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Philosophy and Ecosystem: Towards a Transcendental Ecology
I. Moving from Environmental Philosophy to a Unified Theory of Philosophy and Ecology Many are looking to foster a relationship between ecology and philosophy as it becomes clear that the reality of our contemporary age, as well as the future that we are rushing headlong into, is determined in large part by the environmental crisis. This attempt is not unprecedented as the environmental movement and some form of environmental studies has been around at least since the writings of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. The legacy of the relationship between ecology and philosophy has been and continues to be led by the discipline of environmental ethics and environmental aesthetics.1 In this way philosophy prescribes ethical and aesthetic norms on the basis of ecological findings, but philosophy itself tends to remain unchanged by the encounter. There may be some change, often favorable (a favorite is replacing the Western subordination of ethics to reason with principles from Eastern philosophy and religion), but what remains after this change is still a philosophical system, in this case based on ethics as first philosophy, developed apart from scientific ecology. When comparing the immense amount of literature on environmental ethics and aesthetics it becomes clear that attempts to begin thinking about ecology from metaphysics prior to ethics, as found in some Schellingian thinkers like Žižek, are in the minority.2 Most of these attempts deploy ecology very selectively, often using more from political ecology or environmental studies than scientific ecology, and they 1 Some anecdotal evidence for this majority position of ethics and aesthetics can be had by comparing
the amount of Google hits one receives for “environmental ethics” (about 1,180,000) and “environmental aesthetics” (about 26,900) compared to “ecological metaphysics” (241) and “metaphysics of ecology” (9). Both environmental ethics and environmental aesthetics also have entries in the major encyclopedias of philosophy, where ecological metaphysics does not. Further to this anecdotal evidence there is a major journal dedicated to environmental ethics (Environmental Ethics), but there is a complete absence of a journal that focuses on the metaphysics of ecology. Even the more far-reaching Journal of Environmental Philosophy tends to focus on ethics and aesthetics (largely from a phenomenological perspective), while metaphysics figures very marginally. 2 For Žižek’s criticism of the ideology of ecology and his own attempt to recast the problem of nature alongside of ecology see “Unbehagen in der Natur,” in his In Defense of Lost Causes (London and New York: Verso, 2008). For Žižek’s indebtedness to Schelling see his reading in Slavoj Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder: On Schelling and Related Matters (London and New York: Verso, 1996) and for an account and criticism of that reading see Iain Hamilton Grant, “The Insufficiency of Ground: On Žižek’s Schellingianism” in The Truth of Žižek, eds. Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp (London and New York: Continuum, 2007), pp. 82-98.
do so in the service of rethinking the question of nature rather than thinking about the nature of philosophy or ecology.3 What is common to these thinkers is a subjugation of ecology to philosophy of nature, rather than a building of philosophy of nature in the light of ecology. While the growing Schellingian influence on Continental philosophy of nature is a step in the right direction in that it invites us to think philosophy with non-philosophical practices, redirecting us to “the eternal and necessary bond between philosophy and physics”, it is inadequate in itself for thinking about ecological nature.4 Partly, this inadequacy comes from a difference in goals. The Schellingian revival in Continental philosophy of nature is more concerned with reviving a metaphysics connected to material practices, and so what I am here calling “Schellingian” applies to a whole host of thinkers not normally associated with Schelling as such, like Deleuze & Guattari and Bergson and those who take them as inspiration for their own work in philosophy of nature. But there is a deeper reasons why this is inadequate in itself for thinking about ecology and nature, for if by nature we mean a first identity descriptive of the Real from which a whole host of regional knowledges think (physics, ecology, poetry, philosophy of nature), then nature cannot be captured by physics as a unitary discourse and cannot be thought through physics alone. This becomes especially clear as physics is, as witnessed by its own practices, not one thing in itself. Therefore, when we subordinate ecology to a philosophy bonded to physics we have not yet begun to think about what ecology thinks about. Instead of looking to philosophy’s outside we take philosophy of nature itself as if it were some outside to philosophy rather than an instance of philosophy. What is common in all of these attempts to think ecology, from the ethical and aesthetic to the metaphysical, is the remainder of a philosophical decision built upon faith in the self-sufficiency of philosophy. The aim of this paper is to challenge this dominant relationship of philosophy over and above ecology, be it via ethics and aesthetics or metaphysics, in order to return for the first time to ecology and ask how it challenges the practice of philosophy in philosophy’s own attempts to think the ethics and metaphysics of 3 Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy, trans. Catherine
Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004) is a popular example of this tendency. Michael Lewis’ Heidegger Beyond Deconstruction: On Nature (London and New York: Continuum, 2007) is also a good example of this tendency, though without the desire to erase the word nature from our lexicon, as he creatively recasts Heidegger’s ontological investigations to deal with the question of nature. 4 Iain Hamilton Grant’s work is at the forefront of this exciting reclamation of philosophy of nature. See Iain Hamilton Grant, “The ‘Eternal and Necessary Bond between Philosophy and Physics’: A Repetition of the Difference between the Fichtean and Schellingian Systems of Philosophy” in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 10:1 (April 2005), pp. 43-59 and Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature after Schelling (London and New York: Continuum, 2006).
