Nature and holism: Barry Lopez's integral natural philosophy

Date of Completion

January 2004


Philosophy|Literature, American|Environmental Sciences




This study focuses on the work of Barry Lopez, an increasingly important North American nature writer, and his various strategies in formulating a viable natural philosophy. Arguing that the central weakness in contemporary environmental ethics is its over-reliance on materialist categories of knowledge, I read Lopez's work as a restorative bridge to a more balanced epistemology. Although Lopez's project to deepen human respect toward the nonhuman landscape shares much with literary forebears like naturalist Aldo Leopold, I argue that Lopez achieves a far more complete integration of subjective and objective realities that results in a more compelling ethical framework. In the context of philosopher Ken Wilber's epistemological model of the Four Quadrants, which represent both external and internal categories of knowledge, I demonstrate that much of the power of Lopez's presentation, in both fiction and non-fiction, arises from his integration of both ways of knowing. This approach provides for a more balanced ethical valuation of the natural world that integrates many of the spiritual discoveries of early modern philosophy within a modern ecological framework. ^ The Introduction situates Lopez historically in his concern for the environment and his articulation of the factors leading to the present ecological crisis. Arguing that previous Lopez scholarship has failed to delineate clearly the underlying philosophical framework that unifies his various rhetorical modes, I offer Wilber's model as a way to more profitably read Lopez's work. Chapter One presents an overview of Wilber's system, including his treatment of holons, his Four-Quadrant categorization of reality, and his use of developmental psychology. Chapter Two focuses on Lopez's attempt to create a viable natural philosophy in his non-fiction work Of Wolves and Men. Using Wilber's categories of knowledge, I argue that Lopez's philosophy is grounded in a balanced integration of all four. Chapter Three applies Lopez's notion of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ landscapes to his fiction, thereby demonstrating his strategies for restoring harmony between them. Chapter Four, drawing on Wilber's understanding of human development, identifies a holonic spiritual land ethic in Lopez's Arctic Dreams . ^