Environmental Philosophy

  • Freya Mathews
Reference work entry


Environmental philosophy examines our relation, as human beings, to nature or our natural environment: it reviews our philosophical understandings of nature and our conception of nature’s value and entitlements; it explores how we are to live with and in nature and to what degree nature is or is not implicated in our own human identity. The question whether nature and environment are useful concepts at all, or merely contribute to attitudes that pathologise our relations with our world, is also considered. Environmental philosophy includes in its scope all the core discourses of philosophy: metaphysics, our assumptions about the basic stuff and structure of things; epistemology, how we come to know and understand nature and how different epistemologies reveal different aspects of the natural world; aesthetics, the patterning that may or may not be taken to confer meaning or value on nature; and ethics, the morality of our treatment of living things and systems. Environmental inquiry also overlaps with other disciplines, such as environmental psychology and environmental politics, and is furthermore cross-cultural, since different societies understand and relate to their natural environments in different ways. In Australia two major well-articulated streams of philosophical thought concerning the natural world can be identified: the indigenous and the non-indigenous, specifically the Western. Australian Aboriginal culture is explicitly organised around ‘country’ and the care of it. But it is only in recent decades that Western thought, though equally deeply permeated by assumptions about nature, has started to bring these assumptions to light for analysis and review. Clearly Australia provides a fertile context for intercultural dialogue in this connection. The promise of this dialogue is yet to come to fruition, though the influence of indigenous thought on environmental thought here has arguably been profound.


Natural World Causal Power Environmental Ethic Western Tradition Natural Entity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Val Plumwood was originally invited to write this chapter but sadly passed away before doing so. In honour of the enormous contribution she made to environmental philosophy not only in Australia but internationally, I have devoted a significant proportion of this chapter to her work.

My thanks to Janna Thompson for kindly commenting on an earlier draft of this chapter.

The present chapter contains passages adapted from Freya Mathews, ‘Environmental Philosophy’ in Graham Oppy and N.N. Trakakis, Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand, Monash University Publishing, Melbourne, 2010.

My sincere thanks to the editors, Nick Trakakis and Graham Oppy, for their patience and graciousness in awaiting the long-delayed submission of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics, Legal Studies and Philosophy, School of Social Sciences and CommunicationsLa Trobe UniversityVICAustralia

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