Cultural causes of environmental problems: a Wittgensteinian approach to social action
Arponen, Vesa Petri Juhani
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This thesis develops a multidisciplinarily grounded account of the cultural causes of environmental problems discussed as a question in philosophical and sociological theory of social action. The approach is articulated by an original reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein's later philosophy. Part 1 of the thesis critically discusses a prominent view of the cultural causes found in environmentalism and environmental history with significant popular appeal. In this view, labelled the ideological approach, the human nature relationship is characterised essentially by our culture's alleged disrespectful, manipulative and materialistic attitude to nature that is said to have been internalised by the modern human being and to fundamentally drive our ecologically consequential activities. An alternative organisatory approach is suggested based on the view that due to division of labour of culturally and geographically dispersed masses, as well as the everyday character of activities in terms of which we collectively cause environmental problems in global industrial market society, no general ideological source of social action can plausibly be posited. An organisatory approach to the human environmental burden as a function of the collective performance by masses of a shared organisation of activity on a recursive, everyday basis is a more realistic account of the intensity of human environmental impact. Part 2 argues that the ideological approach in environmentalism and beyond can be seen to imply a form of collectivism also found in many classics of Wittgensteinian philosophy and social theory, an important common denominator being their ontological focus on the mental source of social action in shared conceptual schemes, normative orientations and the like. By contrast, in the Wittgenstein reading developed in this thesis, his perspective was non-ontological, viewing social activity as developing processes not defined by their mental source in shared conceptions but by their organisation. Social life is viewed as being based on agreement in form of life, that is, in organisation of human activity. The thesis is a rare and original attempt to make philosophy relevant in the discussion of a pressing contemporary problem that also advances Wittgenstein-scholarship to a novel area.