, only
about adaptation. An alarm went off inside my head. An
hour and a half later, we in the periphery were finally per-
mitted to ask questions. My hand went up, and I was invited
to a seat at the table with my own personal microphone.
‘Let me get this straight,’’ I said, ‘‘‘You’re NOT going
to talk about mitigation? Okay, so that’s kind of like this:
you go to your doctor, and the doctor says ‘I see you’ve
been putting on weight over the course of your last few
visits’. This is an observation based on the data. ‘At this
rate’, he goes on to say, ‘in 5 years you’re going to weigh
350 pounds, and the longer-term future is not looking
good’. Now we have a prediction. ‘So, let’s talk about
adaptation: You might want to start investing in spandex
clothes. You might think about having a wheelchair ramp
installed in the front of your house. You might want to put
in an elevator to get you up to your bedroom.’
‘But we’re NOT going to talk about your eating habits.
We’re NOT going to talk about the psychological reasons
you might have for overeating and not exercising, or about
Handled by Jay T. Johnson, The University of Kansas, USA.
&R. D. K. Herman
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian,
PO Box 37012, MRC 590, Washington, DC 20013, USA
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DOI 10.1007/s11625-015-0305-9
Author's personal copy
the cultural milieu and the forces of advertising and mar-
keting that encourage such behavior.’’
‘This,’’ I said, ‘‘is the Social and Behavioral Working
Group. We have a narrow window of maybe 20 years at
most to mitigate against the worst ravages of climate
change. If we don’t talk about mitigation, who will?’’ The
gentleman responded, ‘‘Okay, I get it.’’
Strangely, I was never invited back, so I do not know
whether my remarks had any impact, but the point of this story
is twofold: first, that climate change is not a scientific matter.
As with the increasingly obeseperson in my example, science
can only monitor the data and make predictions based on
current and possible future conditions. Rather, Climate
Change is a Social and Behavioral Issue. And the way you
change behavior is through culture. The second point of my
story is that we who work in the field of culture have to be able
to communicate effectively if we are to enlighten the public.
Here is where Indigenous wisdom has a key role to play.
Finding the right means for parlaying that wisdom in a form
that can be grasped and accepted by the public is the trick.
The heart of the problem is the disjuncture between
Science, Culture and Traditional Knowledge in Western
thinking. Science gives us tools, but what we do with those
tools is a product of culture. The wisdom to use those tools
appropriately would have come from traditional knowl-
edge. To bring these three back together, we need to re-
mind ourselves how they were pulled apart to begin with.
We need to remind ourselves that what modernity has
enthroned as a ‘‘rational’’ worldview is not actually rational
at all, but the product of specific historical, cultural, po-
litical and economic forces. Understanding these roots al-
lows us to look to a new notion of ‘‘Rationality’’ that pulls
culture and wisdom back into the fold.
Before I go further, let me position myself as a white
member of a white-dominated settler society (the United
States), well educated with a reasonable background in
science and Western thinking but having always found the
latter, at least, highly problematic. Much more about my
position I have discussed in a previous work (Herman
2013), which explains my own journey in coming to the
realizations I share here. While I do not speak as an
Indigenous person, my early and lasting inclinations to-
wards and explorations of other ways of being and knowing
have located me somewhat apart from the dominant cul-
ture. This paper reflects the disjuncture I experience with
what I consider to be an irrational worldview.
The roots of rational thinking
The philosophy of knowledge that permeates the dominant
culture today can be traced back to the ancient Greeks,
but really draws on the Protestant Reformation, the
Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. During these
shifts, it was seen as essential to remove science from the
purview of the Church. The Church’s condemnation of
Copernican astronomy
as dangerous to faith shows that
this was a much-needed divorce. This separation was
supposed to allow Science to operate without ideological
constraints. The actual story, however, is not so tidy. The
politics of the Reformation were such that the philo-
sophical baby was thrown out with the political bathwater:
over time, all forms of philosophy and spiritual inquiry
were deemed unscientific. Only that which could be
validated empirically or proven mathematically could fall
into the realm of science as it was being defined.
Christianity in Europe had already posited, for most
people, a vertical geography in which the material world
was merely the stage for a divine drama between humanity
and Divinity. Nature as God’s creation was placed under
the stewardship of humanity, and had no intrinsic value or
active role in the evolution of the human spirit. Then, with
the Scientific Revolution—and despite a great deal of
dispute, push-back and divergence of views over the en-
suing centuries—a fairly consistent philosophy of knowl-
edge emerged that still dominates Western thinking today
(Maxwell 1984). Nature came to be seen as ‘‘an intricate,
impersonal, and inert machine’
to be studied, understood,
and harnessed for the betterment of humankind. There are
four particular aspects of this emergent worldview (for it
did not happen all at once, and it had its critics and op-
ponents): the elimination of ‘‘superstition’’ and ‘‘magic’
often referred to as the ‘‘disenchantment of the world’’; an
emphasis on Reason as the true nature of being human; the
idea that technology should overcome nature for the bet-
terment of humankind; and Puritan Temper with the rise of
economic rationalism. These are worth addressing one at a
The disenchantment of the World
As I have written elsewhere (Herman 2008), Enlighten-
ment thinking contributed to a process of secularization in
that it posed a separation of ‘‘magic’’ from ‘‘religion’’.
Taking the ‘‘magical’’ elements out of Christianity would
eliminate the idea that religious rituals had any efficacy, or
that material objects could be endowed with any sort of
sacred power—in short, that human actions could have any
supernatural effect. This new Protestant formulation, freed
Copernican astronomy is heliocentric, posing that the Sun is
stationary with the Earth and other planets moving around it. This was
considered heresy to the traditional Ptolomaic notion that the Earth
was the center with the sun and the planets revolving around it.
‘Sir Isaac Newton,’’ Britannica,
scientific-revolution. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
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of ‘superstitious’ notions about the workings of the
world—characteristic of modernity—empowered rational
human action free of supernatural constraints (Scribner
1993: 475).
When the manifest and unmanifest worlds inter-
penetrate, as they did in premodern European thought and
as they do in many Indigenous worldviews, then activity
and occurrences in the world are potent with meaning.
Weber felt that in modernity, ‘‘as intellectualism sup-
presses belief in magic, the world’s processes become
disenchanted, lose their magical significance, and hence-
forth simply ‘are’ and ‘happen’ but no longer signify
And as Greisman (1976) points out, a new
pantheon emerged to take the place of the old gods: com-
petition, commodity fetishism, hysterical nationalism, and
counterfeit religion.
In Indigenous and traditional societies, including ancient
Europe, the world is understood in terms of flows of en-
ergies (and sometimes entities) across a permeable
boundary between manifest and unmanifest realities.
Working relationships with forces deemed ‘‘superstitious’
or ‘‘irrational’’ in modern science is a significant compo-
nent in social processes and healing practices, and is un-
derstood by its own science and cosmology.
It is this lack of ‘‘enchantment’’ whereby the natural
world—so full of life, agency and creative energy—be-
comes inert and material, and the nations of beings with
whom we share the planet become, at best, dumb animals,
and at worst, mere matter.
The apotheosis of reason
The elevation of reason to a regal and commanding status
is the particular legacy of Rene Descartes, though it did not
truly come into its own until the nineteenth century (Swing
1889). Descartes argued that there was a real distinction
between mind and body—i.e., that either could exist
without the other. On the one hand, this assured the pos-
sibility of the immortality of the soul (Descartes, like his
Enlightenment cohort, was a Christian); and on the other
hand, it opened up a new, mechanistic physics in which the
world (as matter devoid of reasoning mind) could be un-
derstood and manipulated (Skirry 2006, Mehta 2011).
Descartes initiated a new stage in philosophical thought
by placing the mind—self consciousness—as the source of
intelligibility in the world, rather than in the world itself
(Dupre 2004: 3). Pure reason, as the defining characteristic
of humanity, required the stripping away of everything that
might contaminate the mind. As Peperzak (1995:136) puts
it, ‘‘Everything which allows even the least opportunity for
doubt must be abolished in the name of the desire for
certainty. Everything written or spoken must be ignored, all
advisors and all traditions must be put into parentheses.’’ In
this formula of rationality, literature and the arts—culture,
more generally—make no direct contribution to the domain
of intellectual inquiry. They may provide some inspira-
tional value, but do not have any direct rational contribu-
tion to knowledge, since they are imbued with ideas,
feelings, values, and imagination. They may be valid ob-
jects of intellectual inquiry, but they do not comply with
the criteria of the search for truth. Rationality’s insistence
on being value-free and without agenda leaves us in the
curious irony that the pursuit of knowledge must ‘‘ruth-
lessly ignore all questions concerning human values and
aspirations precisely so that inquiry may ultimately be of
genuine human value and may help us realize our human
aspirations’’ (Maxwell 1984: 16–17). The particular, the
emotional, and the moral are all seen as capricious and
corrupting of rationality. So the result is a world based on
reason alone, rather than on experience, and divorced from
our actual living in the world.
