So why do I call this ‘Sustainable Enquiry’?

Sustainability in this context incorporates a number of key ideas. First there is the obvious and pressing issue of physical and social sustainability, working towards more harmonious relationships which preserve diversity and promote collaboration. Such an agenda requires the development of creative and critical facilities so that quick fixes are avoided. Problem solving, clear thinking and reflection on ethical issues are at the heart of practical philosophy and enquiry. So also is the ability to imagine, to be sensitive to a wide range of experience and to draw out connections and links across the boundaries of knowledge and experience.

A community of enquiry comprises a collective dialogue where participants pose questions, clarify concepts, draw on experience and work to expand their understanding of issues important to them. This forms the basis for action which is open to further reflection and review.

Working towards Sustainability

Joanna Macy is an environmental philosopher and activist who argues that sustainability is not simply about revising our technology (although this is important). It is also about developing new systems of social interaction and revisiting our value systems. This involves the ability to enquire and collaborate on ethical issues, issues of social justice rights and responsibilities, and to re-evaluate the relationships between the individual and society. Prosperity and greater equality without growth requires a different level of participation and the development of a range of skills among participants of all ages. My belief is that such vital skills can be fostered by the practice of P4C. Joanna’s work can be accessed through her book ‘Coming Back to Life’. And an excellent training DVD ‘The Work that Reconnects’ details of both available on her website

In the recent past we have relied on hierarchical structures both in society at large and in family groups. Part of change to the different mindset necessitated by prosperity and greater equality without growth is the move towards more collaborative arrangements. ‘The Empowerment Manual’ by Starhawk outlines some of the new challenges that maintaining such groups presents. The P4C community of enquiry provides a training ground for the skills required in such collaborative arrangements. The Green activist and Philosopher Rupert Read urges us to consider ourselves as part of the earth-life ecosystem in a similar vein to Joanna Macy above. Kicking the growth habit will not be easy but may in fact be essential to long-term survival. Strategies for reduced growth and a sustainable quality of life for all (‘Contraction and Convergence’ in Read’s terms) can be found on