Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Albert Borgmann


engagement, Sagarin, Louv, nature-deficit disorder, environmental pragmatism, environemntal ethics


University of Montana


Our culture is becoming increasingly detached from nature. We spend more of our time indoors than ever. While the indoors may offer certain benefits, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our alienation from nature has serious downsides. We depend upon nature for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being and without it. The opposite of detachment is engagement. Engagement involves direct experience of nature, whether in national parks, wilderness, backyard woods, or unkempt vacant lots. If we want to reverse the problems associated with detachment, we need to encourage engaged alternatives. Only through a culture of engagement, one that recognizes and values natural places and one that sees that human and natural flourishing are intertwined, can we ensure a brighter future. In this paper I argue from an environmental pragmatist position. With a commitment to focusing on urgent practical problems first and theory later, a preference for value pluralism over value monism, and an invitation for multidisciplinary cooperation, this orientation of environmental philosophy offers a promising approach for philosophers to help usher in a culture of engagement, one that the dominant intrinsic value approach of environmental philosophy cannot so easily foster. I’ll show that scholars today must engage with the public, professionals and ordinary citizens alike, if we want to combat the effects of detachment. In making the case, I illustrate how detachment shapes our way of life through two areas: scholarship and general culture. Chapter 2 focuses on scholarship. I build my case by focusing on the work of scientific ecologists. Because ecology is the study of natural systems, we might assume this discipline more than others encourages direct experience of nature. However, in an era of laboratory experiments and computer modeling, this is not so. Many ecologists are no more engaged with nature than ordinary citizens. This is a problem because in an era of great environmental change, we need to be able to recognize changes in real natural places. That requires careful on-site observation. Luckily, there is a resurgence of observational methods in ecology. More and more, ecologists are beginning to break free from the dominant orientation of the discipline and experimenting with observational methods, those that require on-site exploration. Lab work and computer modeling are important, but they can’t deliver all of what we want from the discipline. Observational methods help the discipline engage with the public so that it can help inform public policy as we fight to address the urgent environmental problems of today. Chapter 3 focuses on culture. I illustrate the problems associated with detachment by looking at children. Today’s generation of children, more than any other in history, have grown up in a culture radically alienated from nature. As a consequence of this cultural alienation, many children suffer what psychologist Richard Louv terms “nature-deficit disorder,” a set of health problems common to those with minimal exposure to the outdoors. These include increased anxiety, depression, lack of curiosity, etc. The problem here is that many children, because they are not exposed to nature at an early age, are unable to understand its importance for human flourishing, both for the individual and for the culture at large. The indoors seems to be more clean, more safe, more interesting, and more comfortable. Because of this, we might assume nature can be replaced. This, however, is shortsightedness. If this were so, we’d expect children today to be healthier and happier than their predecessors, which is not the case. In order to help our children develop in a healthy way and ensure a new generation of eager preservationists and restorationists, we need to work together as a community to bring nature back into the center of our lives.



© Copyright 2014 Chris Baldwin Humm