Philosophy in Review 30 (4):289-292 (2010)

Shane Ralston
University of Ottawa (PhD)
Environmental studies is a highly interdisciplinary field of inquiry, involving philosophers, ecologists, biologists, sociologists, activists, historians and professionals in public and private environmental organizations. It comes with no surprise, then, that the follow-up to Nelson and Callicott’s original anthology The Great Wilderness Debate (1998) features essays from authors in a broad array of disciplines. While there is considerable overlap between the two volumes, this new version offers forty-one essays, five of which are new additions, organized into four sections. What constitutes wilderness? Is wilderness real or social constructed? What kinds of values are served—recreational, aesthetic, scientific, or others—by protecting wild areas? While many commentators trace these questions back to an exchange in the 1990s between two environmental ethicists, J. Baird Callicott and Holmes Rolston III, the debate over the wilderness idea actually has older roots. At least in the U.S. context, it travels back in time to the earliest part of the twentieth-century, when the American public, politicians and ecologists were pressed to justify why wilderness areas should be set aside in a new National Park system. Since then, the fundamental question fuelling the ‘Great Wilderness Debate’ is whether what is being preserved is actually wilderness. Is there such a thing or place as wilderness, that is, a quintessentially non-human or wild setting untainted by human influence? If so, why do we believe such areas deserve protection?
Keywords philosophy  book reviews
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