MOVING TO FRONT FROM APRIL 1, SINCE IT HAS GENERATED A LIVELY DISCUSSION--MORE COMMENTS WELCOME
Philosopher Byron Williston (Wilfrid Laurier) writes:
On your blog, you supplied a link to a NYT story about the likely fate of the West Antarctic ice sheet. As the article points out, it looks as though many of the world’s coastal cities (New York, Shanghai, Miami, Vancouver, etc.) will disappear within a century or so. Because of climatic effects like this Rajendra Pachauri, former head of the IPCC, has stated that climate change poses a threat to the “very social stability of human systems.” And yet many of us working on Climate Philosophy are struck by the fact that so few philosophers seem interested enough in the problem to turn their philosophical attention more pointedly to it. The overwhelming majority of scientists seem to think that civilization is truly on the brink, so what does it say about our discipline that only a small minority of us are writing about this? Aren’t we—along with the scientists, the artists, and many others--the keepers of civilization? Or is our relative silence here evidence that we have abandoned this role? I’d be eager to hear what other philosophers have to say about this.
I think Prof. Williston raises an interesting question, and I'll state my own view, which will no doubt be thought idiosyncratic (though won't be surprising to those who periodically read the papers of mine I link to!). First, with respect to many issues, including climate change, philosophers have almost nothing to add: in broad outline, it's clear what ought to be done to avert catastrophe (e.g., it's not like those ignoring the issue think it would be good for civilization to end!), and to the extent the details aren't clear, the questions needing answers are technical/instrumental ones about which philosophers typically have no competence. Second, philosophical arguments won't produce the needed action, since philosophical arguments are notoriously inefficacious in moving people, let alone governments, to moral action. Third, it has been the norm for Anglophone moral and political philosophy in the capitalist democracies to focus on topics unoffensive to capitalist imperatives, and indeed, to focus often on moral trivia (cf. my discussion of bourgeois normative theory at pp. 9 ff. here, and especially the discussion of "moral trivia" [like promises by college students concerning sex] at 20-22). So the fact that philosophers ignore climate change--even assuming that issue can be meaningfully discussed independent of the realities of global political economy--is hardly surprising.
I invite readers to comment on the questions raised by Prof. Williston, especially since I assume most do not share my views on these issues.