At first glance, it would appear ONU Philosophy Professor Jonathan Spelman is demonstrating a version of complex 'philosophical calculus' on the blackboard. He is, in fact, a quite skilled educator who is able to beak like's complexities down to their base philosophical parts - so students can explore the real reality of things - Ada Herald
At first glance, it would appear ONU Philosophy Professor Jonathan Spelman is demonstrating a version of complex 'philosophical calculus' on the blackboard. He is, in fact, a quite skilled educator who is able to beak like's complexities down to their base philosophical parts - so students can explore the real reality of things. (photo submitted)

“Philosophically speaking…”

Jonathan Spelman says that a lot. And he should, since he’s a professor of philosophy at Ohio Northern University.

But he says more stuff, too.

In fact, among a number of courses, he teaches a fascinating Environmental Ethics course. This has students looking at deeper and, of course, the much more ‘philosophical’ reality of things.

Take climate change.

If, in fact, it’s happening because of man-made reasons (and a significant faction of the scientific community these days seem to think so), then what ‘philosophies’ do you apply to impacting it?

Professor Spelman said that with this particular topic, student conversations inevitably, and quickly, move from ‘macro to micro.’ That is, the students often concede that the recent multi-dimensional, and global, “Paris Agreement” to curb greenhouse gasses, and even the more closer to home regulatory dynamics of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are too complex, and for that matter, too removed from them and their everyday lives.

See Spelman/Page 3

So in class they focus on “personal responsibility” in reducing their carbon footprints.

Professor Spelman said all sorts of ideas are bandied about: shorter showers, planting more trees (carbon sink), cutting the thermostat back, bicycling and walking more, going to LED lighting, using a push mower without an engine…

Professor Spellman uses one of those.

According to the EPA, traditional gas powered lawn mowers are roughly responsible for five percent of the nation’s air pollution. This was reported in the Boulder, Colorado, “Daily Camera” newspaper.

Boulder is practically left of the Green Party (and that’s hard to do) when it comes to environmental consciousness. And, as coincidence would have it, Professor Spelman, his wife and three children, recently moved here from Boulder – bringing some of that conservation ethos with them.

Besides the engineless lawn mower, the family regularly walks and bicycles around town, and the professor carpools to ONU from Bluffton.

In philosophical parlance, if the environmental consciousness grows out of one’s moral compass, if you will, this becomes one’s “virtue ethic.”

And, said the professor, people are often inspired by what philosophers refer to as “moral exemplars” in specific areas. That is, by people ‘walking the walk,’ or sometimes not.

Take Al Gore.

He’s become the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for climate change.

The professor pointed out that Gore drives around the country, jets around the world, giving compelling, ‘inconvenient’ presentations on global warming.

But where the rubber doesn’t seem to meet the ‘moral exemplar road’ with Gore, is that he’s ‘driving’ all over, jetting all over, the professor continued.

What’s more, Gore’s 10,070 square foot estate in Nashville, Tennessee, according to the Washington Times newspaper, expends more than 21 times the energy of the average U.S. home.

Spelman said students see something like the latter as disingenuous. And it makes them wonder how serious the problem of climate change really is.

While the professor can’t answer that for them as a climate scientist, what he can do, and does, is help open students’ minds to deeper realities, not only around the possible problems, but even more importantly, around the possible solutions.

Then the ‘philosophical ball,’ not to mention walking, for some, the attendant “virtue ethic” walk, is squarely in their court.