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Bears, Zoos, and Wilderness: The Poverty of Social Constructionism

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It is the purpose of this short article to defend the realism of Holmes Rolston and other environmental philosophers against the social constructionism of Neil Evernden and others who have written on the social construction of nature. This defense is attempted through appeal to a deceptively simple example: seeing a bear in a zoo.The following four claims are defended in the effort to show the deficiencies of the anthropocentrism of social constructionists like Evernden: (1) there is a difference between a bear in a zoo and one in the wild; (2) this difference legitimates the belief that the former is an attenuated version of the latter; (3) the danger posed by a bear in the wild is not due to an overly active imagination; and (4) experience of sublime beauty (in contrast to mere cuteness) in the presence of a wild bear is only partly of one's own doing.


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