ecology. I am not offering a final criticism of these modes of philosophy and ecology, such a criticism is not even possible from the perspective of non-philosophy, but instead aim to create a democracy (of) thought between scientific ecology and philosophy. More explicitly, this paper is the beginning of an attempt to cast ecology as a non-philosophical practice that allows us to read and practice philosophy under the auspices of a transcendental ecology analogous to Gilles Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism or François Laruelle’s transcendental axiomatics. Note that this is only a claim about changing the way we practice philosophy via non-philosophy and makes no pretense of heralding in some new philosophy that can finally answer everything; the message of this paper is not that ontology is ecological or that epistemological questions are answered through ecological science. Rather transcendental ecology, as developed in this paper, is a method of reading the philosophical history underling environmental thinking and the beginning of a non-philosophical practice of thinking the questions of nature and ecosystem outside of philosophy’s self-sufficiency in matters of ecological metaphysics and ethics. This paper opens that attempt by introducing the history of non-philosophy as it has developed through François Laruelle’s work. This section will necessarily be dense, as it condenses 30 years of work into a few paragraphs, and many will no likely feel immediate resistance to both Laruelle’s criticism of philosophy in general and the way he goes about his own conception of non-philosophy.5 This resistance owes, in great deal, to what may initially appear to be an incredible amount of jargon and obsessive focus on syntax. I make no attempt to defend Laruelle here in the abstract, though of course I find his work not to be merely another instance of trendy jargon but rather an attempt to think differently, and instead present the material of non-philosophy as offensively dense as I find it. This is done, however, with the clear purpose of showing how it opens a path towards the unified theory of philosophy and ecology through the discovery of a transcendental (to philosophy) reading of philosophy via ecological principles. I only note, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, that Laruelle expects philosophical resistance to non-philosophy and has intentionally written it as a kind of stumbling block to philosophers of Alterity and foolishness to philosophers of Being; Being and Alterity forming philosophy’s twin obsessions.6 5 There is of course a history of “non-philosophy” in both the German and French traditions. These are
usually identified by philosophers, whereas Laruelle aims to unbind non-philosophy and practice it from within rather than as a philosopher. See his remarks comparing the non-philosophy identified by Deleuze and Guattari in their What is Philosophy to his own practice of non-philosophy in François Laruelle, “Response to Deleuze”, Pli 20 (2009), pp. [Need page numbers]. 6 The allusion is, of course, to St Paul’s statement “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles [Greeks]” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NSRV). Laruelle’s reference here is to the Greek and Jewish lines of thought that have largely determined the course of Western
The best way to read Laruelle is not to ask what a particular concept of his means, often the philosophical path enclosed within the circle of meaning, but what it does, even though it may at first seem difficult to work with, and from there to test its worthiness. This is what I propose to do in the third section of the paper where I consider philosophy in the light of scientific ecology’s concept of the ecosystem and develop a transcendental ecology for the reading of philosophy. Through a short discussion of the ideology of contemporary environmentalism via Heidegger’s analysis of “ready-to-hand” I explain how ecology can be made what Laruelle calls a Stranger for thought. To close, we discuss what a unified theory of philosophy and ecology is for and why a transcendental ecology is a first step towards a more developed unified theory of philosophy and ecology. II. History of Non-Philosophy: From Philosophy I to Philosophy IV The name “non-philosophy” comes from the work of François Laruelle whose project was described by Deleuze and Guattari as “one of the most interesting undertakings of contemporary philosophy.”7 This assessment is finally starting to be shared by those outside of the Francophone world and works are beginning to be translated. While this essay does not aim to introduce Laruelle’s work, it is largely an attempt to think about ecology and philosophy through a non-philosophical method. So it is important to spend some time introducing those aspects of non-philosophy being deployed and making them intelligible by setting them within the context of Laruelle’s project as a whole.8
philosophy. In many ways Philosophy II and III (these stages of non-philosophy are explained below) begins by working with these twin lines of thought, which in his view both propose a unitary thinking of the Real. This does not mean, however, that Laruelle valorizes some Christian synthesis of the two lines of thought which would simply be another unitary thinking of the Real and so in his Philosophy IV he undertakes a non-philosophical working with Christianity. For Laruelle’s characterization of philosophy as Greek and Jewish see François Laruelle, Philosophie et non-philosophie (Liège/Bruxelles: Mardaga, 1989), p. 212. For his critique of Christianity and subsequent nonphilosophical mutation of see Le Christ futur. Une leçon d’hérèsie (Paris: Exils Èditeur, 2002). 7 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 220, footnote 5. 8 For those interested in more sustained introductions to Laruelle’s philosophy they may begin with François Laruelle, “What Can Non-Philosophy Do?”, trans. Ray Brassier, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 8, no. 1 (2003): 169-90. Also his soon to be translated into English Philosophie et non-philosophie (Liège/Bruxelles: Mardaga, 1989) and, perhaps most importantly, Princpes de la non-philosophie (Paris: PUF, 1995). For introductory secondary works in English consult Ray Brassier, “Axiomatic Heresy: The Non-Philosophy of François Laruelle,” Radical Philosophy 121 (September/October 2003): 24-35 and John Mullarkey, “From Philosophy to NonPhilosophy,” in Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline (London and New York: Continuum Press, 2006). For a critical evaluation of Laruelle’s non-philosophy see Ray Brassier, “Being Nothing,” in Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Bakingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). There are also a number of draft translations via the blog Speculative Heresy available online at: <http://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/translations/> and <http://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/resources/>.
