Below are the abstracts for our grad student papers. I am still looking for commentators on most of them, so please contact me if you are interested. If you click on the presenter’s name, you will be brought to a PDF version of their paper.

Food, Waste, and the American Way: A Merleau-Pontyian Response

Joseph Spencer (Franciscan University)

In this paper I argue that America’s current national food policy, as well as our overall attitudes towards food, is extremely wasteful and harms our health and the health of our environment. I argue that the primary reason we find ourselves in this predicament is that we have lost our sense of place in nature, and no longer retain a sense of closeness in our relationship with the environment around us. In response I argue that the notion of the flesh, as articulated by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in his work, The Visible and the Invisible, may be able to help us repair our relationship to the environment, and help us to solve our wasteful food crisis in America.

Comments: Jessica Soester (SIUC)

Mottainai: a Philosophy of Waste from Japan

Kevin Taylor (SIUC)

This paper presents a Japanese approach to the concept of waste through an analysis of the Japanese word mottainai (“what a waste!” and “don’t be wasteful”). The paper begins by outlining Buddhist origins of the word and religious veneration of objects in Shinto. From there, the paper then presents the popularization of the term as a culturally unique phrase that has been promulgated by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment as part of its own environmental pedagogy. The cultural applications have attracted the notice of Kenyan environmental and political activist Wangari Maathai, adding the word to the three R’s as ‘respect’. The use of mottainai as a form of ontological humility in the face of our own increasingly polluted world is the focus of the conclusion. I argue here that Tanaka Shozo’s conservationist environmental philosophy itself amicable to Leopold’s Land Ethic and Carson’s critique of anthropocentricism.

Comments: Zachary Piso (Allegheny College)

This Apple Has Expired: The poetry is in the trash

Farid Rener (McGill University)

This essay explores what happens to an apple (a thing, a living thing and a gift of nature) when it is destined by us to a landfill. It is shown that in challenging the apple in this way, the earth is disallowed from revealing and concealing itself. The act of reclaiming this apple from the waste stream, known as dumpster diving, is shown to be a poetical act, re-instilling it with its original essence. The apple is deconstructed as a thing, a living thing and a gift of nature, each facet being shown to be both undone and reestablished by the respective acts of throwing it out and retrieving it.

Comments: William Baird (SIUC)

The Ecology of Embodied Culture: Waste in the Reconstruction of Human Artifacts

Zachary Piso (Allegheny College)

This paper stresses that what we currently demarcate as the self, usually consisting of an embodied organism drawn off from the rest of the world by its flesh, is only a convenient placeholder for a much richer, organic unity. That the brain seems the seat of consciousness, and that minded action seems at the core of subjectivity and selfness, only tempts us toward Cartesian dualisms that overlook the self as a way of orienting oneself with the world, consciousness as a process of coordinated action, and ideas as tools to navigate the environment. Yet the closer we return the organism to the environment, the more difficult it becomes to locate an outside space to discard maladaptive habits. Social change requires that we overcome these maladaptive habits, but insofar as we remain in a cognitive-affective landscape that embodies those habits, we struggle to delineate undesirable waste.

Comments: Bruce Buchanan (SIUC)

Wasted Lives, Well Done Lives: Setting the Foundations for a Criteria of Waste

Lantz Miller (CUNY Graduate School)

Insofar as waste is a relative concept, determining whether a practice is wasteful involves a comparison, “Wasteful relative to what?” In comparing two practices for which is more wasteful, one approach is to determine the utils and expenditures of either practice and find which maximizes utils and minimizes expenditure. The problem here is the old one of how to determine utils, a subjective measure. Looking at three (fictional) biographies of well-done lives and borrowing from animal-welfare research, I suggest using the concept of human telos as an objective standard by which to assess an individual’s or group’s practices and environments in terms of (subjective) utils. Determining human telos can be improved through ongoing, such as paleoanthropological, research. I briefly apply my proposed procedure to the biographies and suggest that criteria of waste be set as expenditures of practices in excess of those practices that optimally approximate human telos.

Comments: Steven Miller (SIUC)

Zero Waste Theory and Practice

Candice Anderson (York University)

While often deemed as impossible, ‘zero waste’ goals have been adopted by municipalities across the world. This paper explores the theoretical basis of the term compared to how the concept is being operationalized by municipalities through various policies and programs. Examination of the concept reveals significant and opposing differences between theoretical and practical interpretations. The practical implementation of zero waste bears little relation to the foundational elements of zero waste theory and serves more to reinforce the status quo of waste production then working towards elimination. San Francisco is used as a primary example of zero waste in practice with a goal to achieve zero waste by 2020.

Comments: David Antonini (SIUC)

Wabi-Sabi: The Aesthetic of Decay

John Flowers (SIUC)

The Japanese Aesthetic of wabi-sabi takes the concept of impermanence and places it in a position equal to the aesthetic principle of perfection in the west. In doing this, wabi-sabi creates a concept of beauty that is not bound to a “perfect” image, rather, wabi-sabi intends that the most beautiful objects are those who most embody the Buddhist concept of impermanence, or the constant flux of nature. Further, under this aesthetic, object which may traditionally be considered, in the western context, to be lesser art due to the damage that they have suffered are thus re-valuated and elevated to a position of high art. This paper briefly aims to explore the aesthetic of wabi-sabi and its valuation of impermanent beauty.

Trash, Waste, and Time

Darshan Karwat (UM – Ann Arbor)

In my efforts to tread more lightly on this planet, I started living trash-free on 29 March 2010. The issues of waste quickly arise when thinking about trash. This paper is not about the nitty-gritty of my everyday life, but about my consequent reflections on culture, society, technology, and their effects on our environment. The tangibility of trash and waste make them perfect lenses under which to think about the ethics and moralities that drive our individual and collective choices, and the philosophy of our everyday lives. This paper explores the relationship between two particular kinds of waste—the waste of materials, and the waste of time. This relationship touches on the ecological, and consequently social and economic, implications of trash and waste. In our effort to reduce waste of time, or because of our desire to be elsewhere in time, we end up wasting and trashing material, material that results in ecological degradation and definite unsustainability, now and into the future.

Comments: Kenneth Knight (SIUC)