Mid-November Mathews

Biomimicry: http://www.freyamathews.net/downloads/Biomimicry.pdf

Her most recent paper, a new articulation of an ethos: http://www.freyamathews.net/downloads/Bioproportionality.pdf

One of her classics: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-August-2004/matthews.html

Land Metaphysics (check to to see if relevance): http://www.freyamathews.net/downloads/LandMetaphysics.pdf


Published in: on November 7, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments (4)  


Geoengineering has come back into the spotlight after years of being labeled impossible, and a waste of time by both climate change activists, and normal humans. At the end of September, a piece in Forbes discussed the rigor with which geoengineering debates have recently made their way to the United Nations: “Governments, universities, think tanks and international bodies are turning to the idea of tinkering with the earth by making it absorb more carbon dioxide or reflect more sunlight into space” (Forbes).

Just as speculation, it is likely that increased interest in geoengineering is due to recent projects such as self-driving cars, advanced medical technology, and others which have an impact on people’s everyday lives. Suddenly with companies like Uber and Google working to ingrain technology into every aspect of our lives, changing parts of the earth doesn’t seem so far off.

Even with companies and governments becoming more intrigued by the idea of geoengineering as a means to fight climate change, discussion about what this means for humanity’s relationship with our planet has remained closed. Alan Robock, author of “20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea,” lists those twenty reasons, and explains the consequences of each. His worries range from an ecological perspective, to human error perspective, an economic perspective, and ends with a moral concern about our potential ability to control the planet.

Robock discusses many environmental and biological consequences of geoengineering. He notes the changes in atmosphere and weather patterns can have affect the plant life in a region: “… inserting aerosols or reflective disks into the atmosphere would reduce the total sunlight to reach Earth’s surface. Scientists need to assess the impacts on crops and natural vegetation of reductions in total, diffuse, and direct solar radiation” (16).  Robock also mentions the dangers of allowing humans to have the control over nature:

“Eighty-five countries, including the United States, have signed the U.N. Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD), but could techniques developed to control global climate forever be limited to peaceful uses?”

Another human consequences may be deciding who is in charge of controlling the climate in the future: “There’s no global agency to require an environmental impact statement for geoengineering. So, how should humans judge how much climate control they may try?”

Since geoengineering falls under the category of human intervention in nature, parallels were drawn between Robock and Sandler. Sandler lists three concerns with interventionist motives:

1 “One is that human interventions into ecological systems are the cause of ecological degradation and the species.”

extinction crisis in the first place.”

  1. “A second concern is that even if the interventions are successful –e.g. species are translocated and established without becoming ecologically problematic– what is most important about them is not preserved.”
  2. “A third concern is that interventionist conservation strategies are something of a distraction.”

While Sandler’s focus on human intervention is preserving ecosystems and species, while Robock and other geoengineering articles refer to preserving humanity through intervention, they both have similar consequences. Four of Robock’s twenty reason have a direct relationship with the three of Sandler’s points. Robock’s point 12 (Human Error) supports Sandler’s first point:

Humans can make mistakes in the design, manufacturing, and operation of such systems. (Think of Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, airplane crashes, and friendly fire on the battlefield.) Should we stake the future of Earth on a much more complicated arrangement than these, built by the lowest bidder?” (p.17).

Human error will forever occur as long as humans are thinking, creating, and exploring. Much of our innovations have resulted in the inadvertent warming of the Earth, and we are just now aware of the issue. If humans have altered and interfered with nature when we do not even realize we’re doing it, what risks and consequences will occur when we are aware?

Robock’s first point, Effects on regional climate, is a broader version of Sandler’s second point:

“Scientists have also seen volcanic eruptions in the tropics produce changes in atmospheric circulation, causing winter warming over continents in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as eruptions at high latitudes weaken the Asian and African monsoons, causing reduced precipitation”(p.15).

While Robock does not mention the ecosystems that are present in these areas, it is clear that if we start manipulating atmospheric particles, the defining climate patterns of some areas will be affected. Eventually these regions, which have unique ecosystems, and species will change and adapt and will no longer be valued for what they once were.