Laruelle’s work is striking in the breadth of interests present as well as in the audacity and abstract complexity that characterizes his project.9 One of the easier ways to begin understanding Laruelle’s non-philosophy is through the history Laruelle himself presents in his Principes de la non-philosophie rather than attempting in a short space to detangle all the abstractions in his work. In his history he details the impetus of his work, which he calls Philosophy I, through its developments in Philosophy II and III. I will end the short history by providing my own reading of the shape of the current phase, Philosophy IV, which Laruelle began after publishing Principes de la non-philosophie. In this way we begin to see how non-philosophy is practiced, rather than what it means and in that way can begin to practice it ourselves without concern for the authority of the master. For Laruelle presents non-philosophy as something that should be practiced autonomously, rather than written about as if non-philosophy offered us the new true path. Indeed, he has constructed his non-philosophy in such a way that is rather difficult to write about it without thereby practicing it. In Principes de la non-philosophie Laruelle locates three distinct periods of non-philosophy, Philosophy I-III, that he thinks responds to the triadic structure of philosophy itself (understood by Laruelle to find its essence in the philosophical decision).10 In his own estimation the work of non-philosophy, where philosophy is finally taken as a simple material that one can work with, does not truly begin until Philosophy III. Philosophy I is characterized, by what may be described in a Deleuzian way, as Laruelle’s apprenticeship in philosophy. During this period he wrote highly original, critical and subversive secondary works on the history of philosophy; specifically a work on the neglected spiritualist Félix Ravaisson, works on deconstruction, and on the philosophy of Nietzsche over and against that of Heidegger. In his own words this period should be understood to have “placed itself under the authority of the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy”.11 He continues on to say, that at this stage he “already tried to bring out certain themes that would not find their definitive form, a transformed form, until Philosophy III: the individual, its identity and 9 Perhaps the lack of English translations of Laruelle’s work is to be blamed on that audacity and
abstract complexity, though this is beginning to change as three major works of Laruelle are forthcoming soon, likely in mid-to-late 2010, with more undoubtedly to follow. Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (London and New York: Continuum, Forthcoming); Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle (London and New York: Continuum, Forthcoming); and Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, trans. Taylor Adkins (Melbourne: Re:Press, Forthcoming). 10 Laruelle, Principes de la non-philosophie, pp. 38-9. 11 Laruelle, p. 39. Unless noted otherwise all translations are my own.
