Skip to main content

Sustainability and Human Being: Towards the Hidden Centre of Authentic Education

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Education and the Environment book series (PSEE)


It is argued that while the idea of sustainable development fails adequately to provide a way forward for addressing our current environmental crisis, the idea of sustainability contains the germ of an understanding of the character of human consciousness that places our relationship with nature at the heart of both human being and authentic education. A phenomenological approach is developed to explore some key aspects of our experience of nature—particularly its “otherness” and intrinsic normativity. The potential of the mutually sustaining relationship with nature that emerges for shaping our outlook on the world, and revealing the subverting effects of the scientism that is taken to permeate contemporary Western-style culture, are discussed. Some broad implications for a re-envisioned education are sketched.


  • Authentic education
  • Human being
  • Intentionality
  • Nature
  • Scientism
  • Sustainability

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    This is not to say that we should never seek to modify nature. It is simple to introduce the point that there is an important sense in which nature is normative and that recognition of this is relevant to responsible thought and action.

  2. 2.

    There are resonances here with some interpretations of Aristotle’s nous pathetikos (De Anima iii 4)]. See, for example, Skúlason (2015).

  3. 3.

    Working in a very different (analytic) philosophical tradition, Peter Strawson (1964) comes to a similar conclusion with his notion of “persons.”


  • Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Aristotle. (1987). De anima. London: Penguin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bonnett, M. (1999). Education for sustainable development: A coherent philosophy for environmental education? Cambridge Journal of Education, 29(3), 313–324.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bonnett, M. (2004). Retrieving nature: Education for a post-humanist age. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bonnett, M. (2009). Education, sustainability, and the metaphysics of nature. In M. McKenzie, P. Hart, H. Bai & B. Jickling (Eds.), Fields of green: Restorying culture, environment, and education (pp. 177–186). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bonnett, M. (2012). Environmental concern, moral education, and our place in nature. Journal of Moral Education Special Issue: Moral Education and Environmental Concern, 41(3), 285–300.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bonnett, M. (2015). The powers that be: Environmental education and the transcendent. Policy Futures in Education, 13(1), 42–56.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Brentano, F. (1995). Psychology from an empirical standpoint. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heidegger, M. (1972). Being and time. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heise, U. (2008). Sense of place and sense of planet. New York: Oxford University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Husserl, E. (2001). Logical investigations: Volume II. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jickling, B. (1992). Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development. Journal of Environmental Education, 23(4), 5–8.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Russell, B. (1959). The problems of philosophy. London: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Skúlason, P. (2015). The wildness of nature: Its significance for our understanding of the world. In P. Kemp & S. Froland (Eds.), Nature in education (pp. 81–89). Zurich: LIT Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Strawson, P. (1964). Individuals. London: Methuen.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Bonnett .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2017 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Bonnett, M. (2017). Sustainability and Human Being: Towards the Hidden Centre of Authentic Education. In: Jickling, B., Sterling, S. (eds) Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education. Palgrave Studies in Education and the Environment. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-51321-8

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-51322-5

  • eBook Packages: EducationEducation (R0)