Jason Matzke is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mary Washington.
Areas of Expertise (2)
Michigan State University: Ph.D., Philosophy: ethics, environmental ethics, social-political philosophy
Michigan State University: M.A., Philosophy
Oregon State University: M.A.I.S., Philosophy, Religious Studies, History of Science
Ball State University: B.S., Biology, Philosophy, Religious Studies
Towards a Pluralistic Understanding of the Mediating Concept of WildernessEnvrionment, Space, Place
Jason P. Matzke
2017 This paper addresses the current debate in environmental ethics regarding the notion of wilderness. It has been argued by J. Baird Callicott and Michael Nelson, William Cronon, and others that our current idea of wilderness is deeply flawed, especially insofar as it draws a sharp dichotomy between us and the rest of nature. This paper first explores what it means (and what it does not) to say that “wilderness” is a constructed concept. It then describes some of the key objections and solutions proposed in order to argue that the best approach to understanding the concept and place of wilderness is to embrace a pluralistic approach. This proposal would allow for mutually inconsistent and incommensurable ideas to co-exist without succumbing to the pitfalls of an anything-goes relativism.
Humans as “Part and Parcel of Nature”: Thoreau's Contribution to Environmental EthicsEthics in Progress
Małgorzata Dereniowska, Jason Matzke
2014 This article introduces the special issue for Ethics in Progress entitled Environment, ethics, and sustainability: Crossroads of our future. Despite four decades of intense development in the field of academic and professional environmental ethics, environmental problems pose ever increasing ethical challenges. The discipline continues to undergo a transition from focusing on theoretical questions such as what kinds of beings deserve moral standing toward greater inclusion of the multifaceted dimensions of sustainability and environmental issues and policy formation. In this introductory paper, we present the development, some of the key disciplinary debates, and the continuing and emerging challenges in environmentalism as it intersects with sustainability. We emphasize the importance of increasing the range of interdisciplinary perspectives brought to bear on practical ethics. The papers included in this special issue reflect both the challenges that arise as environmental ethics continues to expand and explore new issues at the intersection of ethics, sustainability, and environmental research, and the interdisciplinarity required in our search to better understand matters related to environmental history, environmental inequalities, social and environmental value conflict, inter-generational justice, and ethical components of the human relationship with the world.
Connections and Abstractions: Blending Epistemologies of Love and Separation in Environmental EducationEthics in Progress
Małgorzata A. Dereniowska, Jason P. Matzke
2012 The seriousness and stubbornness of the ecological crisis and the realization that technological and political solutions provide, at best, limited solutions has led many to rethink environmental education with an eye towards changing deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviors. A transformed environmental education holds great promise for reshaping our relationship with the world around us rather than leaving this up to chance. The goal of environmental education can be realized, however, only by means of significant revision of our notions of nature and of human perception and learning ...
Walking in Nature: Thoreau’s Local Ambles or Muir’s Wilderness TreksEnvironment, Space, Place
Jason P. Matzke
2012 It has been argued by philosophers and cultural historians that the notion of wilderness as it has been developed in the West problematically separates—conceptually and practically—humans from wild nature. The human/wilderness dichotomy, it is said, potentially leads even well-intentioned, environmentally minded people to work for wilderness preservation at the expense of paying attention to our local, lived environment. Although Henry David Thoreau and John Muir are often taken to be key architects of the inherited notion of wilderness, I draw from their differing descriptions of spending time in wild areas in order to argue that Thoreau provides a view of the human-nature relationship that is not susceptible to this particular worry. Thoreau, much more than Muir, provides us with reasons to not ignore our local lived space in favor of protecting only more wild (i.e., less humanized) places. The contrast between the two does not diminish the value of Muir’s work, but it does remind us that key figures—Thoreau in this case—in the development of the dominant wilderness paradigm should not be set aside as unhelpful in our own efforts to better understand our relationship with local place.
The John Brown Way: Frederick Douglass and Henry David Thoreau on the Use of ViolenceThe Massachusetts Review
Jason P. Matzke
2005 Two names not often heard together in academic circles are those of Frederick Douglass and Henry David Thoreau; scholars of one have tended to ignore the other. This should not be terribly surprising, however, given that they lived such different lives and failed to make …
A Pluralistic Humean Environmental Ethic: Dealing with the Individualism-Holism ProblemDissertation, Michigan State University
Jason P. Matzke
2003 Environmental ethicists often argue for ethical holism, granting moral standing to ecosystems and species. However, this conflicts with traditional ethics and commonsense which attribute moral standing to individual organisms based on characteristics wholes do not possess, such as sentience or autonomy. Despite the apparent inconsistencies between these two approaches, any acceptable holistic environmental ethic must account also for these individual-oriented convictions. This is the individualism---holism problem. Marry Anne Warren and J. Baird Callicott have each offered solutions which they claim are monistic in that they provide a single systematic approach which can generate one right answer to each moral dilemma. I synthesize their views and reinterpret them as a pluralistic Humean ethic, one which ameliorates but cannot fully eliminate the conflict. ;Warren proposes a number of moral principles reflecting multiple sources of value which confer moral standing to both individuals and wholes. This, she argues, avoids the need for both higher level theories, which engender problematic conflicts between individualism and holism, and pluralism, which comes dangerously close to relativism. Callicott develops a community model in which the moral standing of various entities, and the strength of our corresponding obligations, is determined by their roles within nested circles of communities. His work builds on both Hume and Aldo Leopold by arguing that our increased ecological awareness should inform our sentiments in ways that incline us to include ecosystems and their constituent parts in our moral community. Warren's principles---revised here in light of my contention that interests play the central role in determining the moral standing of individual organisms---provide substance to Callicott's otherwise more abstract approach. Callicott's work, in turn, provides theoretical coherence for Warren's principles. ;Humean sentimentalism, however, is open to the charge of relativism, especially since Hume's appeal to universal agreement on central moral values and beliefs cannot be sustained in a world so obviously diverse...