Philosophical fables for ecological thinking : resisting environmental catastrophe within the Anthropocene

Gibson, Alice (2020) Philosophical fables for ecological thinking : resisting environmental catastrophe within the Anthropocene. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This central premise of this thesis is that philosophical fables can be used to address the challenges that have not been adequately accounted for in post-Kantian philosophy that have contributed to environmental precarity, which we only have a narrow window of opportunity to learn to appreciate and respond to. Demonstrating that fables may bring to philosophy the means to cultivate the wisdom that Immanuel Kant described as crucial for the development of judgement in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), I argue that the philosophical fable marks an underutilised resource at our disposal, which requires both acknowledgment and defining. Philosophical fables, I argue, can act as ‘go-carts of judgement’, preventing us from entrenching damaging patterns that helped degree paved the way for us to find ourselves in a state of wholescale environmental crisis, through failing adequately to consider the multifarious effects of anthropogenic change. This work uses the theme of ‘catastrophe’, applied to ecological thinking and environmental crises, to examine and compare two thinker poets, Giacomo Leopardi and Donna Haraway, both of whom use fables to undertake philosophical critique. It will address a gap in scholarship, which has failed to adequately consider how fables might inform philosophy, as reflected in the lack of definition of the ‘philosophical fable’. This is compounded by the difficulty theorists have found in agreeing on a definition of the fable in the more general sense. I attend to this gap through an examination of Leopardi and Haraway’s thinking that considers their contributions to ecological thought. Throughout, I will assess the strengths and weaknesses of what I will show to be their philosophical fabulation. I compare how the ideas of each thinker can be brought to bear on the other, which has not previously been done, despite the shared foundations of some of the ideas of Leopardi and Haraway, including their philosophical resilience and commitment, which rests upon a shared view of the urgency of the need for change. The work I undertake in my two case studies will allow me to show that, despite the thinkers’ shared appreciation for the fable’s capacity to guide philosophy and their shared foundations, their work ultimately moves in two different directions. This I argue, reveals the potential for significant difference within the genre of the philosophical fable, which I suggest highlights that the form is best considered as a form of practice. Such a practice, I argue, harbours a commitment to having the courage to use our own understandings that Kant advocates in his 1784 essay "Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?".

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