Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Albert Borgmann

Commitee Members

Bill Borrie, Christopher Preston


alienation, being, building, Csíkszentmihályi, flow, Heidegger, nature, technology, Turner, wild, wildness, Cronon, wilderness


University of Montana


This thesis is largely a response to William Cronon’s essay “The Trouble with Wilderness or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” found in The Great New Wilderness Debate. Cronon is himself responding to many things, in large part to Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature and also to the wilderness vision typified by Dave Foreman; thus this thesis is also a response to McKibben and in many respects a defense of Foreman-like thought. Besides Cronon, I consider a wide variety of sources, taking from them in order to build a case for, and to explicate, wildness as a guiding ideal. I affirm one of Cronon’s objections to wilderness and thus argue that given the previous presence of humans in many wilderness landscapes and the continued presence of wildness within peopled landscapes, a more viable position is to see a continuum between unpeopled and peopled landscapes rather than a drastic discontinuity. I next turn to Jack Turner’s The Abstract Wild to begin to consider wildness itself, especially in terms of protected areas. Turner criticizes preserved areas as not being very wild. National Parks especially, but Wilderness Act wildernesses also, have their wildness diminished for several reasons. Some of these are small size and lack of predators, but the one he is most critical of is scientific management which results in control, surveillance, and commodification. I next discuss the importance of the ‘wilderness experience,’ largely using Turner. Turner claims, and I affirm, that both the wild and direct experience of the wild are being lost, both by the current state of wildlands and by other threats such as technological mediation. I then discuss at length what wild and wildness mean using authors such as Thoreau, Turner, Griffiths, and London. I write that wild things can be affected, but not controlled by us. I further argue that we are homeless in our world and thus a conception of a wilderness we cannot inhabit as a guiding ideal is only a small component of this alienation. I look at our alienation from a variety of perspectives including Jared Diamond’s anthropology, Csíkszentmihályi’s psychology, Karl Marx, and David Strong. I argue that we are creatures at home in the wild. A major theme of this paper is thus the reciprocal relationship between us and the world. I argue that the world, our conception of the world, and our existence are all inseparable. One transition in all three is from a mechanistic world and worldview to an organismic. Another is to see the world and ourselves as spiritual. Fundamentally my concern is with human freedom which necessarily involves the freedom of the world at large. Seeing ourselves as inseparable from the world, seeing wildness as a part of homecoming, and recognizing the landscape as continuous from the wilderness to the built world, leads to wildness as a guiding ideal. Wildness as a guiding ideal means that the wild serves as a basis and a fundamental criterion in, not only preserved areas, but in all that we do. It is necessary to rethink our being and building in terms of the wild, hence my introduction of wild building and wild being. The thrust of my analysis of homelessness is that we are cut off from the flow of the world and I use flow as a basic metaphor for the wild. I continue with the metaphor of flow from three different perspectives: Csíkszentmihályi’s psychology; in terms of the Tao, and in Dolores LaChapelle’s experience of deep powder skiing. Part of both wild building and wild being are empty spaces in life and land where we allow the wild - the uncontrived and uncontrolled, the complex and nonlinear, the dangerous and challenging, the mysterious and potential, autonomy and vitality, and ultimately freedom, to thrive. Though it is good to have spaces apart from us, we likely cannot have places totally independent of us on earth, and either way we need such spaces to be a part of our lives. Finally I conclude with a qualified slogan, ‘resist efficiency, culti



© Copyright 2009 Christopher James Dunn