The emphasis on rationality and on humans as rational
beings created a new version of Humanist philosophy in
the Enlightenment. Here, again the initial focus was on
eschewing the dogmatism of the Church and the need to
rely on a supernatural being, but in promoting the
uniqueness of humans among all beings, Humanism also
set humans apart from the rest of nature. A firm divide
between humanity and the rest of nature was thus enshrined
(Ginn 2014: 2). As Val Plumwood (1991: 6) puts it, reason
was taken as characterizing the authentically human, cre-
ating the ‘‘supposedly sharp separation, cleavage, or dis-
continuity between all humans and the nonhuman world,
and the similar cleavage within the human self.’’ Humanity
becomes defined not as part of the natural, or physical or
biological realm (or at best, as a special and distinct part)
but as separate from it and in opposition to it. Nature is not
only sharply divided off from the authentic human self, but
is alien and oppositional to it, and usually hostile and in-
ferior. And as Bostrom (2011: 4) points out, ‘‘the En-
lightenment’s legacy, including a belief in the power of
human rationality and science, is still an important shaper
of modern culture.’
Technological domination of nature
The disenchantment of the world and the apotheosis of
reason work together in the separation of humanity from
integration with nature, and with human nature. With the
physical world thus set apart, it then became the object of
control. One of the key figures in advancing technology (a
Weber is quoted in Greisman (1976).
See for example Long (1948), Deloria Jr. (2006). Francis Bacon
himself considered ‘‘magic’’ to be a science of understanding matter’s
hidden virtues, but his focus on magic has largely been ignored.
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product of reason) to dominate nature is Francis Bacon, a
seventeenth century philosopher and scientist (among other
things) often pointed to as the father of empiricism.
Though initially at odds with Cartesian rationality, the
empiricism espoused by Bacon follows Descartes in seeing
the world as separate from the human and as inanimate and
mechanical. Bacon put emphasis on direct knowledge of
the material world, and asserted that knowledge of natural
causes should be used to extend man’s power over nature
for the benefit of human society and its inhabitants (Rey-
don 2012; Bostrom 2011).
White (1967: 1203) states that this ‘‘Baconian creed’’—
that scientific knowledge means technological power over
nature—does not manifest much before about 1850. He
dates the growth of technology and the transformation of
nature to around AD 1000, when water power began to be
more broadly applied, followed by wind power. He re-
marks, ‘‘From the 11th century onward, the scientific sector
of Occidental culture has increased in a steady crescendo’
(White 1967: 1204). After the 1850s, the development of
the internal combustion engine leads to a radical transfor-
mation of technology that literally ‘‘takes off’’ in the early
twentieth century with advances in petroleum refining.
White posits that the acceptance of technological
domination over nature as a normal pattern of action ‘‘may
mark the greatest event in human history since the inven-
tion of agriculture, and perhaps in nonhuman terrestrial
history as well.’’ This exhortation that nature can and
should be transformed through technology for the good of
humanity is the logic of industrial capitalism and has not
been successfully challenged up to the present time.
The progression from the disenchantment of the world,
to the split between humanity and nature, to the exhortation
to dominate nature with technology—these three pose quite
enough to reshape the planet. But added to these is an
emergent creed that exhorts us to do this for our own
personal benefit, without regard for others or for external
The puritan temper
Concomitant with this change is the rise of the Protestant
Ethic, and the Puritan Temper: in this empty, material
world, the fulfillment of worldly duties took on a moral
mandate as the only way to live acceptably to God (Weber
1930: 41). We need to work hard to prove our divine worth.
Gratification should be postponed, for it will come in the
afterlife. Meanwhile, one should be industrious. Now in the
original Puritan ethic, one pursued wealth not for one’s
own benefit (one should live simply), but for the benefit of
the community. But as economic opportunities increased
with the Industrial Revolution and urban middle classes
rose into being, this would change.
Here emerges the model of Homo Economicus: eco-
nomic man, a notion derived from the works of Adam
Smith (Grampp 1948). Over time, the notion of economic
man became somewhat of a caricature that William D.
Grampp describes as ‘‘an alarmingly rational creature who
invariably seeks his own interest, who reacts with lightning
speed to actual and anticipated changes in his real income
and wealthhe is conscious of no other activities which
legitimately could engage a human being’’ (Grampp 1948:
315). This model is part of the scientific approach to social
theory—eliminate the variables and formulate consistent
laws. Hence, it is also called economic rationalism, and is
the foundation of most modern economic theory (see
Ostrom 1990). Such thinking is best exemplified by Garrett
Hardin’s (1968) ‘‘Tragedy of the Commons,’’ which we are
indeed facing now.
It is not until the early twentieth century that this
combination of the ‘‘Protestant Ethic’’ and the ‘‘Puritan
Temper’’ breaks down into pure pursuit of personal gain
for one’s own pleasure. Modern culture as we know it
really emerged, in the U.S., shortly after the turn of the
twentieth century (Bell 1972; Leach 1994; Robbins 1999),
probably linked to the development of the internal com-
bustion engine. As industrialization moved into full swing,
and people increasingly moved from rural to urban areas,
the cultural transformation we now call ‘‘modernization’
began to take place. Writers such as Virginia Woolf and
others noted in the early 1900s that human character had
changed (Leach 1994). As Daniel Bell (1972) puts it, in the
1920s, ‘‘the rise of mass production and high consumption
began to transform the life of the middle class itself,’’ with
the Protestant Ethic being replaced by what Bell calls a
‘materialistic hedonism.’’ This is when the notion of
‘economic man’’ is extended to its logical conclusion.
As Historian William Leach puts it, the new culture was
distinct in that it was
unconnected to traditional family or community val-
ues, to religion in any conventional sense, or to po-
litical democracy. It was a secular business and
market-oriented culture, with the exchange and cir-
culation of money and goods at the foundation of its
esthetic life and of its moral sensibility.The car-
dinal features of this culture were acquisition and
consumption as the means of achieving happiness;
the cult of the new; the democratization of desire; and
money value as the predominant measure of all value
in society (Leach 1994: 3).
National Academy of Engineering (2015) ‘‘Petroleum Technology
History Part 1—Background’’.
?id=3677. Accessed January 9, 2015.
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Nonetheless, this new culture continued the stance of its
Western antecedents by equating itself with Civilization,
implying that anything else is uncivilized (Robbins 1999).
With the end of World War II, this culture was spread
around the globe in the form of ‘‘development,’’ a scheme
overtly aimed at raising standards of living in poorer
countries, and succeeding in some significant ways. But—
either incidentally or covertly, as one might care to be-
lieve—linking the rest of the world into a market economy
keeps accelerating the rapacious exploitation of the natural
This has been an incredibly fast, incredibly radical, and
incredibly destructive transformation. What is clear is that
the worldview that is commonly accepted as ‘‘rational’
today is actually the result of specific historical, cultural
and economic forces, not a natural product of intellectual
inquiry. It is as ideological as any other cultural formation.
Colonialism and the spread of western culture
Putting these four together—and their coalescence was
gradual and not uncontested, but did follow a certain log-
ic—simply amplified the human penchant, at least in
Europe and later Japan, for expansion and conquest. If
rationality and with it science and technology, are what
make us distinctly human, then those with more science
and technology are more human than those without. As
Castree and Nash (2006: 501)state, Humanism was used to
‘define some humans as more human through their dis-
tance from nature than others.’’ This gradation of humanity
across the scale of savages, barbarians, semi-civilized and
civilized peoples would not emerge with clarity until the
nineteenth century, but the ideas were well underway in the
eighteenth century, if not sooner. In fact, the more the
technological gap grew, the more strongly this hierarchy
was reified in Western thinking. And it was not merely a
racial hierarchy, but included gender, class and religion as
well. It was the mentality by which the great age of
colonization was justified: it was incumbent upon the more
civilized to take a parental hand to the less civilized, and
lead them—if they could, in fact, be led, which was never
quite certain—towards a higher state of being.
As Ginn
(2014: 5) puts it,
Historically, a powerful standard of the human
emerged from the Western Enlightenment and colo-
nial encounters with various other peoples deemed by
Europeans to be inferior in one way or another: due
their environment, physiology, innate intelligence, or
distinct cultural evolution, for example. The figure of
the white, male, full-bodied, and heterosexual human
was deployed to justify a series of epistemic and
physical violence against subaltern groups.
Science was a part of this from the late eighteenth
century. Like the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Cook’s ships
were loaded with scientists of all sorts, seeking out new
life, new civilizations, and boldly going where no white
man had gone before. Explorers after him such as La
Perouse did the same, and many of the scholarly people
sent out were also collecting data on ‘‘racial science,’’ as
Europeans set about proving their superiority to other races
by scientific means. The colonization of Australia, deemed
terra nullius or ‘‘empty land’’ despite an obvious Abo-
riginal population, is the most drastic example.
