Elmer G. Beamer-Hubert H. Schneider Professor in Ethics, Associate Professor & Senior Research Fellow, Earth System Governance Project
Classes: People & Planet, Good Relationships, Moral Critique & Public Policy, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Aesthetics, Literary Philosophy, Introduction to Philosophy
Ph.D., Philosophy, University of Chicago, 2002
B.A., Magna Cum Laude, Philosophy, Yale University, 1993
Research: The concept of anthroponomy; Decoloniality; Wonder and the conditions of democratic life; Relational reason; Climate Adaptation; Mass extinction; Civic responsibility
Expertise: Environmental civics (incl. ethics, moral philosophy, and politics); Political aesthetics; Relational reason; Moral philosophy; Meta-philosophy
On leave for the 2019-20 AY
My family comes from Ohio–the Bendiks as immigrants from Vlachovo, Slovakia to southern Ohio mining country (Belle Valley) and then later as residents of Elyria; the Keymers from Oberlin, Lakewood and eventually Olmsted Falls. I went to public school in New Hartford, New York and in Rouen, France as an exchange student at the Lycée Corneille, then attended Yale College and University of Chicago. While I was in Chicago, I worked on a research team at the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development, studying a Head Start version of the Reggio Emilia pre-school approach. It profoundly affected my view of learning and of schooling.
After school, I trekked around — living in Colorado, the United Arab Emirates (where I helped accredit a department of international studies), and Central New York near where I grew up. I studied different ways of educating: at Colorado College, a liberal arts college where students take one course at a time, American University of Sharjah, a global citizenship focused institution, and LeMoyne College, a Jesuit institution with a mission to display care for the whole person while they find their vocation in life. Then I came back to Cleveland.
My current monograph (Involving Anthroponomy in the Anthropocene: On Decoloniality, Routledge, 2020) takes up democracy and power, intersecting with inequality, the Anthropocene, diversity, and transformations (e.g., the decolonization process). It has some bearing on justice, but not directly on allocation. It emerged out of thought about adaptation. And there are consequences of the “anthroponomy criterion” within it that are relevant to architecture and agency. The follow up book, A Handbook of Anthroponomy (2024) will speak to anticipation and imagination, too.
My co-edited volume (with Allen Thompson, president of ISEE and co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics), the first of its kind in philosophy, was Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future (MIT Press, 2012). It directly addressed adaptation and resilience, especially through transformations. Co-creating this volume led me to consider what it would be to adapt our fundamental ethical and moral concepts to planetary scaled, socially caused, environmental change. And that led me to create the concept of anthroponomy, which I first named in 2012 in an article for the European Financial Review, bringing back an obscure and rarely used word from the 18th century used briefly by Immanuel Kant.
Three monographs in environmental philosophy – The Ecological Life (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), Solar Calendar, and Other Ways of Marking Time (punctum books, 2017), and The Wind ~ An Unruly Living (punctum books, 2018) – explored the philosophical adaptation of “who we are” (Stephen Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm), through a philosophical anthropology and moral psychology that developed a humanist form of deep ecology, paradoxical as that may sound. According to this philosophy, to be centered in our own humanity (“anthropocentric”) is to be ecologically identified in moral relationships with the more than human world. In the first monograph, I showed how understanding common humanity as found in the human rights tradition leads us, on careful reflection, to see how we are “greener than we think.” In other words, I subverted the distinction between the anthropocentric and the non-anthropocentric by rejecting the understanding of the human in mainstream, especially deep ecological, views of anthropocentrism.
The latter two monographs – published with a literary, open-access press whose convictions I admire – were written using the ancient philosophical method of askēsis to model transformations of personal agency with the aim of civic engagement and social-political consciousness. With them, I wrote in a literary form to model what it is to philosophize from relational reason, a form of reason co-operative with but irreducible to theoretical and practical reason that is important for ecological identifications, moral responsibility, and decoloniality. The result took philosophical adaptation of who we are into imaginative ways of processing our planetary situation. For instance, the sixth study of Solar Calendar engaged in writing an aphorism per day for one calendar year framed as “thoughts of the Earth” (see The Ecological Life, lecture 9), writing from conscience as Seneca did, but in an Epictetan form, concerning our planetary environmental situation. This was work in imagination, resulting in deep adaptation of our self-conception to our situation on Earth.
One of the themes of Solar Calendar was deep time. The second, third, and sixth studies of the book discussed concerns about the risk of a mass extinction cascade. This joined a stream of articles I published on mass extinction for The Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics; Ethics, Policy & Environment, and The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics, where I lead authored the entry on mass extinction. Questions about the moral problem of mass extinction, which I characterize as a problem of wantonness, also led to work on the “capability approach” over the last decade.
Beginning in 2007, I began work on the normative and moral psychological assumptions of Martha Nussbaum’s version of the capability approach involving other species. I co-created panels with Martha Nussbaum, Breena Holland, Amy Linch, and Rachel Wichert and began to publish in the area. In “From Humans to All of Life” (in Flavio Comim and Martha Nussbaum, eds., Capabilities, Gender, Equality, Cambridge University Press, 2014), I reconceptualized Nussbaum’s basis for other species capabilities using close reading and analytic reconstruction. In “The Politics of Wonder” (M. Qizilbash et al., eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Capabilities, Cambridge University Press, 2019) I then pushed Nussbaum’s other species capability approach toward its aporias, showing the limitations it encounters due to its ontological and normative individualism when considering other species. Finally, in “The Reasonableness of Wonder” (Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 18:3, 2017), I argued for the reasonableness of the sensibility of wonder found at the base of Nussbaum’s biocentrism within political liberal justification. This last article led Nussbaum to state publicly, in her forward to the special issue, that my articles over the decade had convinced her to add “biocentric wonder” to her basic list of capabilities.
This research stream of articles, which expresses active involvement with the Human Development and Capability Association, became part of a monograph, The Politics of Wonder: Martha Nussbaum, Ecological Democracy, and the Conditions of Democratic Life (Bloomsbury, 2022) that extends the practice of wonder, after constructively criticizing its emergence in Nussbaum’s work, into my own exploration of democracy as an ethos, joining a tradition of work on aesthetics in democracy that includes Alessandro Ferrara’s work (The Democratic Horizon) as well as Jacques Rancière’s (Disagreement and Aisthesis). Using social epistemology, radical pedagogy, and social practice art as guides, and deepening my work on relational reason, I develop my philosophical understanding of disagreement-in-relationship as a basis for democracy. This work has implications for democracy and power, especially cross-cutting diversity and inequality. It contributes, too, to questions about how to transform democratic societies into ecological democracies.