Transcending Frontiers: A Contribution to Overcoming Instrumental Rationality in Our Relationships with Nature and with One Another

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:15 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Mihai SARBU , University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Environmental sociology is uniquely positioned to analyze the relationships between humans and nature and expose the societal factors that lock our civilization into carbon dependence; it can also analyze why the issue of climate change is becoming increasingly politicized and divisive. Moreover, it can examine how social inequalities—ubiquitous in this era of unemployment and economic decline—compound environmental crises and aggravate the suffering of the most vulnerable.

This paper argues that the social and environmental hierarchies prevalent in the world today can be meaningfully analyzed using the theoretical framework of instrumental rationality. In a nutshell, using instrumental rationality means applying the means of reason short-sightedly to solve a problem without considering the larger context—burning fossil fuels to fulfill most of our energy needs is a prime example.

Instrumental rationality has been linked to the drive for self-preservation and using this link as a conceptual tool can offer new insights: The first insight is that—paradoxically—we often hurt nature because we are (partially) from nature; the second insight is that our drive for self-preservation can be easily fused with an apparent and shallow (instrumental) rationality, leading to a substantially irrational state of mind which is very dangerous for nature as well as for other human beings.

The challenge then becomes to find ways to overcome instrumental rationality and this is the main purpose of this paper. It is an arduous task and one that needs to be assumed urgently to help us decouple from the unsustainable path we currently follow.