The hegemony of Western thinking dismissed and
marginalized the indigenous knowledge and wisdom about
how to list sustainably. Of course, Europeans never had the
sole claim to systematic knowledge. Cultures everywhere
have sustained themselves by developing systematic
knowledge of planting, hunting, weather and climate, en-
vironmental conditions, medicine and health care, naviga-
tion and engineering—the list is extensive. Why these are
not ‘‘science’’? The short answer is, because the discourse
of rationality tells us they are not (Amundson 1982). Be-
cause they do not come from the European tradition that
defined science in a certain way. It is still the legacy of
colonialism that traditional lifeways, worldviews and un-
derstandings are still seen as backwards and irrational, if
not heathen. This is a powerful discursive force that still
colors the dominant worldview and acceptance of what is
knowledge and what is not.
Reason, rights and property
There is also, coming from the Enlightenment, the parallel
trajectory of the Rationalization of human rights: ques-
tioning why one man should have power over another, re-
jecting the Divine right of kings in favor of democracy,
leading to the rejection of slavery and colonialism, and
producing the ever-broadening discourse of civil rights.
This is based on the Enlightenment notion of reason and of
human ability to rise above nature, and has been a very
important trajectory in human social and political evolution.
But it also brought its own problems that are directly rele-
vant to the climate crisis today. For while human rights
emerged out of an improved notion of what it means to be
human, by the late eighteenth century it was being con-
joined with rights to property (Golay and Cismus 2010: 2).
This often uneasy alliance persists (Jacobs 2013) and is
reflected in the focus on the individual. Thus human rights,
While such sentiment is not so overt in the writings of the late
eighteenth century explorers, it becomes much more clear in the early
to mid-nineteenth century. Commodore Wilkes’ (1845) journal of the
United States Exploring Expedition is an excellent example.
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as manifested in Western discourse, further the atomization
of the individual. Each of us has inalienable rights, in-
cluding of our property. But in this discourse, we have no
inalienable responsibilities. The world ‘‘responsibility’’
appears nowhere in The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. The linking of ‘‘rights’’ with ‘‘profitability’’ echoes
profoundly in our society today: it is perceived by some,
perhaps by many Americans, that we have a right to make as
much money as possible, and that no laws or regulations
should stand in the way. This comes out in every attempt by
the U.S. government (among others) to curtail greenhouse
gasses or other environmentally harmful actions. This is not
to say that the progression of human rights has not been a
crucial and outstanding part of the evolution of humanity.
Just as rationality was needed to break free from the intel-
lectual tyranny of the church, human rights are needed to
end other forms of tyranny. Butthen what? What is next?
The pitfall of scientism
My point heretofore is that modern science results from a
historical agenda that is both political and economic. In its
truest form, science is open and expansive in nature. As
Williams (2015: 4) notes, science does assume and require
that the world can be made sense of by a rational mind, but
that there is no reason that science ‘‘should require that the
rationality and order derive from, or have their roots in, any
particular sort of reality.’’ Until the nineteenth century,
there was no clear boundary in Western thought between
science and philosophy, and the word science was used
simply to mean ‘‘knowledge’’ (Hutchinson 2011). ‘‘Sci-
ence’’ was considered just one of many approaches to
knowledge, and the physical or natural sciences were not
conferred a special status. As Hayek (1955:12) states,
‘Those who devoted themselves to those fields indeed
readily chose the designation of philosophy when they
were concerned with the more general aspects of their
problems, and occasionally we even find ‘natural phi-
losophy’ contrasted with ‘moral science’.’’ This began to
change during the nineteenth century: ‘‘science’’ as a des-
ignation became more confined to the physical and biolo-
gical disciplines, which Hayek asserts ‘‘at the same time
began to claim for themselves a special rigorousness and
certainty which distinguished them from all others.’’
The resulting reification of science results in ‘‘scien-
tism,’’ what Hayek (1955: 15–6) describes as ‘‘an attitude
which is decidedly unscientific in the true sense of the word,
since it involves a mechanical and uncritical application of
habits of thought to fields different from those in which they
have been formed.’’ Scientism is a cultural phenomenon
wherein science is commonly regarded as providing
knowledge about the natural world that has ‘‘an unsurpassed
claim to reality and truth’’ (Hutchinson 2011: 1). As
Hutchinson goes on to explain, ‘‘Scientism is the belief that
all valid knowledge is science. Scientism says, or at least
implicitly assumes, that rational knowledge is scientific,
and everything else that claims the status of knowledge is
just superstition, irrationality, emotion, or nonsense.’’ He
adds that many leading scientists, and science popularizers,
speak and act as if science and scientism are one and the
same. This results too easily in a confusion between the two,
and a rejection of science when scientism is actually the
problem. (Hutchinson 2011: 1).
Hayek states that the scientistic (as distinguished from
the scientific) view is ‘‘not an unprejudiced but a very
prejudiced approach which, before it has considered its
subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way
of investigating it.’’ Hutchinson (2011: 1) adds that ‘‘In so
far as scientism is an overarching world-view, it is fair to
regard it as essentially a religious position.’’ Williams
(2015: 3–4) makes an even stronger case, stating that
scientism entails a metaphysical commitment to
naturalist, reductive or emergent materialism and
tries to define science in a way that includes, not only
a commitment to empirical methods, but also to a
particular metaphysics. Within scientism, then,
questions are framed in terms of this particular
metaphysical perspective, and the propriety of any
method is evaluated primarily in terms of whether it
deals with the world as if it really is as naturalist
materialist metaphysics claims it is. Therefore, a
scientistic science can only produce results com-
patible with or affirming of the same metaphysical
commitment it started with, since the validity of the
metaphysics itself is not a question that can be an-
swered scientifically.
While not all scientists are scientistic, and undoubtedly
exercise plenty of irrational thought and behavior in their
personal lives, the scientistic attitude provides a plethora of
obstacles. It is scientism that makes the National Science
Foundation (NSF) a major funding agency while there is no
comparable body in the United States for the social sci-
ences (except for the puny way in which they fall under the
rubic of the NSF), and far less money for the National
Endowment for the Humanities or for the Arts.
How does this relate to climate change? A quick exam-
ple. At the Smithsonian I was involved in developing a
project called IndiGEO—a combination of my own
‘Indigenous Geography’’ approach with the Smithsonian’s
Global Earth Observatories (SIGEO). The idea was to bring
While I am discussing human rights in the broadest sense, there are
sub-areas within the human rights arena that approach the issue more
holistically, including the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, and the United Farmworkers Union.
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culture and science together in a project for Indian Country
focused on adaptation to climate change. The lead scientist
brought in three additional science colleagues, and I gave
them all my presentation on Indigenous Geography. As
described elsewhere (Herman 2008), this is a methodology
for collecting and presenting community-based indigenous
knowledge about place in a holistic framework. I ex-
plained—with the aid of extensive graphics and illustra-
tions—how Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies
differ from the Western models, and how the Indigenous
Geography methodology was focused particularly on the
values for sustainability. At the end of my presentation, one
of the scientists—a respected forest modeler—put up his
hand and asked, ‘‘Sowhere’s the hypothesis?’’ In the end
it became clear that none of the scientists saw any value to
the cultural component, and the entire project fell apart.
This emphasis on technological solutions for the challenges
of climate change is a facet of scientism (Hutchinson 2011).
The scientistic worldview is not only not scientific but
also not ‘‘rational’’ at all. Val Plumwood argues that the
human-centeredness of this so-called rational thinking ‘‘is
not in the interests of either humans or non-humans, that it
is even dangerous and irrational.’’ It disenables us from
understanding ‘‘our embeddedness in and dependency on
nature,’’ distorting ‘‘our perceptions and enframings in
ways that make us insensitive to limits, dependencies and
interconnections of a non-human kind.’’ We have become
unable to ‘‘see ourselves as part of ecosystems and un-
derstand how nature supports our lives. This failure’’ she
states, ‘‘lies behind many environmental catastrophes
(Plumwood 2009). It has fostered an ideology of environ-
mental exploitation that was hitherto unheard of and even
anathema to most peoples on Earth. All of our ancestors
would have found it horrific if they could see us now. Dan
Wildcat (2009) calls it the path of ‘‘self termination.’’
All of this is to say: climate change is a cultural issue. If
we want to do something about climate change, we need to
tackle it from the angle of culture—using science. Can we
move culture further in the direction of the wisdom of our
ancestors—to ensure that there is always enough? I think
we can.
Traditional knowledge
To begin with, let us position traditional knowledge sys-
tems in relation to Western science, since the culture of
scientism posits that non-Western knowledge is not ‘‘sci-
ence.’’ The traditional cultures of the world developed deep
and complex knowledge systems based on their own tra-
ditions of observation, experimentation, trial and error,
philosophical exploration, and—most importantly—lived
experience in places over long periods of time. This is what
Wildcat calls ‘‘multigenerational deep spatial knowledges’’
(Wildcat 2009: 15-6) that present a different way of
looking at the world from the atomized, anthropocentric
and ‘‘economically rational’’ viewpoint predominant in
Western culture. Indigenous worldviews are characterized
by a fluidity between cultures and environments, wherein
individuals understand their position in the world in terms
of relationships to larger processes. Tewa Indian scholar
Cajete (2000: 75, 79) describes this worldview as follows:
Everything is considered to be ‘alive’ or animated
and imbued with ‘spirit’ or energy. A stone has its
own form of animation and unique energy. Every-
thing is related, that is, connected in dynamic, inter-
active, and mutually reciprocal relationships. All
things, events, and forms of energy unfold and infold
themselves in a contextual field of the micro and
macro universe.The ultimate aim is not explaining
an objectified universe, but rather learning about and
understanding responsibilities and relationships and
celebrating those that humans establish with the
world.[It] is also about mutual reciprocity, and
which presupposes a responsibility to care for, sus-
tain, and respect the rights of other living things,
plants, animals, and the place in which one lives.
