Before my current job as a freelance philosophy teacher in primary schools, I spent 11 years researching, writing and teaching in the Philosophy Department at the University of Manchester, first as a PhD student and then for seven years as a postdoctoral researcher. I oriented my research and teaching around questions concerning the values and ethics that shape our relationship to nature. Before this I studied and worked in nature conservation for a number of years, during which time I became fascinated by the fundamental questions it raised about our responsibilities towards the natural world. I was drawn to philosophy as a means to exploring these questions. Over nearly 20 years of studying, writing and teaching in the discipline, I have tried to use philosophy – with its focus on examining values, uncovering assumptions, clarifying where arguments conflict and where consensus can be found – to make useful contributions to the debates between divergent interests that put forward apparently competing visions of what land is for and how it should be managed.
My experience of the British landscape has given me a balanced perspective on what is at stake in its future for different communities. I have worked on farms – from agri-business arable to fruit farms to organic smallholdings – and in nature conservation, from traditional local council nature reserve management to landscape-scale rewilding projects. In pursuing a range of ways of engaging with the countryside – outdoor pursuits like hill walking and rock climbing; wildlife activities such as birdwatching; landscape archaeological surveying; natural flood management volunteering – I’ve gained an insight into how different groups view the landscape through the lens of their own concerns. I’m fascinated by and open to understanding all these perspectives; you’ll be as likely to find me at The Game Fair as Birdfair, or at a conservation policy conference as an agricultural show.
I grew up in the arable lands of Essex, and then attended agricultural college in Suffolk for a rural studies diploma. For the following eight years I lived in Edinburgh, spending much time in the Highlands hill walking and leading residential conservation holidays. My heart has always been in the Pennines, though; when I was 11 my dad took me camping in the Yorkshire Dales and it was there I fell in love with the landscape. For the past decade I have lived deep in Pennine country in Hebden Bridge, in the Upper Calder Valley of West Yorkshire.
I am always happy to hear from fellow nature, place and landscape enthusiasts. Please drop me a line at pauljamesknights [at] gmail [dot] com.