Robock points 2 and 13 (Ocean acidification, and undermining emission mitigation, respectively) strongly support Sandler’s third point while many of Robock’s last points also contribute.

While titled ocean acidification Robock mentions that if geoengineering occurs, not all aspects of global warming will reduce or stop:

“If humans adopted geoengineering as a solution to global warming, with no restriction on continued carbon emissions, the ocean would continue to become more acidic, because about half of all excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is removed by ocean uptake” (p. 15).

Ocean acidification is one of the largest consequences of global warming, and can be the most destructive since minute changes in ocean pH levels have already caused coral bleachings, fish migrations, and will affect the billions of people that rely on the ocean as a direct resource. If humans focus too much on cooling the Earth for the sake of humans, we may become to compliant with trying to change our other negative actions.

Point 13, blunty states “If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for “business as usual,” gathering the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult.”

This remains a concern today; if humans have the ability to control parts of nature, will we wholeheartedly do it for the general good, or will it be a crutch to keep humans from adapting? Humans have a notorious history for not wanting to adapt, so it is not a surprise that many worry the latter is truer.

One of Robock’s last points is the moral authority of geoengineering. He makes the point that up until a few decades ago, humans were unaware that our actions inadvertently affected the state of the planet, so now that we do know, would it morally right to continue to send particles and pollutants, such as the sulfate particles, into the atmosphere when we know they might do damage? Yes, these particles may help cool the planet, but will we ever be confident that these drastic actions will not have further negative effects?

Robock’s essay was published in 2008, which makes it almost a decade old. It was interesting to research current opinions on geoengineering in 2017 and find that Robock, who is an atmospheric chemistry professor at Rutgers University, attended a geoengineering conference in August. This may suggest that he is more open to the idea today than he was in 2008:

“‘We all agree that climate change is real and that the solution is to reduce the emissions of the gases that cause global warming’,… ‘The Paris Agreement was a good start, but those pledges aren’t enough, and we have to reduce more. Even then it [won’t be] fast enough. So what we’re looking at is: If global warming is so dangerous, could we shave off a little warming while we continue to mitigate greenhouse gases?’” (The Atlantic).


The Atlantic Article: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/geoengineers-meet-off-the-record/536004/

The Forbes Article:



Published in: on November 6, 2017 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

NEW discussions on geoengineering and mention of some experiments

October 11th: https://www.carbonbrief.org/geoengineering-scientists-berlin-debate-radicaly-ways-reverse-global-warming 

Published in: on October 27, 2017 at 5:27 am  Comments (1)  

Analysis of Sandler 10/10: “The Anthropocene”, Ecosystem Management, and Environmental Virtue

Despite humans being only one of roughly 8.7 million known species on Earth, we continue to be the most powerful in a multitude of ways. Humans are the ultimate generalists and have expanded onto every continent, and every biome. We consume resources beyond our necessity, and are able to outcompete most other species. It is essential then to understand just how great our impact is in an ecological preservation sense. Sandler’s article addresses this question by confronting the term “anthropocene.” He addresses the definition of anthropocene, whether it applies to today, how this title affects ecological preservation tactics, and whether we should embrace those tactics. One of the largest debates concerning the anthropocene is how humans should interact with the environment—should humans be more or less involved? This idea is a larger version of whether anthropogenic involvement in coral reefs is ethical based on current states, and Sandler’s article provides an abundance of insight into humans’ roles in environmental ethics. (more…)

Published in: on October 10, 2017 at 6:17 am  Comments (7)  

Response to comments on “Responses to ‘Objectivism…'”

What new insight have you gained on the degree to which Rand relies on empirical results for support of her theories? Is there something general you can say about her empiricism and her theory, or the combination of the two?