At the same time, such an epistemological standpoint is
not antithetical to the use of technology, but differs in
approach to how and towards what ends technology should
be used. From Native Hawaiians having electricity in their
palace before the White House and Buckingham Palace
had it (Burlingame 2008), to the highly progressive and
innovative strides towards reducing carbon emissions
found in Indian Country today, Indigenous peoples have
shown a readiness to adapt technological means they see as
But their cultural traditions posit that knowledge
resides in our living in this world, not in controlling it
(Wildcat 2009:16).
There are those including myself (Coleman and Herman
2010; Cajete 2000; Johnson and Murton 2007; Baker et al.
2011) who have posited Native Science in opposition to
Western Science. In the formulation used by Baker et al.
(2011: 1), the opposition looks like this:
Native Science Western Science
Holistic Discipline-based
Locally valid Universally valid
Contextual Abstraction
Value-Laden Value-Free
See, for example, the work of the Intertribal Council on Utility
Policy in promoting wind energy.
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While there is some validity to this distinction, I suggest
that it is no longer useful and can even be misleading, because
there are ways in which each manifests the characteristics of
the other. Rather, these are points along a continuum that we
must not perpetuate through ‘‘scientism’’ on one end and
some reified ‘‘indigentism’’ (or whatever) on the other. The
time is now to put these two together and collectively call
them ‘‘knowledge.’’ The increasing engagement of scientists
working with indigenous peoples in the Arctic on climate
change points out the growing recognition that these
knowledge systems complement each other. Baker et al.
(2001: 3–4) present other examples where the Western sci-
entific approach was unable to solve problems but solutions
came from the Indigenous knowledge holders. As my col-
league Arctic anthropologist Igor Krupnik put it, ‘‘I wouldn’t
put it like ‘indigenous people’ and ‘scientists.’ It’s a differ-
ence between someone who lives in the environment daily,
and someone who studies it [at a distance]’’ (Loury 2012).
Because they are place-based, traditional knowledges
are aimed at deriving the wisdom to ensure survival. They
embrace that we are part of the Earth, and dependent on it,
and dependent on each other and all the nations of beings
that inhabit this earth. And they think towards the future,
and plan accordingly. This, I suggest, is the kind of
knowledge approach that is needed globally today.
Now the question arises, are these two approaches to
knowledge—Western Science and traditional knowledge—
incommensurable? Can we, as I suggest, lump them to-
gether under the single umbrella of ‘‘knowledge’’? Some,
such as Cajete (2000) would say yes; others (particularly
Western scientists) might say no. If there can be no agree-
ment here, what is needed is what Sami scholar Rauna
Kuokkanen calls ‘‘multi-epistemic literacy.’
We need to
engage in dialog and learning across these two approaches
to knowledge so that we can at least be literate in both, if not
seeing them as parts of a whole. Turnbull (2007: 142)
similarly calls for creating ‘‘a third space, a space in which
the possibilities of agonistic pluralism can occur based on a
performative rethinking of knowing and mapping.’’
What is clear is that right now, the dialog (if it can be
called that) is mostly going one way: incorporating tradi-
tional knowledge into Western science and technology
when it proves useful to do so, but not changing the
dominant epistemological outlook (as with my IndiGEO
colleagues). And clearly there is a lack of literacy here, and
a lack of the will for such multi-epistemic literacy: for
while Indigenous peoples seem to have no problem
adopting Western science and technology for their own
uses, and modifying their worldviews accordingly, the
opposite does not seem to take place much. Such is the
problem of hegemony, which needs to be overcome.
There is no single, discernable true way of seeing or
knowing, short of complete nirvana. For we less enlight-
ened beings, all knowledge formations are like the
proverbial blind men and the elephant, each feeling and
identifying a different characteristic, none of which are
wrong, but all of which are needed to discern a larger
understanding. And they are not necessarily translatable, or
rather, much information is lost in translation. Hence, we
need to be humbly multi-lingual—multi-epistemic—in our
approach to knowledge. Dialogical tension (Turnbull 2007:
146) is useful and productive.
While the matter of knowledge is important, more impor-
tant still is our being in the world. Here, I contrast moder-
nity with a notion we might call ‘‘indigeneity.’’ By this I do
not mean any essentialist notion, that one kind of people are
any better or wiser than any other. All of our ancestors were
Indigenous once, somewhere. Rather, my focus here is on a
way of being in the world: being indigenous to a place
means having a depth of knowledge, understanding, and
connection to that place. Indigeneity also includes a sense of
stewardship and responsibility for managing that place and
working respectfully with its non-human inhabitants. And
certainly before, and perhaps to a lesser degree, after
Christianity wreaked its havoc on traditional ontologies,
this included holistic and spiritual engagement. Prior to that
shift away from agrarian society that took place with the
Industrial Revolution, most people on this planet retained
some degree of Indigeneity under this definition.
I am using the term ‘‘indigeneity’’ differently from the
way it appears in much contemporary scholarship on the
rights and struggles of indigenous peoples (see, for exam-
ple, Hauser-Scha
¨ublin 2013; Fowler 2011; O’Sullivan
2006; Barnard 2006; Lewallen 2003). In that literature,
‘indigeneity’’ refers to being an indigenous person or
group, as either defined under internationally recognized
proclamations such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples, or within or about Indigenous com-
munities themselves. This is an important discussion and
movement in its own right, but is not related to my argu-
ment herein. Rather, I am eschewing such essentialist or
political notions of being indigenous in favor of mobilizing
a behavioral one. This is not to diminish or demean the
struggles of Indigenous peoples for sovereignty and iden-
tity, but to address a different matter altogether: how can
humanity live sustainably on this planet?
My argument draws on Dan Wildcat’s call for
‘Indigenous Realism’’: that the approach to living in this
I am drawing on Sundberg’s (2014) reading of Kuokkanen. See
also Shaw et al. (2006) for a critique of the Indigenous-Western
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world manifested by Indigenous cultures—in multitudi-
nous forms but with some key, core principles—offers real,
practical insights that the non-Indigenous public could and
should learn from. It is a call to see the fallacies and pitfalls
of the Western tradition in its approach to the natural
world, and turn towards something more realistic.
Toward that end, strengthening the position of actual
indigenous peoples is an important strategy, because the
rationale that dispossessed them is the same as the rationale
for conquest of the environment. Fostering Indigenous
peoples and their lifeways is part of the path to returning
the rest of us to grasping the logic of indigeneity as I am
defining it here. But we must beware an essentialism that
reifies bloodlines with behavior. There are plenty of
modernized indigenous peoples who are just as exploitative
as their white neighbors may be, and many non-indigenous
peoples who embrace holistic worldviews and practices.
My conception of Indigeneity is a universal call for each
and all of us to understand, connect with, relate to, and act
in balance with the places in which we live. It is the ulti-
mate form of ‘‘Think Globally, Act Locally’’: if each of us
takes responsibility to sustainably manage the places in
which we live, then the entire world will be taken care of.
But to make this idea catch on, we need to enter it into the
popular discourse by redefining what is ‘‘rational
‘Rationality’’ and wisdom
Let me tentatively suggest a new formulation called ‘‘Ra-
tionality,’’ with a capital ‘‘R’’. This form of Rationality
reclaims the knowledge, insights, and wisdom which have
been pushed out since the Enlightenment and the Scientific
Revolution. It involves removing the blinders—meta-
physical and cultural—of scientism and small-r ‘‘ra-
tionality’’ (e.g., economic rationality) to understand the
roots of climate change and to determine an effective way
forward. ‘‘Rationality’’ does not accept infinitely expand-
ing consumption based on a belief that when things run out,
we will figure something out. That is a castle made of sand,
or as Dan Wildcat (2009: 51) calls it, ‘‘laying a destructive
foundation.’’ ‘‘Rationality’’ does not involve polluting our
own nest so we can keep costs down for the short term,
without regard for long-term consequences. And Ration-
ality does not involve discounting human values and ex-
perience as ‘‘unscientific’’ and therefore outside the realm
of data worth careful consideration. That is ideology, not
Real Rationality would take a careful look at the science
of how we are living and what is going on with our planet.
It looks holistically at both at our world and at our selves
and our experience of the world. It asks questions about
how our values reflect our interconnection with and de-
pendency on other beings. It is attentive to the place in
which human action is situated—the web of relationships
and their trajectories from past into future, and hence the
likely impacts or consequences of one’s actions. At the
same time, this Rationality seeks not detached rationality,
but transcendent meaning—transcendent of the bonds of
ego. And it informs our cultural practices accordingly.
