Professor Hugh McDonald
» Social Science
» Spring 2009
Hugh McDonald, an environmentalist and philosopher who is an associate professor in the Department of Social Science at New York City College of Technology, was named the College's Scholar on Campus in spring 2009.
McDonald's work explores philosophy, ethics and the human relationship to the environment. His approach to environmental ethics is not human-centered but eco-centric. Says McDonald, "I prefer to call my approach 'cosmopolitan' - world-centered. It's a no-brainer: we must move toward a sustainable environment."
McDonald has authored four books on philosophy; his groundbreaking John Dewey and Environmental Philosophy (SUNY Press, 2003), the top seller in environmental philosophy for two years, is now a primary source book in college courses on the environment. His newest book, Speculative Evaluations, Essays on a Pluralistic Universe, will be published later in 2009.
McDonald's holistic philosophy examines interactions between humans and other parts of the environment, and encompasses concern for the rights of animals and the preservation of rare species, habitats and landscapes endangered by deforestation, habitat development, global warming and human overpopulation. The subject is particularly timely in light of natural disasters, in New Orleans and most recently Italy's Abruzzo region, that have caused massive destruction, loss of life and refugee situations.
McDonald's theories evolved from practical, hands-on field experience of North American botany. An expert on Calochortaceae, a family of native Western flower bulbs, he has named two new plant species and published several botanical and horticultural articles.
He continues to get his hands dirty creating and tending the raised bed garden at the Tillary Street entrance to the College), as well as the school's Peace Garden, which is visible from the Atrium. He explains, "I wanted to make the gardens instructive, particularly for those who don't go to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, so I planted Old and New World - especially New York State - plants in separate areas."
Before earning a degree in horticulture, McDonald, who originally intended to go into law and politics, earned a PhD in philosophy. "When I took my first philosophy course, I was hooked," he says. His uncle, a philosophy professor, warned him not to enter the profession: "The job opportunities weren't there," he explains. "Then he read my undergraduate thesis and said, 'You really love it, don't you?'"
McDonald brings this passion to every course he has taught over the years since he joined City Tech in 2001 as a part-time professor (he became full-time in 2003). These include "Introduction to Philosophy," "Logical Thinking," "Health Care Ethics," "Philosophy of Technology" and "Philosophy of Religion." He sees City Tech students as part of the solution to environmental crises.
"They face the consequences of 20 years of inaction on these serious issues. These students are a source of new ideas in technology studies, law and engineering to deal with the problems." He also notes that solutions are at hand, citing windmills to produce power, energy-conserving retrofitting of buildings and installing solar roof panels. A Bay Ridge/Brooklyn resident, he is well aware of the borough's need for "green" projects and sustainability, in which the City Tech community already participates.
He presented the 2009 Scholar on Campus Lecture, "Environmental Philosophy as a System: From Environmental Ethics to Environmental Philosophy" at the College two days before Earth Day this year. Previously, on Earth Day 2006, he spoke on "The Importance of Environmental Ethics" at a conference sponsored by City Tech's School of Arts & Sciences.
Currently, McDonald is writing a series of books that, when completed, will constitute a whole philosophy of value. He says of his first love, "I'd be writing my philosophy books whether or not I was a philosophy professor." His uncle would be proud.