Well this is one interesting thing about Rand, and one thing that Michael Huemer brings up in his essay, “Why I am Not an Objectivist”. Rand states that she does not believe in a priori knowledge at all. Even things like math and logic, she states are derived from experience. Huemer’s objection is that even if we need objects in the world to hold the place of numbers (1 banana plus 2 bananas equals 3 bananas), once we have that abstract concept of 1+2=3, it is no longer dependent on the bananas. The same would apply to logicical principles. the difference here seems to be a difference in intepreting a priori knowledge. Either way, this shows that Rand is very committed to empiricism as the primary source of knowledge, and that it is only our reason that allows us to interpret it and place it in context with our own lives. This goes back to my comments before that Rand is essentially an existentialist. Here’s the existentialist viewpoint in a nutshell: existence precedes essence. This may be interpreted in many ways. The way in which it is meant for the existentialist viewpoint is in opposition to Plato’s theory of the forms. In that theory, Plato states that the forms exist outside of our perception, and prior to what we perceive. Existentialism throws that out. Meaning is placed upon those things that we experience , and how we experience them. There is no “essence” of a table, prior to a table existing, and even after, that essence is only so due to a certain perception of the table. Maybe someone else may simply view it as a seat, or a drawing board, or a pile of firewood. The essence is placed upon the table by the agent. Similarly, Rand rejects any sort of a platonic notion of the forms. Our knowledge of the essence of things is derived from our experience of them and then our use of our reason to place them in the context of our own agent-relative experience. This is what makes her view of rights so interesting. She isn’t saying that there is some otherworldly basis for rights, some metaphysical respect of humanity we should all have to ground her rights. Rather, she is basing her theory on rights solely on the empirical experience of the individual. The individual affirms the need for his rights and the need to respect others rights because of his own experience, nothing else. At least this is Rand’s goal overall. I feel she misses the mark in creating such a grandiose version of human rights, but I also feel that hers is the most plausible.

The issue of education being compulsion is an interesting one. When there is an objective standard of well-being, it seems like we can, with confidence, recommend some courses of action for everyone. I suppose it is clear that her account of freedom interferes with this, in cases. But there are limits– we should not be free to create any political rules we want, etc. Can you describe these limits with precision? (By the way, it is interesting to see Hegel blamed for compulsary education and not, say, Plato. Plato is being given a break, I guess.)

I think what is most important is to note that rand’s “objective standard” is simply standard that an individual needs to survive. And I would disagree that there is any course of action we can prescribe for everyone, or at least force everyone to abide by. For instance, Rand might say that to be a race car driver is always a bad idea. It endangers your life for nothing more than a thrill, something a rational person wouldn’t do. She would not, however, ever prevent someone from being a race car driver. There really isn’t any conflict with her view of freedom. One is free to do anything one wants in Rand’s system. No one can force you to do anything, or prevent you from doing anything you want. Now, this is not to be confused with any act of condoning irrational action. A Randian would likely say to the race car driver that he (the driver) is irrational and dumb, and that his actions are contrary to those that a rational person would take. Other than moral condemnation, Randians are powerless in preventing irrational action, since it is only the government who has a monopoly on physical force, and even then the government can only use that force to protect against those individuals who would use force themselves.

Returning to the objective standard of well-being, I don’t think that Rand would say that such a standard exists outside of the statement that one must employ reason correctly in one’s life. This is where I see Rand in the same light as I see Virtue Ethicists. Virtue Ethicists as I understand them, do not endorse any specific course of action. The way in which one acts virtuously is by using one’s practical rationality to deduce what is in line with one’s norms and beliefs. It doesn’t say what those beliefs should be necessarily, but it might say that lying is mostly wrong, or generosity is a good course of action. Likewise with Rand; she would say that one must use one’s reason to deduce what is most fitting for his or her survival and existence as man qua man, and could only make suggestions as to what that course of action is.

And noting the fact that Plato isn’t chided for education; it is probably because she is attacking the idea of compulsion in general, which is, in her view of philosophy, primarily attributed to Hegel. She probably holds just as much contempt for Plato, nonetheless, for his theory of the forms.

Finally, can you list a few reasons why Rand might object to being classified as a social contract theorist at heart?