‘Rationality,’’ in short, is the path to wisdom.
As John Kekes defines wisdom, it is a kind of knowl-
edge accessible to anyone:
Wisdom consists, partly, in understanding the sig-
nificance of what everybody knows. Depth and pri-
orities make this understanding possible. What a wise
man knows, therefore, is how to construct a pattern
that, given the human situation, is likely to lead to a
good life. This knowledge is not esoteric, for it is
within everyone’s reach; nor does it require a special
skill or talent, for it concerns the recognition of
possibilities and limitations that are the same for
everyone. But it does take self control, enabling a
person to modify his wants in accordance with his
ideals; self-knowledge, for knowing what his wants
and ideals are; breadth and depth; constancy, so that
adversity will not deflect him from his commitments;
and the hierarchical ranking of his commitments, for
judging what is important to him (Kekes 1983: 280).
If we combine this common sense approach to wisdom
with the more holistic thinking of my proposed Rationality,
we open a path to a new path of human evolution. We have
already had the Agricultural Revolution, the Scientific
Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Medical
Revolution. Now it is time for the ‘‘Wisdom Revolution’’: a
new acceptance of what is truly Rational and a movement
away from the unsustainable lifestyle that Western culture
has promoted planet-wide.
Wildcat similarly, has made an articulate case for em-
bracing and adopting what he calls Indigenous Realism.
This approach entails that ‘‘we, members of humankind,
accept our inalienable responsibilities as members of the
planet’s complex life system, as well as our inalienable
rights’’ (2009: 9). In Wildcat’s view, scientific knowledge
is useful but does not generate life-enhancing knowledges
for humankind. He emphasizes the importance of knowl-
edges gained through attentive living, through under-
standing humanity’s place in the web of life and our
relationships and responsibilities towards our relatives—
the other nations of beings with whom we share the planet.
Wildcat points out that Indigenous Realism converges
quite closely with what science calls complex adaptive
systems—‘‘fluidly changing collections of distributed in-
teracting components that react to both their environments
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and to one another,’’ such as ‘‘the electric power grid,
telecommunications networks, the Internet, biological
systems, ecological systems, social groups, and even hu-
man society itself’’ (Argonne National Laboratory 2015).
A related school of thought has emerged in the West
under the rubric of ‘‘Post-humanism.’’ As Franklin (2007:1)
describes posthumanism, ‘‘It rejects the notion of the
separability of humanity from the non-human worldand
the division of knowledge into separate domains. Rather, it
seeks to recover the complex ways in which humans are
entangled with non-humans.’’ Ginn (2014: 1) adds that it
‘emphasizes the different ways humans are continually
produced through material forces, discursive regimes, and
through nonhuman agencies. One of posthumanism’s key
aims is to dissolve binary distinctions that characterize hu-
manism, most notably culture/nature and self/world.’’ This
emergent approach clearly accords with my call for indi-
geneity, marking a distinct change within Western think-
ing—reclaiming ground lost under the Enlightenment
thinkers. How much it will actually influence behavior,
however, remains to be seen. Sundberg (2014) and Panelli
(2010) have argued that posthumanism (at least in the dis-
cipline of Geography) is tightly bound in and by Eurocentric
scholarship, reproducing colonial ways of knowing and
thereby further subordinating other ontologies. But
posthumanism clearly signals a potential shift towards a
more ‘‘indigenous’’ epistemological framework, and Sund-
berg (2014: 38–42) offers a useful critique for how it can be
further decolonized, particularly with attention to place and
taking responsibility for the paths we walk. Properly en-
gaged, posthumanism could have a very positive impact.
In that vein, I prefer to use the term ‘‘indigeneity’’ to
Indigenous Realism because I feel the latter term suggests a
philosophical rubric, among the many ‘‘isms’’ out there.
Such concepts are useful academically, but my focus is on
behavior, on how we live our lives. Rather than strategizing
how to manage nature, indigeneity involves learning how
to live well and sustainably as one small but powerful part
of nature.
Again, technology is no enemy to indigeneity. Rather,
technology must be embraced and utilized effectively for
the collective good—not just of humanity, but of the entire
web of life. We should be drawing on the wisdom and
knowledge of our ancestors to learn how to live in a more
balanced and sustainable manner with our local environ-
ments, and applying technology towards that end.
Whither romanticism?
Let me be clear that embracing indigeneity is not the same
as a romantic notion of returning to nature or to our primal
lifestyles. True, the Romanticist movement that peaked in
the first half of the nineteenth century was a backlash
against the rationalization of nature I described earlier; and
yes it engaged in the glorification of Native peoples. For
Native peoples, however, romanticism has largely been a
two-edged sword. It is what Mary Louis Pratt (1992) has
called ‘‘anti-conquest’’: glorifying the conquered other. It
leads non-Native peoples to have appreciative thoughts and
attitudes not towards those peoples today, but toward an
idealized fiction of how they used to be as Noble Savages.
Such romantic ideas can often co-exist with overtly hostile
and even racist attitudes towards present-day peoples.
What I wonder is whether this two-edged sword can still
be wielded a little bit to encourage a cultural shift towards
indigeneity. I realize this is fraught undertaking, but my
thinking derives from what most Americans over 50
probably remember the ‘‘crying Indian’’ anti-littering
campaign on television in the 1970s. The actor, Iron Eyes
Cody, turned out not to be a real Indian, but that did not
matter much outside of Indian Country. The Washington
Post (2013) recently anointed this campaign as the most
powerful public service commercial of all time. It struck a
cord. We still remember it. Like it or not, this image had a
real resonance for the dominant culture. The emptiness of
modernity summons an aching for Indigeneity, for a con-
nection to a more meaningful world and a more integrated
way of being in it. Modernity left people craving some-
thing that is more ‘‘authentic.’’ Phillip Deloria (1998) has
documented the stages of ‘‘Playing Indian’’ in White
America, as an important part of American identity. And at
the time of this writing, there is an active debate regarding
whether Native American sports mascots honor or degrade
Native peoples. The use of the Indian arrowhead and the
buffalo as symbols for the National Park Service, and the
Crying Indian public service announcement, show en-
gagement with the Indian has served as a sort of National
Unconscious Archetype of a respect for the wilderness.
Is it romantic to say that we are interconnected with and
part of the Earth, to use the Lakota phrase ‘‘all my rela-
tives’’ in referring to the soil, the rocks, the water, the air,
the plants and the animals? No, actually, this is science. We
are one with our environment. The boundary between our
bodies and our environments is not just permeable, but a
blur of movement as components from Earth, Air, Water
and Fire cycle through us. We partake of, and contribute to,
the Hydrological cycle, Atmospheric circulation, the
Nutrient Cycle, and the Mineral cycle. We embody, and
return to, the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. We
are what we eat, drink and breath, and we share those
elements with the rest of the Earth. Even our DNA tells us
that we are related to all other species on the planet
(Zimmer 2013). The Lakota phrase ‘‘all our relatives’’
becomes a scientific reality when we consider this. And
when we think of the world as ‘‘relatives’’ rather than
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‘resources,’’ we will treat it differently. It does not have to
be romanticized.
But these are all facts, and as a Hawaiian colleague of
mine (who works at NOAA) likes to say, ‘‘Tell me the facts
and I will understand. Show me the data and I will believe
you. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart.’’ I
suggest we need to employ some storytelling. The fact is—
for better or worse—that despite scientism, popular culture
in the United States is much more leaned towards the ro-
mantic, as demonstrated by the plethora of television shows
and movies regarding outer space, vampires, hobbits,
ghosts and the supernatural.
I am simply wondering
whether this interest can be harnessed to direct attention
towards real indigeneity, and I suspect it could help if it
were done right. It is all a matter of communication. As
Callicott (2013) puts it, ‘‘The putatively ‘‘value-free’’ dis-
course of science—a mixture of mathematics, statistics,
and technical terminology—is not readily or easily acces-
sible. The discourse of the humanities—rich with imagery,
metaphor, emotion, and honest moral judgment—resonates
with a much wider audience.’
Contemporary social theorists such as Ju
¨rgen Habermas,
Anthony Giddens and Daniel Bell suggest that ‘‘the tension
between [Western-style] rationality and transcendent
meaning might be overcome by the development of a
shared language people could use to relate to transcendent
meanings within a rationalized context’’ (Besecke 2001:
365). I have already suggested that the traditional lifeways
that were displaced by modernity have a better approach to
living on the planet that we can learn from and harness to
move forward in a more sustainable manner. How can we
combine traditional wisdom with modern science and
sensibility to produce a shared language of Rationality that
will have real resonance for the general population? How
can we bring culture, science and traditional knowledge
together into a new discourse of wisdom for how to live on
this planet? I offer one possible take on that: the values of
the voyaging canoe. This framework is based on my ex-
tensive field research on the Oceanic voyaging canoe as
well as culture, values and conservation in Hawaii and
Micronesia. From 2000 to 2005, I worked in Hawaii and
Micronesia on my Pacific Worlds project (http://www., collaborating with seven communities
to produce indigenous geography websites representing
their cultural knowledge. Then, from 2010 to 2013, I
conducted extensive interviews in Hawaii for a proposed
exhibition for the National Museum of the American
Indian, ‘‘Aloha ‘A
¯ina: Hawaii, the Canoe and the World.’
