Return to Nature? An Ecological Counterhistory

Return to Nature? An Ecological Counterhistory

Return to Nature? An Ecological Counterhistory

Return to Nature? An Ecological Counterhistory

Synopsis

Sustainability has become a compelling topic of domestic and international debate as the world searches for effective solutions to accumulating ecological problems. In Return to Nature? An Ecological Counterhistory, Fred Dallmayr demonstrates how nature has been marginalized, colonized, and abused in the modern era. Although nature was regarded as a matrix that encompassed all beings in premodern and classical thought, modern Western thinkers tend to disregard this original unity, essentially exiling nature from human life. By means of a philosophical counterhistory leading from Spinoza to Dewey and beyond, the book traces successive efforts to correct this tendency. Grounding his writing in a holistic relationism that reconnects humanity with ecology, Dallmayr pleads for the reintroduction of nature into contemporary philosophical discussion and sociopolitical practice.

Return to Nature? unites learning, intelligence, sensibility, and moral passion to offer a multifaceted history of philosophy with regard to our place in the natural world. Dallmayr's visionary writings provide an informed foundation for environmental policy and represent an impassioned call to reclaim nature in our everyday lives.

Excerpt

In December 2009 a large international conference on climate change was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Among many people around the world, plans for that conference triggered strong hopes, especially the expectation that the lopsided and exploitative relation between humanity and nature would be corrected or at least ameliorated. As we know in retrospect, these hopes were not fulfilled—although the demand for corrective measures is steadily gaining in urgency. As a prelude to the Copenhagen conference, another smaller meeting was held in Aarhus, Denmark, dealing with the issues of climate change, ecology, and human culture. As a forum designed not to produce policy proposals but to stimulate intellectual discussion, the Aarhus meeting catered to academics from a great variety of disciplines—among whom I was fortunate to be included. Participation in that meeting prompted me to focus in a sustained way on the humanity-nature issue—something I had not done before despite the fact that the issue had always been a strong undercurrent in all my writings.

As it seems to me, nature in modern times has tended to be marginalized, colonized, and abused. in the dominant strand of modern Western thought, nature survived only as an exile or resident alien. This is in stark contrast to the situation in premodern and classical times when “nature” often served as a synonym for the comprehensive matrix encompassing all beings. in the course of modernization, this original unity was progressively differentiated and parceled out into separate domains or compartments, into the disjecta membra, or dispersed fragments of wholeness. What is becoming increasingly evident in our time is that this dispersal also involves the steady fragmentation and dismemberment of human life. Hence, the widely felt need for a change of course—a change that can be captured in such mottos as “back to nature” or “letting nature back in” (from its exile). To be sure, such mottos cannot or should not be misconstrued as counseling . . .

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