Date of Award

5-1-2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Philosophy

First Advisor

Steinbock, Anthony

Abstract

One of the most important but least discussed issues of our era is the problem of population--its size, density, and diversity, its explosive growth globally, its stability or shrinkage regionally, and the challenges it creates as we attempt to redefine who we are and what our place is in relation to the rest of the natural world. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach, I trace the meaning of population in ancient, pre-Malthusian, and post-Malthusian political economy, note its contemporary treatment in politics, economics and science, and examine the reasons for its decline and relative absence in present-day environmental philosophy. While some of the helpful ways in which commentators of the past approached the topic have been largely forgotten, such as valuing the relation between the size of a community and its ability to function harmoniously, I argue that historical debates do not address the issue in relation to current conditions. I apply ethical orientations from the Continental and Classical American philosophical traditions, namely those of John Dewey and Max Scheler to problems associated with the revival of the subject. Both men viewed persons as irreducibly unique and unquantifiable beings with open and infinite creative possibilities. Among other insights, Dewey and Scheler emphasized quality over quantity, and they stressed the questions of value associated with population issues and ways of adjusting both ourselves and our valuing to a quality-centered world. I conclude by pointing to ways in which inquiry into the meaning of population intersects with contemporary social and environmental challenges.

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