July 2020 Philosophy Walk: Into the Wild with Muir & Pinchot

What a gorgeous day for our July philosophy walk with author and journalist John Clayton.  And what a great group of people. Through a combination of storytelling, biography, and philosophy, our walk took us into the wild (up Davis Gulch) with John Muir & Gifford Pinchot. 

Introductory Material

How do we relate to nature? Some of us love preservation, associated with the author and wanderer John Muir, which celebrates the spiritual benefits of holistic, unimpaired natural systems. Some of us love conservation, associated with US Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot, which highlights management and sustainability of natural resources for all. Many of us fear the apparent conflict in these philosophies. In 1896, Muir and Pinchot visited Montana together (Muir even stayed overnight in Helena!). They had the opportunity to set these conflicts in motion for the specific landscapes now enshrined in Glacier National Park. Instead, they took a different, surprising path.

Walk Discussion Preview

Some of the Questions We Explored

  • Are people part of nature, or separate (and inferior)?
  • How do we balance holistic spiritual benefits with specific resource-based ones?
  • Who is more moral, the prophet or the statesman?
  • What’s more important, individualism or fairness and sustainability?
  • Where did we get the democratic institution of public lands?
  • When can contrasting philosophies come together for the common good?


About Our Philosophy Walk Guide

John is an author, journalist, essayist, and ghostwriter based here in Montana.  His most recent book – Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands – which was the inspiration for this walk — was featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Review of Books, and on NPR’s On Point

His previous book – Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon – was a Montana Book Award Honoree and and winner of the High Plains Book Award.  And his first book – Small Town Bound – was featured in Time and Harper’s magazines and on the Today and Oprah Winfrey shows.

Read More About John...

John’s articles appear regularly in the Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, and dozens of other publications.  He has a super engaging, informal style – loves him some narrative structure – and is just an all-around cool and knowledgable guy.

In his spare time he enjoys basketball, hiking, telemark skiing, home-brewing, reading, and – of course – hanging out with his dog Chaka Khan.

Thank You’s

Thank you to P.L.A.T.O. (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), and Humanities MT, and BWP Helena Great Northern Hotel for helping support our philosophy in the community programs and making events like this possible!  Thank you to our philosophy walk guide John Clayton and his dog Chaka Khan…and to our walk participants who helped to make the day so special with your thoughtful comments, questions, stories, and insights!

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