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Extinction: Are We Doomed or Is Change Natural?

Opinions about extinction run the gamut, from alarm that we’re losing species far too rapidly, to acceptance of a natural process, blame on human indifference and fatalism about the natural order of things.

The complex topic of extinction and clarification about it, down to the death of the last member of a species and what this loss means to humans, will be discussed at the fourth annual Philosophy of the Environment Roundtable at Duquesne University.

The program, which is free and open to the public, will be held on Wednesday, March 23, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 105 College Hall.

It will feature presentations by:

  • Dr. David Lampe, professor of biology
  • Dr. Brady Porter, professor of biology
  • Dr. Will W. Adams, associate professor of psychology.

After a question-and-answer period, the film The End of the Line, about the devastating effects of overfishing, will be screened.

The roundtable offers an opportunity to learn about historic extinctions as well as a chance to consider what extinction means for us and for the ecosystems that knit together the web of life, according to Dr. Jennifer Bates, associate professor of philosophy and organizer of the event.

However, spreading knowledge about extinction, Dr. Bates stressed, is not the primary reason to explore such an important subject from the philosophical viewpoint. Her aim—

and the purpose of this Philosophy of the Environment Roundtable—is not to present ideas but to understand and refine ideas.

Politicians and activists are working to change behavior, she explained, but her job is to get people to think before they act so that action will be effective. “We have to think well in order to act effectively, just as we have to eat well in order to be healthy,” she said.

“Whichever side we’re on, whether we think nature is responsible or humans are responsible, I don’t think we have profound thoughts about extinction,” she pointed out. “I don’t think we are properly grasping its extent, and its impact on us and on the rest of the planet.”

Scientists predict that half of the species alive today will be extinct by the end of this century, and for Dr. Bates our failure as a society to come to grips with that issue—regardless of who is responsible or the mechanisms involved—is itself a philosophical challenge. “It’s not even clear what thinking is involved in our failure to act,” she said.

For more information about the event, call 412.396.6506. For more about the philosophy department at Duquesne, visit www.duq.edu/philosophy.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.