Descartes' Legacy and Deep Ecology

Peter Millera1

a1 University of Winnipeg

When the history of philosophy is painted in broad strokes, the philosophy of Descartes is generally regarded as the major watershed between classical and modern outlooks. Although Descartes himself was more concerned with epistemology and metaphysics than with axiology, his successors have generally drawn as an axiological corollary of his metaphysical bifurcation of reality the thesis that all final or intrinsic values, if they exist at all, exist only in the domain of conscious subjects, or at the very least as relata dependent upon such subjects. These subjects may indeed extend beyond humankind to include gods or beasts or even, according to the speculative flights of some, the “occasions of experience” of Whiteheadian panpsychists or the universal mind of the idealists. The common denominator of all these accounts, however, is that values essentially depend upon human or quasi-human entities, i.e., conscious, experiencing subjects. This post-Cartesian thesis is in marked contrast to the axiological realism of the classical world of Plato and Aristotle, which concurs with large segments of common sense in finding objects to exist with their axiological properties independently of human and similar subjects. The Cartesian legacy in axiology has been to encourage the exploration of human values and experiences of value while creating a moratorium on the investigation of subject-independent values.