Both of these projects underwent rigorous review and ap-
proval processes with the persons and communities in-
volved. From this work, I derived five values for the
voyaging canoe as the basis for that exhibition.
Polynesian voyaging was brought back to life in 1976
with the building of the Ho¯ku
¯le0a voyaging canoe and its
being sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti guided by Mau Piailug,
a traditional navigator from Tahiti. Forty years later, a
plethora of voyaging canoes have come into being and a
new generation of voyagers are learning the art of their
ancestors. As I write, the traditional Polynesian voyaging
canoe Ho¯ku
¯le0a is engaging in a three-year voyage around
the world, to raise consciousness about the need to live
sustainably. I suggest that the voyaging canoe offers a
means by which we can express wisdom for living on this
planet in very clear and comprehendible terms that has real
First, it cannot be denied that the settling of the Island
Pacific is one of the greatest human adventures of all time.
Sailing mostly upwind across an ocean that covers a third
of planet, finding tiny dots of land, and returning. Then
going back. And all of this on open double-hulled canoes
built with stone-age tools and materials—a thousand or
more years before Columbus. WOW. This is a great Ro-
mantic story, full of life and death, bravery against the
elements, teamwork and survival, as these relatively small
crafts crossed the most massive ocean on the planet. Now,
there is a Hawaiian proverb that ‘‘the Canoe is an Island,
the Island is a Canoe.’’ This emphasizes that the same
circumstances, the same values and conditions, apply to
both situations. Both are limited vessels surrounded by
ocean, and what you have is all you have. How do you
make it work?
First of the five values is knowledge (‘Ike): While for a
century it was assumed impossible that Pacific peoples
with stone-age technology and no written language could
navigate back and forth over long distances, the voyages of
the Ho¯ku
¯le0a with Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug have
proved that wrong. Pacific navigators developed extensive
knowledge based on observation of the stars at sea, ob-
serving their risings and settings at different latitudes and
working out a system of wayfinding based on star paths.
But they also read the swells of the ocean, and system-
atized that knowledge into useful means for guiding the
canoe in the absence of stars. The subtlety of their ability to
read the swells required training from early childhood.
Methods for finding land beyond the horizon also used the
See also Nisbett 1999.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society, with whom I worked closely,
espouses six values which are similar to the five I propose. See http:// I had derived mine before learning
of theirs, but those I worked with there approved of my five.
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swells and their refractions off land, as well as detailed
readings of clouds based on color and movement. It was
important also to know which land-based birds (and which
stages of life for those birds) could be reliably followed to
find land. All of this knowledge is encoded in traditional
languages, where we can find rich vocabularies of terms for
conditions of the sea, animal life in different stages, and so
This is the science aspect, but as with all traditional
cultures, this science involves intuition and a deep spiritual
connection with the world. As master navigator Pius Mau
Piailug told his Hawaiian apprentices, there were two kinds
of navigators on his home island of Satawal: those who
only knew how to navigate, and those who knew both
navigation and magic. These latter were considered the
higher ones. My informants from Ulithi Atoll in Mi-
cronesia also spoke of the use of magic. Like other native
peoples, they understood another science that involves the
unmanifest world, and they knew how to use it. The En-
lightenment discarded ‘‘magic,’’ intuition and spirituality,
but they are an essential part of the human experience, and
the means by which our transcendent values are informed.
The second value, po‘okela, refers to the Pursuit of
Excellence: as one culture keeper told me, ‘‘If you’re going
to build a voyaging canoe that can go 2,500 miles and
back, ‘good enough’ is not good enough.’’ With no usable
metals available, Hawaiians and their Polynesian forebears
transformed lava rock into tools to hew trees and carve
canoes. They twisted coconut-husk fibers into rope that
held the craft together, and breadfruit sap into glue. There
were many plants involved in the production of even the
simplest canoe, and this required both knowledge and skill
to utilize them. We are talking about technology, and in
this humanity currently excels. That is good, and we need
to keep doing that. But we need to direct that technology
towards a higher destination: living wisely and sustainably.
Third and fourth are two related terms: Kuleana refers to
your area of responsibility, but also to rights. In modern
parlance your kuleana is your ‘‘turf’’—an area for which
you are solely responsible, but which is also your domain.
As I stated earlier, economic rationalism and even the
discourse of Human Rights poses no responsibilities
whatsoever. If we want to save the planet, we need to have
not just inalienable rights, but inalienable responsibilities—
towards each other, towards the myriad nations of beings
with whom we share this planet, and towards the Earth
itself. It is the individualism of the Enlightenment, and of
modernity, that has enabled us to think we can do what we
want and not concern ourselves with the external impacts
on the Earth and on others. Rights and responsibilities go
together. If you do not attend to your responsibility, that
puts a burden on someone else, and the system starts to
break down. We are all in the same boat. Do your part.
Pono, for me, is a most important and useful Hawaiian
word. An Aleut elder once glossed it for me as ‘‘In har-
mony with all of Creation.’’ As a student of Chinese
Buddhism, I think of it as ‘‘In accordance with the will of
Heaven.’’ It means to act in a way that balanced, not just
socially, but cosmically. It is, in short, to do the right thing
in any given situation, even if that is to your personal
disadvantage. Sometimes you have to take the hit to ac-
complish the greater good.
The fifth value is ma
¯lama: this refers to nurturance, like
a mother looking after a child, or farmers after their crops.
You nurture what is in your care, feed it, ensure that it has
everything it needs to thrive, and heal or fix things when
they are damaged. It recognizes the sentience, the spirit, in
those things we look after. We ma¯lama things not just for
our own benefit, but because it nurtures the spirit of the
world around us. Especially, we need to look after the
vessel that carries us. Hence, the name of the Ho
World Wide Voyage: ‘ma
¯lama honua—take care of the
Earth.’’ On board, this means not only do you ma¯lama the
canoe, but also each other, and your supplies. What we
have is all we have: we need to look after it, make it last,
make it endure, make it flourish. We all need to ma¯lama
honua, by being pono in our management of our kuleana,
using ‘ike and po‘okela.
Of course, all of this works best with aloha—compas-
sionate, loving kindness. And this may be where the culture
of individualism provides the weakest link. But as with all
of these values, it can be reclaimed if we accept that we are
all in the same boat.
Our own voyages
Today, with global interconnectivity and global environ-
mental issues, of which climate change is the most im-
portant by far, the Earth is the canoe, the Earth is the island.
It is not just a metaphor. And we need to understand it as
such, and practice those five values that enabled survival
on the canoe and on small islands. It is time we replaced
the value of self-interest with the values of living and
working together. It is time to promote a culture that unites
science with wisdom. Otherwise, we are lost.
Knowledge should be about putting our best values
into practice, NOT about giving everyone the freedom—
and incentive—to pursue their own self-interest at the
expense of others. If the Anthropocene tells us anything,
it is that the Age of the Individual is over. We are all in
the same boat, and that boat is getting smaller, and
leakier, and more of trash. And that is just not rational.
Let us tell a new story that encourages us how to live
Rationally and sustainably on this planet. Let us learn
again how to be wise.
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Now, how to do it? How can we live wisely and sus-
tainably, acting in balance with the places we live, espe-
cially with a crisis so complex as climate change? What do
we do in the hard, nitty-gritty world where things are never
simple, where problems always involve trade-offs, and
where the best intentions are often crushed by the jugger-
nauts of capital and state? Well, in the words of the late
Buddhist master Hsuan Hua, ‘‘Try your best.’’ What I have
attempted to provide here is a framework for thinking that
can guide action.
I have elsewhere used the canoe idea to describe the
journeys we undertake in the course of our regular lives
and work (Herman 2013). In my own life, I find it useful
to remember that we are always ‘‘in the canoe,’’ trying to
raise our destinations out of the sea. Whether it is a
classroom, a workplace, a car, a home, or an entire busi-
ness or government entity, if you treat it as a voyaging
canoe—all participants in it together, each needing to do
his or her part, and all looking after and taking care of
tasks, equipment, people, whatever, and with a common
goal that is appropriate (pono)—then you will have a
happier, more fulfilling, more successful and less harmful
outcome. The more of us who think and act this way, the
better chance we have of mitigating the impacts of climate
So in keeping with Sundberg (2014), Turnbull (2007)
de Certeau (1984) and others, I conclude by emphasizing
our daily journeys. We know that in our paths through the
world, we play active, constitutive roles with the people,
places, and webs of relationships among whom we pass. It
is important to enact the recognition of the principles at
stake. Some people—corporate CEOs, large property
holders, managers, etc.—have larger spheres of influence
than others, but the principle remains the same: understand
your immediate situation, as well as the Earth itself, in
terms of the values of the canoe: Are you using the best
knowledge available? Are you pursuing excellence? Are
you taking care of your areas of responsibility? Are you
acting in a way that is pono—to yourself, to others, and to
the Earth? And do you ma
¯lama those things and places
that need your attention? From the small practical things
such as recycling, using less energy, and so forth, to taking
a stand against practices that are clearly unbalanced and
unsustainable, to getting into government office at what-
ever level, we all have the ability to make some differ-
ence. And the more, the better. That does not mean it is
easy. But if we can educate a new generation to see it as
self-evident that the natural world is a part of ourselves
that we should know and care for responsibly, to strive for
excellence not for themselves but for their communities,
and to see the Earth as this marvelous, living, finite vessel
that carries humanity around the galaxy, it will become
much easier.
