Anthony Weston

Professor of Philosophy
Spence Pavilion-Religion/Phil. 109
2340 Campus Box
Elon, NC 27244
weston@elon.edu (336) 278-5699

Brief Biography

I am Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies here at Elon, with occasional summer appointments in other programs, such as the Master's Program in Environmental Education and Communication at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, where most recently I taught in 2006 and 2007. I led Elon's Semester Abroad program in Costa Rica in the Fall of 2008.

I grew up in Wisconsin's Sand Counties, the "Driftless Area" -- Frank Lloyd Wright and Aldo Leopold country -- and went to Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota, graduating summa cum laude in 1976 as a Philosophy major. After a year at Oxford University and traveling in Europe, I went to graduate school in Philosophy at the University of Michigan, where I completed my dissertation "On the Subjectivity of Values" with Frithjof Bergmann and was granted the PhD in 1982. Subsequently I taught at Vassar College and SUNY-Stony Brook before coming to Elon in 1992. Among my claims to fame at Elon is being among the "group of four" who first designed "The Global Experience" first-year seminar (back in, yes, 1993). I was chair of the department from 2002-2008. I am also deeply honored to have been awarded the 2002 Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching, Elon's highest teaching award, and the 2007 Distinguished Scholar Award, Elon's highest award for scholarship.

My running-mate Amy Halberstadt and I live in Durham with our cats and chickens and occasionally children. Most of the time our children are in college, though: our eldest a junior in Civil Engineering and Earth Science at Rice University in Houston, and our youngest a freshman at Kenyon College in Ohio. Besides teaching philosophy and environmental studies, I am an avid runner and back-country camper and backpacker; active in a capella singing groups in Durham and occasional choral concerts (most recently a 400th anniversary performance of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers in Duke Chapel); sometime carpenter and artist; play a little too much on-line chess; and am working on becoming a better urban farmer, maintaining a fairly sizeable home garden and home water catchment system along with herding chickens. 

Courses Taught

In Philosophy, my usual courses include: 

PHL 110: What Can We Know?, a course that puts critical thinking skills in the larger philosophical context of debates over skepticism and the foundations of knowledge. 

PHL 112: How Should We Live?, an exploration of the nature of value (how can there be such a thing as value in the world? where does it come from?) and the foundations of ethics and aesthetics.

PHL 210: Critical Thinking, a more intensive exploration of critical thinking skills.

PHL 348 (crosslisted as Religious Studies 348): Environmental Ethics, a survey of contrasting general frameworks for understanding and reconstructing our relation to nature.

PHL 352: Zen in Theory and Practice, a course I facilitate but which is taught, truly, by Sandy Gentei Stewart of the North Carolina Zen Center in Pittsboro. This is a January term intensive that includes a four-day silent retreat at the Zen Center. 

PHL 360: Philosophy of Education, a course that enacts a variety of teaching/classroom methods, a different one every single class period. Students' task is to discern and critique the underlying philosophy of each.

PHL 461: Senior Seminar, a course I last led in the Fall of 2007, on the theme of Liberation. We ended by launching the Philosophical Liberation Front... and that was the end of that!

In Environmental Studies, my courses include:

ENS 110: Humans and Nature, a survey of the roots of the current crisis from perspectives across the disciplines, and an exploration of our diverse resources for coming to grips with it. A course I designed in 2010 but have not yet gotten to teach!
 
ENS 350: Environmental Visions, an exploration of emerging alternative, long-term, “green” visions of the future far beyond the familiar responses to the ecological emergency of our times. In January 2013 I hope to offer a travel version of this course, an up-close look at two eco-futurist visions that are taking shape today: Paolo Soleri’s hyper-dense “arcology” (architecture / ecology), a prototype of which is rising in the high desert near Phoenix, Arizona; and a maximally sustainable “permaculture” (permanent agriculture) as it is being practiced and taught in the seaside rainforest at Punta Mona, Costa Rica.
 
