For a new approach to the idea of ​​”nature”

As long as we adhere to the balances of nature, we maintain the dualisms of modernity (which oppose man and nature, the artificial and the natural, culture and nature) by simply reversing its signs: instead of praising man as the conqueror of nature, we condemn him as its destroyer.

This can lead to violent condemnation of men at risk of arousing legitimate criticism. Going from a static vision to a dynamic vision means overcoming these dualisms and including people in the processes we want to encourage. Because ecology is the “subversive science” that questions the reductionist certainties of certain biological currents (such as molecular biology), to show us that we are not independent atoms, that man is not separated from nature, but part of it, belongs to a world where all components are interdependent.

It is the good news that environmental ethics – or an “ecosophy” like Arne Næss – strives to elaborate in philosophical terms: how to develop a relational vision of the world, how to move from a morality of moving up a notch (to nature) to an ethics of attachment (to our common world)?

Questioning the monopoly of science

But is it still necessary to talk about nature? According to Bruno Latour, nature, as we refer to it in environmental issues, is not a necessary element of the solution (whether we are wondering about the moral dimension of our relationship with nature, or whether we want to “bring nature into politics”). , it is part of the problem: it serves to give power to scientists by making them advocates of a unity, nature, provided as given.

According to Philippe Descola, you need to learn to place yourself “beyond nature and culture”. But does that mean that we, as Bruno Latour and Philippe Descola declare, must abandon any reference to nature and worry about constituting a “common world” that brings together “people and non-humans”? Should we not rather consider that one of the effects of the environmental crisis is to return the discussion of nature to the domain of philosophy, by removing from science the monopoly on the question of nature which it had his in modernity?

When Philippe Descola presented to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, one of the most important associations for the protection of nature) the ideas that he would later develop in In addition to nature and culturehe intended to warn against the consequences of exporting Western models of nature protection: to impose Western standards – those of wilderness – in other parts of the world it is not to protect nature, it is to empty spaces for their usual inhabitants, to turn them into amusement parks for western tourists or places under scientific control. It is therefore by defending the lives of non-Western cultures and by respecting their own ontology that we want to protect what we perceive as their nature – for what in our eyes is nature is part of their culture.

Philippe Descola on the concept of nature.

A necessary empathy

But if it is thus excluded from imposing cultures other than our own protectionist systems that lead to forms of neo-colonialism, does that mean we should give up talking about nature? We do not mean that. If nothing else because you do not get rid of nature so easily. It is perhaps no coincidence that the very titles of two of the books that have done the most to challenge the received thought of nature, in environmentalists, Natural politics and In addition to nature and culture, mention the expression they criticize. And in cases like these, the mention of the word means more than what is said about it.

The concept of nature is certainly not universal, but it is because it is a Western category that this condemns us to a certain point to remain attached to it. One does not change ontology or ways of expressing oneself in a simple decision, and the categories by which one can try to replace nature (the pair of humans and non-humans, or biodiversity) are also Western categories. And by talking only about humans and non-humans, we pretty quickly risk only being interested in humans, so indefinite is the category of non-humans and only makes sense in relation to us.

It is therefore not a question of renouncing any idea of ​​nature, but one can avoid its disadvantages by relying on the plasticity of naturalism, in the sense that is Philippe Descolas, of the characteristic ontology of nature. indicates the physical continuity of all that is natural, while the interior is reserved for humans alone. The main characteristic of naturalism is its dualism: if, by objectifying nature, it has made it possible to develop scientific knowledge about it, it is also what makes it possible to oppose man and nature, even the distinction between the natural and the artificial. , between human history and natural history, is becoming more and more difficult to do. But naturalism is also characterized by its plasticity. This can be seen in the critical or reflective capacity of naturalistic ontology.

Concern for nature stems from modernity: it is in the moment when the dominion of nature asserts that we also begin to question this dominion and preserve natural space. That environmental ethics, right from the interior of naturalistic modernity, has been able to question it, testifies to the ingenuity endorsed by the Western idea of ​​nature. Plasticity is also found in the ability of naturalistic ontology to accommodate segments of other ontologies, especially animists: the interest we are increasingly showing in animal sensitivity goes hand in hand with an empathy for animals. To now change our attitude towards nature and in a way that consists not only in letting it be outside of us, but in knowing how to intervene in it, we must stop considering it a pure mechanism and show some empathy with the living and nature in general. We will thus be able to try to reconcile our attitude to nature and the perception we have of it.

Find this text in its entirety by consulting the complete work “Guide to Environmental Humanities” (edited by Aurélie Choné, Isabelle Hajek and Philippe Hamman, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion), published in December 2015.

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