Authors Archives: Jerry Hoeg

Consilience, Ecocriticism, and Ecological Destruction

Abstract

I argue that effectively combating environmental destruction requires a consilient approach that integrates information from biology, economics, anthropology, ecocriticism, and environmental narratives.

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Consilience, Ecocriticism, and Ecological Destruction

Ecocriticism offers the possibility of a consilient criticism, that is, one that unites the sciences and the humanities in a continuum of knowledge.  E.O. Wilson, who took the unfortunate term consilience—few know what it means—from William Whewell’s 1840 tome, explains: “The cleavage between naturalism and social constructivism…extends to the foundation of knowledge itself. . . . Either the great branches of knowledge can be connected by a web of verifiable causal connections or they cannot” (vii). For Wilson, consilience means that the various branches of knowledge support each other to form a unified whole—the laws of physics explain chemistry, the laws of chemistry explain biology, and the laws of biology explain the behavior of living things, including humans and their arts—and none contradict the other. The upshot of this, for our purposes, is that on a consilient view the evidence from the biological sciences must constrain ecocriticism. Human behavior, whether deforestation or ecocriticism of it, is determined by a complex interaction between genes and culture, “with biology guiding and environment specifying” (Wilson viii). Neither the brain nor the environment are blank slates, but rather the interrelated product of millions of years of evolution, both full of adaptations produced by natural selection. The stories we tell about our environment shape the way we treat it, and the way we tell stories has been shaped by millions of years of environment.

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