In General Studies, my courses include:
 
GST 110: Global Experience, last taught in 2010: we created our own worlds within the class, negotiated a global accord on climate change, took part in Elon's Model UN simulation, and ended with a world of other-than-humans. 
 
GST 309: Millennial Imagination, an exploration of creative futures – of what might actually be possible for our society and world, right now, and without anything outrageous technologically but with a lot more imagination. 
 
GST 336: Magic in the Land explores how human minds and cultures are shaped by specific features of the natural world in which they arise and live: the deserts and the rainforests; the weather; the great cycles of light and dark (days, months, years); the voices and the presence of other creatures. Last offered in Costa Rica!
 
GST 366: Marx, Darwin, Freud. This course  explores three prime movers of the modern mind... three revolutionary figures, all three profound influences on philosophy, biology, politics, religion, sociology, psychology, art, and, well, everything.
 
Finally, in Honors, I will be co-teaching HNR 237: Life in the Universe with Professor Tony Crider of the Physics Department in Spring, 2012. This course is a wide-angled exploration of contemporary thinking about the possible places of life and intelligence in the universe beyond Earth. We explore astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) both in scientific terms and against their cultural and philosophical background. 

 

Research

My current work centers on the ethical and cultural dimensions of the environmental crisis, very broadly conceived, and on our reconstructive and imaginative resources for more promising responses. I am especially interested in social improvisation and radical social change in general, and what I call "Millennial Imagination" - for we may after all stand at the moment of a thousand-year shift, and not just in how we number the years. I believe that we are entering a time of dramatic social change, as any number of ecological, social, and conceptual developments converge and synergize, and that philosophers can make a vital contribution to this work if we frame it appropriately - and jump in with both feet.

Most recently, my thought is turning to fundamental questions about the nature of time and timelessness. Wittgenstein – of all people – wrote that “he who lives in the moment lives in eternity”. I intend to explore the meaning of this dictum, the new categories it may require, and the possibilities it opens up. How is it possible to be free of Time in this way – at both ends, as it were (that is, that Time somehow only operates between “moment” and “eternity”, which are therefore also somehow identical?) In recent years my Zen practice has also led me to glimpse the possibility that our everyday, “practical” perception of time is not the only way to see it. But how might we get more than a mere glimpse of this experience of the timeless? What might it mean for how we usually think of (and fear) death as well? 

Publications

My books include several in environmental philosophy, Back to Earth: Tomorrow's Environmentalism (Temple University Press, 1994) and An Invitation to Environmental Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1999). Most recent in this area is a collection of my essays from the professional literature called The Incompleat Eco-Philosopher: Essays on the Edges of Environmental Ethics (SUNY Press, 2009). 

I am author, as well, of a number of texts in ethics and critical thinking: A Practical Companion To Ethics (Oxford, 1997; fourth edition 2011), A 21st Century Ethical Toolbox (Oxford, 2001; third edition 2012), as well as my first and most widely-used book, A Rulebook for Arguments (Hackett, 1986; fourth edition, 2008). New is a textbook based on the Rulebook, co-authored with Professor David Morrow of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, called A Workbook for Arguments: A Complete Course in Critical Thinking (Hackett, 2011). 

In 2007 I added two books on practical creativity with Oxford: Creativity for Critical Thinkers and Creative Problem-Solving in Ethics. I have also published several attempts at Deweyan reconstruction in philosophy, Toward Better Problems (Temple, 1992) and Jobs for Philosophers (Xlibris, 2004) - the latter self-published and read by hardly anyone, but actually my favorite book (and available upon request). In 2007 New Society Publishers published my book How to Re-Imagine the World: A Pocket Handbook for Practical Visionaries (2007), and now in press is a systematic follow-up in my main area of interest: Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto (New Society Press, 2012). 

I also write articles in a range of areas from philosophy of education to applied ethics, space exploration, and social problems.

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