One reason she might object to being called a social contract theorist is because the main focus of social contract theory is not the individual, but society. She holds utter contempt for any theory that seems to place any notion above the individual, be it Society, God, or any other idealism. So at first viewing, it would seem that social contract theory is diametrically opposed to Rand’s philosophy. I would, however, have to disagree with this conclusion. Social contract theory, at its heart, is not a society-centered theory. The focus is on individuals coming together out of self-interest because they realize that in a world in which war of all against all exists, they must relinquish certain freedoms that they may have some security. The freedom that these individuals give up is the freedom to use physical force against another. That freedom is then transferred to the exclusive use of the government (a republic in Locke’s view, a wise king in Hobbes’ view). Ultimately, what is different is what is chosen to be the means by which a government wields force.

The problem that Rand would definitely have with being a social contract theorist is in what it would imply about her method. She would object to such a label, because she would feel it is not necessary. She would say that her reasons for justifying our treatment of others are implicit in her philosophy, in fact she does say this. It is what her entire philosophy is about: addressing all questions without outside justification. To imply that she is also a social contract theorist, would be to say that her philosophy is incomplete. She would have no part of this. But, assuming that she did accept this fact that her philosophy of ethics concerning others is incomplete (hard to even imagine her ceding this point), I see no true reason why she would object to being called a social contract theorist.

Published in: on November 14, 2006 at 4:53 pm  Comments (3)  

Nussbaum on Animals

I told Amanda that I would comment on the last section of FRONTIERS OF JUSTICE: DISABILITY, NATIONALITY, SPECIES MEMBERSHIP, by Martha C. Nussbaum. Harvard University Press, 2006. The last section focuses on how the capabilities approach handles the topic of animals and how to value them. (more…)

Published in: on October 29, 2006 at 2:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Responses to “Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” by Leonard Peikoff (section on Government)

What I’ve done here is take various passages directly from Leonard Peikoff’s book, Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (specifically, the section on Government) and presented them in italics. My response to each passage is in regular type. Since Rand appointed Peikoff as the “heir” to Objectivism, I have treated his analysis of Rand’s writings on the same level I would treat Rand, especially since much of the book is simply restating ideas found in Rand’s essays. (more…)

Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 1:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Response to Martha Nussbaum: Female Human Beings

Response to Martha Nussbaum’s: Human Capabilities, Female Human Beings

In this article, Nussbaum lays out her capabilities approach very similarly to the way she does in her book Women and Human Development. Nussbaum starts her argument from the stance that in order to fight for women’s rights, we should start with what should start from “a conception of the human being and human functioning”. (62) Nussbaum thinks that if we start by composing a conception of what is needed for a human being we can more accurately demand what is needed for women like Chen describes in her account. (more…)

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 2:52 pm  Comments (1)  

Summary of Martha Chen’s Women’s Right to Employment in India and Bangladesh

Response to Martha Chen’s A Matter of Survival: Women’s Right to Employment in India and Bangladesh

In this article, Martha Chen tracks the history of the food-for-work program in South Asia, and the struggle women have had to go through to be able to work and provide enough money and food for their families. In South Asia the divisions of labor are divided by sex. Women are in charge of the family and home life, and men are in charge of the public, work, and market life. Within these societies there is a “hierarchical social structure” divided into castes. What is startling about the caste system is that the higher up in caste a women is the more secluded and less free she becomes. Also, the middle castes try to mimic the higher castes, so often time those in middles castes also seclude their women, but those women may be allowed to work in the fields of their own farm, as opposed to not going outside at all. In many households in the lower castes, they women work either on their own lands, or neighboring lands to help support their families. (more…)

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mike Huemer’s 8 Objections to Rand: A Response

A response to Michael Huemer’s “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics’”
My comments this week will serve as an introduction to a more in-depth commentary on Michael Huemer’s article “Critique of ‘The Objectivist Ethics.’” Overall I must say that this article does reflect my general impression thusfar about Rand, but there are a lot of places in Huemer’s essay that seem to miss the mark on Rand. I believe he does a very good job of outlining Rand’s argument, point by point. However, my edition of Rand’s ‘The Objectivist Ethics” does not coincide with Huemer’s citations. Huemer has 8 main problems with Rand’s essay, or rather, with her logical premises and conclusions. I find major fault with 6 of his objections. The final two objections, however, are valid and definitely require further analysis and study. At this time however, I will give a brief explanation of why I feel the first six of his eight objections are slightly flawed. (more…)

Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 2:26 am  Comments (1)