U.S. culture and the politics of wilderness
This dissertation is about the philosophical presuppositions of the concept of wilderness, and the idea and practice of wilderness preservation based on this concept. Despite philosophical attempts to dismantle and discard the concept of wilderness, I argue for reconceptualizing the idea of wilderness because it is essential to both wilderness and environmental preservation.
Critics variously argue that the notion of wilderness is fatally flawed. Chiefly they ague that the idea of a "pristine" pre-discovery America is mythical, a product of racist conjecture in which Native Americans were little different from the animals of the forest, that is, uncivilized nomadic beings incapable of shaping the land as white men did. Several notable scholars argue that such flaws in the notion of wilderness are intractable; hence, the concept should be replaced. I seek to rehabilitate the notion of wilderness in a way that will allow it to do useful work in environmental thought and action.
Although considerable research has been done on the nineteenth and twentieth century literary and philosophical antecedents of the idea of wilderness, the legal antecedents in that period remain largely unexamined. Hence, I offer a philosophical analysis of Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in the case of Johnson v. M'Intosh (1823) where the concept of wilderness finds its first legal articulation. Then I follow the chain of law to a 1955 Supreme Court decision, Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States. Here, Marshall's 1823 conception of wilderness is used as precedent tor the taking of "wilderness" Alaskan land that arguably belonged to Native Americans. From this exploration, I seek to answer the questions of what are and what should be the legal and socio-political concepts that inform the concept of wilderness and how might we reshape the concept of wilderness in a way that will rid it of its flaws while allowing it to do philosophical work.
0768: Environmental science