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Sustain Sci
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... In a previous section in this article, it is mentioned that the economic values of the European culture dominate the Western concept of sustainability [17]. We have created an economic and socio-political system based on the idea of an ever-growing production and consumption [56] and we see nature as an object that we can control through technological solutions [57][58][59]. Herman [57] argues that the disconnection between science, culture and traditional knowledge that the development has resulted in, is underpinning the problems we face today. According to research [8], it seems like inner capacities and systemic dysfunctions constitute an obstacle to achieving necessary change, and quite recently the discussion within the international development and sustainability area has increased its focus on human's inner being as a part of the extensive problem humanity is facing (ibid.). ...
... We have created an economic and socio-political system based on the idea of an ever-growing production and consumption [56] and we see nature as an object that we can control through technological solutions [57][58][59]. Herman [57] argues that the disconnection between science, culture and traditional knowledge that the development has resulted in, is underpinning the problems we face today. According to research [8], it seems like inner capacities and systemic dysfunctions constitute an obstacle to achieving necessary change, and quite recently the discussion within the international development and sustainability area has increased its focus on human's inner being as a part of the extensive problem humanity is facing (ibid.). ...
... Even the agriculture and farming production mechanisms are disconnected from nature as we keep using methods that harm the biodiversity, the soil, the water and the air [8]. This relates to Herman's [57] thoughts about a disconnection from traditional knowledge. Hans Rosling [65], also argued that there is a gap between public and academic discourse. ...
Full-text available
This theoretical paper builds on a multidisciplinary framework which is structured to acknowledge the need to combine different research disciplines to understand the problems within our current unsustainable food system and be able to develop possible solutions through new innovations. Current food production methods come at an environmental cost as they generate large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions which affect biodiversity and climate change. The article shows that the problems surrounding food systems and our culture around food, are multifaceted and intricate. The fact is that a growing number of citizens suffer from obesity with various consequential diseases as a result, while a part of the population is still malnourished and dying of hunger. This paper summarizes results from some fairly new studies and different international policy reports to try to clarify how broad the problem is, which is crucial to find new pathways forward to address the problems. Through theoretical discussion, the paper identifies some of the deep underlying root causes and fundamental reasons as to why the urgent needed change is so slow.
... Systemic Environmental problems are often born of disconnected, unsustainable land practices, and continue to be exacerbated by climate change (De Abreu, 2022;Hessburg et al., 2021;Holling & Meffe, 1996;IPCC, 2014;Kimmerer, 2002;Marchand et al., 2020;Vogt et al., 2021). The success of many place-based Indigenous communities in managing finite lands to support spiritual, cultural, environmental, and economic goals using sustainable approaches has gained global recognition (Gadgil, 1993;Herman, 2016;Marchand et al. 2020;Schuster et al., 2019). This has resulted in heightened interest from Western stakeholders to identify and use Indigenous environmental practices to restore ecosystem resilience and biodiversity (Gadgil, 1993;Herman, 2016;Marchand et al. 2020;Schuster et al., 2019). ...
... The success of many place-based Indigenous communities in managing finite lands to support spiritual, cultural, environmental, and economic goals using sustainable approaches has gained global recognition (Gadgil, 1993;Herman, 2016;Marchand et al. 2020;Schuster et al., 2019). This has resulted in heightened interest from Western stakeholders to identify and use Indigenous environmental practices to restore ecosystem resilience and biodiversity (Gadgil, 1993;Herman, 2016;Marchand et al. 2020;Schuster et al., 2019). ...
... Ontologies and Epistemologies originating from Indigenous cultures are sometimes referred to as "Indigenous Ways of Knowing" or IWK. These frameworks often emphasize interconnection and contextual embeddedness, while Western frameworks tend toward categorization and individuation of system elements (Bang & Medin, 2010;Herman, 2016;Nisbett et al., 2001;Vogt et al, 2021). While culturally mediated knowledge may differ at a broad scale, many overlaps exist. ...
Climate change has exacerbated environmental problems globally, exposing the inadequacy of land management plans designed to function best under stable and predictable circumstances. Indigenous land management practices have received considerable attention for maintaining resilient, biodiverse ecosystems in the face of change and complexity. This has stimulated ample research on transdisciplinary collaboration between Western science and Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWK) to promote sustainable land management practices. Equitable partnership that furthers these goals may remain out of reach, however, without addressing the ongoing marginalization and erasure of Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies. A fundamental shift toward epistemologically plural, multicultural approaches in environmental science education in the United States is vital for ameliorating deep-rooted, systemic, cultural injustices in land management. The failure to incorporate plural epistemologies in the classroom may help to explain the intractable nature of environmental problems through the suppression of ideological diversity needed to address complex problems. In this study, community-based design research (CBDR) was utilized over a three-year period to design a multicultural framework for environmental education in collaboration with tribal and place-based educators. It was conducted within a university-level environmental science course taught at an R1 Research Institution in the Northwestern United States. This collaborative effort included members of three (redacted for review) State tribes and a multidisciplinary team of K-12 and university-level instructors. Through an iterative process, our team developed curricula to decolonize environmental science education using holistic pedagogical tools from both Western and Indigenous traditions.
... A rights based perspective is used to investigate Indigenous political history and activism in maintaining and protecting Country and culture. Students survey local and international case studies to illuminate the links between land, cultural rights and human rights (see, for example, Herman, 2016;Sehlin MacNeil, 2018;Wall, 2017). Undergraduate students from all disciplines of Humanities and Social Sciences can elect to undertake the major as part of their degree. ...
Social justice is part of higher education discourse within university mission statements, graduate qualities and university rhetoric globally (Connell in Higher education, pedagogy and social justice. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 23–36, 2019; Wilson-Strydom in High Educ 69(1):143–155, 2015). In Australia, this focus includes re-centring Indigenous Australian epistemologies and ontologies from the subjugated margins in academia (Moreton-Robinson in Cult Stud Rev 15:61–79, 2009; Nakata in Aust J Indig Educ 36:7–14, 2007) and in Sweden, building an understanding of intergenerational traumas of school-based systemic violence against Indigenous Sámi (Atkinson in Trauma trails, recreating song lines: the transgenerational effects of trauma in Indigenous Australia. Spinifex Press, 2002; Norlin in Samerna och Svenska kyrkan: Underlag för kyrkligt försoningsarbete. Gidlunds förlag, Möklinta, 2017). This chapter highlights opportunities for upward socio-economic mobility for First Nations peoples through surpassing the deficit thinking still prevalent among invader-coloniser populations. Included in this we reference the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities (United Nations in Sustainable development goals, 2021) and its potential to influence educational discourses in teaching practice and curriculum construction in Australia and Sweden. Indigenous Standpoint Theory (IST) and Critical Race Pedagogy (CRP) are utilised as critical frameworks for unpacking the historical background of racial oppression, understanding the complexities of Indigeneity and post-colonising constructs and disrupting whiteness embedded in mono-cultural education. As practicing educators, we have sought in this chapter, to critically explore how Indigenous Knowledges and culturally responsive pedagogies are disrupting ethnocentric ontologies within the university sector through an emergent undisciplined strategy.
... Despite the current globalization era has caused a struggle between local and global cultural values which increasingly becomes high in intensity (Wahab et al., 2012;Premo and Khun, 2010;Basri et al., 20017), local wisdom has a selective nature and flexibility in which it can survive and continue existing to face the challenges of the times. Moreover, local wisdom is one manner to overcome the crisis of modern culture (Herman, 2016). Hence, the promotion of community is to continue enacting the local wisdom as one of the strategies to adapt their environment in various situations, namely natural disaster mitigation. ...
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This study aimed to explain and to analyze the local wisdom of the North Buton people in flood disaster mitigation, namely worldview, traditional knowledge, norms, custom, and other traditions conducted by the people of North Buton in natural phenomena observation as the signs of floods, as well as efforts to reduce the risk of flooding by utilizing human resources and natural resources in the vicinity. The results showed that the people of North Buton have a set of local wisdom in flood mitigation which was inherited from their ancestors' legacy. It has been tested through empirical experience and also obtained the traditional legitimacy at North Buton people. That local wisdom included: (1) studying on the animal behavior namely the flock of Joremba (Dragonfly) which get into the residential area and the spooky sounds of Gara (Owl) birds at night, (2) construction of the houses on stilts or semi-permanent house behind the main house, (3) enacting the mamali (taboo) tradition in cutting down of the forests as a control mechanism in ecological balance creation to prevent erosion, (4) exploration of a new spring, (5) observation of the changes of the river volume and the discovery of the presence of the spring that appears suddenly in the rainy season.
