In this book David E. Cooper explores our relationship to nature – to animals, to plants, to natural places – and asks how it can be shaped into an appropriate one which contributes to the good of people's lives as a whole. Religions and philosophies have much to say about our relationship with nature, and Chinese Daoist philosophy has long been regarded as among those most sympathetic to the natural world. Daoists seek an attunement to the Dao (the Way) which is characterized by a sense of flow (water being a favourite metaphor), spontaneity, non-interference, humility and patience – virtues which contrast with the aggressive and exploitative values which characterize a modern world increasingly subject to economic imperatives.
Like the best of contemporary nature writing, the classic Daoist texts reveal a yearning for convergence with nature, nostalgia for a lost intimacy with the natural world, disillusion with humanity or its products, and a feeling for nature's mystery. The author explains how these attitudes are rooted in Daoist philosophy and explores their implications for our practical engagement with natural environments. He discusses, too, a number of ethical issues – including hunting, intensive farming, and environmental activism – that reflective people need to address in their efforts to heal our relationship with the Earth.
1 Orientation Nature writing Some modern moods Philosophy's roles
2 Why Daoism? Nature and people in Chinese art In a Daoist key Daoist moods
3 Religion, technology, estrangement Theology and 'the ecological crisis' A philosopher's hut Daoism, technology and estrangement 'Letting-be'
4 Estrangement, environmentalism and 'otherness' Rhetoric and reality Nature's 'otherness'
5 Nature in Daoism 'Nature': some connected senses Nature as educator Nature and virtue
6 On the Way (1): dao, world and unity Dao, God, nature and nothing Dao, experience and world Self, world and the unity of things
7 On the Way (2): de, virtues and sages De and the myriad things 'Profound de' and human virtues The Daoist sage
8 Mindfulness of nature Mindfulness, disinterestedness and impartiality Mirroring nature and 'dirty glass' Science and reverie
9 Nature, feeling and appreciation Sober joy Opposing moods Enjoying natural beauty
10 Engaging with nature Activity, engagement, intervention Being outdoors Engagement, environment and convergence 'The Daoist body'
11 Wilderness, wildness, wildlife The wild Wildlife and hunting Guns, cameras, companions
12 Intervening in nature Industry and technology Agriculture The Daoist garden
13 Intervening for nature? Activism and virtue Environmentalism and wu wei Daoism and quietism Notes Reading
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David E. Cooper was brought up in Surrey and educated at Highgate School and then Oxford University, where he was given his first job in 1967, as a Lecturer in Philosophy. He went on to teach at the universities of Miami, London and Surrey before being appointed, in 1986, as Professor of Philosophy at Durham University - where he remained until retiring in 2008. During his academic career, David was a Visiting Professor at universities in the United States, Canada, Malta, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Over the years, he has been the President or Chair of several learned societies, including the Mind Association, the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain and the Friedrich Nietzsche Society, and has served on the editorial boards of various journals, including Contemporary Buddhism.
David's philosophical interests are wide, ranging from environmental ethics to aesthetics, from the philosophy of language to Asian thought, and from the history of philosophy to the philosophy of religion. This breadth of interests is reflected in the many books he has written, which include Metaphor, Existentialism: A Reconstruction, World Philosophies: An Historical Introduction, The Measure of Things: Humanism, Humility and Mystery, Meaning (Central Problems of Philosophy), and A Philosophy of Gardens.
He has co-authored a book on Buddhism and the environment, edited A Companion to Aesthetics, co-edited three interdisciplinary volumes on environmental thought and, most recently, co-edited a large treasury of philosophical texts, Philosophy: The Classic Readings. Since retiring from academic life, David has been able to devote more energy as a trustee and the secretary of the charity Project Sri Lanka – to post-disaster and development initiatives in Sri Lanka, in which he has been involved since the Asian tsunami of 2004. He also devotes time to playing the clarinet, listening to birdsong, gardening, walking by the sea, and writing books and articles free from any institutional pressures to do so.
His latest project is a book on music and nature, bringing together reflections on the two great sources of pleasure that, in recent years, David has realised, have the most significance for him. His new book Convergence with Nature, about the relevance of Daoism to our relationship with nature, is due out in 2012. David's life is a fairly mobile one, oscillating between Sri Lanka, the island of Gozo, where he and his wife have a house, and their home and garden in a small village in the north of Northumberland, poised between the Cheviot hills and the beaches that fringe the North Sea.