... A plethora of innovative and solutions-focused approaches to teaching and learning for sustainability now focus on building knowledge, skills, values and emotional resilience (McCowan, 2021). In line with a transdisciplinary ethos, there are also growing efforts to make curricula more inclusive of diverse voices, ideas, and expertise (Herman, 2016;Monroe et al., 2019;Kornei, 2021). ...
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Higher education institutes (HEI) face considerable challenges in navigating how to respond to the escalating and intertwined socio-ecological sustainability crises. Many dedicated individuals working in the sector are already driving meaningful action through rigorous research, teaching, knowledge sharing, and public engagement, while there is a growing consensus that sector-wide change is needed to ensure that aspirational declarations and positive individual actions translate into sustainable and transformative change. This article seeks to contribute to such efforts by illustrating a number of trends, examples, and reflections on how third-level educational institutes can act sustainably. We highlight the potential of five strategies HEI could employ to support the creation of a more sustainable future namely, (i) innovative approaches to climate change education; (ii) research agendas for societal transformations; (iii) providing climate change education for professional development; (iv) supporting public intellectuals; and (iv) investing in whole-systems approaches to greening the campus. The insights are the product of an interdisciplinary working group with members from across Europe, Australia, and the UK. These international examples provide insight and a sense of possibility for future application.
Confronted with the complex environmental crises of the Anthropocene, scientists have moved towards an interdisciplinary approach to address challenges that are both social and ecological. Several arenas are now calling for co-production of new transdisciplinary knowledge by combining Indigenous knowledge and science. This book revisits epistemological debates on the notion of co-production and assesses the relevant methods, principles and values that enable communities to co-produce. It explores the factors that determine how indigenous-scientific knowledge can be rooted in equity, mutual respect and shared benefits. Resilience through Knowledge Co-Production includes several collective papers co-authored by Indigenous experts and scientists, with case studies involving Indigenous communities from the Arctic, Pacific islands, the Amazon, the Sahel and high altitude areas. Offering guidance to indigenous peoples, scientists, decision-makers and NGOs, this book moves towards a decolonised co-production of knowledge that unites indigenous knowledge and science to address global environmental crises.
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Indigenous knowledge systems encapsulate place-based truths and cultural wisdom that apply to education for sustainable development. The integration of indigenous knowledge systems into education for sustainable development school practice in South Africa and Japan was compared during exchange visits between researchers. Although the two countries differ in their socioeconomic status, a shared commonality of indigenous knowledge systems that hold nature sacred and the history of forest products was found. One-on-one interviews with locals living in rural areas in the Limpopo province in South Africa and the Gifu and Mie prefectures in Japan were employed to explain in situ observations of biocultural practices involving forests and forest products such as wood and edible insects. The findings showed, firstly, a mutual reverence for established old trees and, secondly, a deep-rooted belief that natural areas were linked to the spiritual realm. While the youth and tourists have several opportunities to learn about Japanese indigenous knowledge systems, in South Africa, indigenous knowledge systems are marginal-ised. Unlike their Japanese counterparts, South African indigenous knowledge systems holders have never been invited to schools and have few opportunities available to interact with tourists. Recognising the sacredness of nature in environmental education awareness programmes may be key to promoting several of the seventeen sustainable development goals subscribed to by the United Nations member states.
As mega-fires have swept the North American West in recent decades, studies of past fire events have gained academic interest. Deep-time perspectives are necessary to better understand the periodicity of fire events and to identify basic drivers of frequent fire episodes through time, including potential anthropogenic fire use. Our study contributes to the growing field of archeological fire ecology in the Southwest with an examination of a high-resolution geobotanical dataset for Holocene fire regimes as indicated within sediments from an alluvial section from Tesuque Creek in northern New Mexico. Using phytolith, geochemical, and sedimentological data, we reconstruct indices for burn cycle seasonality and destabilization of riparian vegetation communities that suggest potential anthropogenic land use and possible patterns distinguishing human burning from lightning ignitions. Through this study, we consider the potential role of hunter-gatherer behavior in producing fire landscapes as part of their strategies for managing risks in the fragile environments of the Middle-Late Holocene in northern New Mexico. We suggest that combining geo and botanical datasets from alluvial sections with archeological evidence will allow researchers to fine-tune the resolution of local climate sequences and their environmental impacts on small landscape scales. When such small-scale studies can be aggregated, they may further contribute to testing models of regional patch-burning, either natural or anthropogenic. We further posit that human relationships with fire in the past should be considered as collaborative efforts with lightning-ignited burns, to manage the risks associated with both too much and too little fire in fragile dryland ecosystems.
Confronted with the complex environmental crises of the Anthropocene, scientists have moved towards an interdisciplinary approach to address challenges that are both social and ecological. Several arenas are now calling for co-production of new transdisciplinary knowledge by combining Indigenous knowledge and science. This book revisits epistemological debates on the notion of co-production and assesses the relevant methods, principles and values that enable communities to co-produce. It explores the factors that determine how indigenous-scientific knowledge can be rooted in equity, mutual respect and shared benefits. Resilience through Knowledge Co-Production includes several collective papers co-authored by Indigenous experts and scientists, with case studies involving Indigenous communities from the Arctic, Pacific islands, the Amazon, the Sahel and high altitude areas. Offering guidance to indigenous peoples, scientists, decision-makers and NGOs, this book moves towards a decolonised co-production of knowledge that unites indigenous knowledge and science to address global environmental crises.
Full-text available
Ancient Greek philosophy begins with natural philosophy (the Milesians, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras), followed after about a century by a focus on moral philosophy (Socrates and the sophists). The pattern is repeated in the Modern period: first natural philosophy re-emerged after the Dark and Middle Ages (Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton) followed by a correlative revolution in moral philosophy (Hobbes, Hume, Kant). In particular, moral ontology (externally related individuals) reflected the ontology of physics (externally related atoms). Individuals are, in effect, social atoms. Curiously, 20th-century philosophy has largely turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the vast philosophical implications of the second scientific revolution in 20th-century science, among them a correlative moral ontology of internal relations and social wholes. The environmental turn in the humanities, grounded in ecology and evolutionary biology, is a harbinger of the re-orientation of philosophy to the revolutionary ideas in the sciences and foreshadows an emerging NeoPresocratic revival in 21st-century philosophy.
There is no doubt that Descartes is one of the most influential and perhaps one of the most misunderstood philosophers of the modern era. In many ways, Descartes can be seen as kicking off the great era of philosophical system building at the beginning of the 17th century and continuing until David Hume destroyed these systems in one blow in the late 18th century. As the builder of a philosophical system, Descartes’s works cover just about everything under (and above) the sun, from metaphysics to physics to theology to cosmology to physiology, and, with each area intersecting with the others, raise their own set of problems and questions. An article of this sort cannot hope to cover such a range of intersecting issues that arise in Descartes’s system, since an issue in one aspect of the theory often ripples out to other, far-reaching, aspects. Accordingly, this article attempts to provide a mix of introductory essays and detailed analyses of the major issues in Descartes’s system so as to guide the reader toward a clear and even-handed understanding of this giant of Western thought.
This chapter examines philosopher Rene Descartes' thoughts on wisdom, science and life. It considers how Descartes revived the ancient idea of philosophy and the pursuit of wisdom as a search for the highest good. He believed that philosophy was the supreme element in a culture and the most certain guide along the path to the good. This chapter compares Descartes' belief processes with those used by other philosophers in their quest for wisdom, goodness and happiness.
Descartes' arguments for the mind–body distinction;Descartes' supporting mind–body ontic nonidentity;substance dualism theory, in Meditation 2, Meditations on First Philosophy;Descartes' belief in solving the mind–body problem in metaphysics;Descartes, applying the equivalent of Leibniz' Law;difference in properties of mind and body;Descartes' mind–body argument, as subject to a fatal dilemma
The prestige of the Enlightenment has declined in recent years. Many consider its thinking abstract, its art and poetry uninspiring, and the assertion that it introduced a new age of freedom and progress after centuries of darkness and superstition presumptuous. In this book, an eminent scholar of modern culture shows that the Enlightenment was a more complex phenomenon than most of its detractors and advocates assume. It includes rationalist as well as antirationalist tendencies, a critique of traditional morality and religion as well as an attempt to establish them on new foundations, even the beginning of a moral renewal and a spiritual revival. The Enlightenment's critique of tradition was a necessary consequence of the fundamental modern principle that we humans are solely responsible for the course of history. Hence we can accept no belief, no authority, no institutions that are not in some way justified. This foundation, for better or for worse, determined the course of the following centuries. Despite contemporary reactions against it, the Enlightenment continues to shape our own time and still distinguishes Western culture from any other.