multiplicity, an experience that was transcendental and productive of thought, the theoretical domination of philosophy, the attempt to construct a rival problematic to that of Marx, but mostly on the terrain of Nietzsche and through Nietzschean ways.”12 While the work here prefigured in an indefinite form the problems that Laruelle continued to consider well into Philosophy III, it’s true addition to the project of nonphilosophy was the discovery of the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy. According to Laruelle the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy can best be understood as a largely unacknowledged pretension found in all philosophical endeavors declaring that everything is philosophizable. In the end this faith in the sufficiency of philosophy masks a correlation between philosophy and the appearance of the Real found in the various regional knowledges philosophy is dependent upon (science, art, politics, psychoanalysis, etc.) and allows the philosopher to confuse the philosophy-of-X with X itself. That is philosophy comes to be confused with the Real itself, rather than seeing that the X of philosophy-of-X is actually a reflection of itself. Laruelle puts it this way: “If noesis and noema are not solely the extract of philosophy, but of the philosophy-of-X, then they are not taken from X as it gives itself “in itself” but more “in philosophy”. The noetico-nomatic relation thus associates and distinguishes, not philosophy and X, nor philosophy and the philosophy-of-X, but the non-philosophical extracts, noetic and noematic, of philosophy-ofX.”13 Philosophy II marks Laruelle’s break with thinking under the conditions of this philosophical (self-)sufficiency, but that break is, he tells us, “more than a break or than a new primary decision, it is the subordination of the non-philosophical decision to its immanent cause, the vision-in-One”.14 There are two terms that need explication here: the philosophical decision that always remains outside of what philosophy can think (hence why it is called non-philosophical) and vision-in-One. In his Les Philosophies de la difference, one of the main texts of Philosophy II, Laruelle develops his first theory of the philosophical decision that is then developed more rigorously in Principes.15 In sum, the philosophical decision reiterates the structure of 12 Ibid. 13 Laruelle, p. 309. I’m indebted to Rocco Gangle’s unpublished paper “Abstract Materials: Adorno’s
Aesthetics after Laruelle” for bringing my attention to this passage. 14 Ibid. 15 See Laruelle, “Théorie de la Décision philosophique” in Les Philosophies de la difference. Introduction Critique (Paris: PUF, 1986) and his “Analytique de la Décision philosophique” in Principes, pp. 281-304.
Kant’s transcendental deduction and can be found, according to Laruelle, as an invariant structure to all philosophical endeavors. Whereas his own non-philosophy attempts to think from the vision-in-One or what he also calls “radical immanence” that conjoins what other philosophies call immanence, transcendence and the transcendental, the philosophical decision is simply a dyad between immanence and transcendence where, as Ray Brassier explains it, “immanence features twice, its internal structure subdivided between and empirical and a transcendental function.”16 In condensed terms, philosophy breaks up immanence through positing some empirical datum separate from the transcendence of its a priori factum (otherwise understood as the fact of giveneness of something apart from its empirical appearing) that must then be brought back together through some third transcendental thing (the ego, certain conceptions of immanence, experience, etc.).17 In slightly more accessible terms Laruelle tells us in his Dictionnaire de la non-philosophie that, “The philosophical decision is an operation of transcendence that believes (in a naïve and hallucinatory way) in the possibility of a unitary discourse of the Real.”18 In order to overcome the narcissism that arises out of the hallucinatory splitting of immanence Laruelle situates the philosophical decision in its immanent cause – the vision-in-One. The vision-in-One is equivalent to the Real, meaning that when one thinks from (rather than about) the Real then one is thinking from the vision-in-One as radical immanence. Laruelle appears to be intentionally obscure about what the One is because non-philosophy aims to renounce the philosophical desire-for-the-One or the thought-of-the-One that always subordinates the One to Being.19 One can, however, come to know from-the-One when one begins to realize that all discourses persist through the vision-in-One, but do not in themselves constitute the discourse on the One. The One is radical immanence itself and thus the vision-in-One is immanent to the One itself. Thus Philosophy II was founded on two complimentary axioms: “1) The One is vision immanent in-One. 2) There is a special affinity between the vision-in-One and the phenomenal experience of ‘scientific thought’”.20
16 Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p. 123. 17 Ibid. 18 François Laruelle et collaboratuers, Dictionnaire de la non-philosophie (Paris: Éditions Kimé,
1998), p. 40. See also Taylor Adkins draft translation of this passage and the rest of the Dictionnaire available online: <http://nsrnicek.googlepages.com/DictionaryNonPhilosophy.pdf>. My own translation is modified from that of Adkins. 19 See the entry “Vision-en-Un (Un, Un-en-Un, Réel)” in Laruelle, Dictionnaire, pp. 202-05. 20 Laruelle, Principes, p. 39.
The shift from Philosophy II to III is subtler than the one that marks the move from Philosophy I to II. Laruelle came to regard the second axiom of Philosophy II, which stated that scientific thought had some privilege in thinking the Real via an affinity with the vision-in-One, as a reversal of the reigning post-Kantian epistemicological hierarchy. This reversal ultimately constituted a “ruse of philosophy” that allowed it to refuse “to surrender to the real”.21 Philosophy III begins with the suspension of this second axiom of Philosophy II in order to begin thinking from the radical autonomy of the Real – not as a reversal of Philosophy II’s valorization of science, but in order to free the Real from all authority, even that of science. Laruelle summarizes the history up to this point writing, “If Philosophy I is intra-philosophical and if Philosophy II marked the discovery of the non-philosophical against philosophy and to the benefit of science, Philosophy III frees itself of the authority of science, in actuality from every hierarchical philosophical spirit, and takes as object the whole of philosophical sufficiency. It corresponds thus paradoxically to the selfaffirmation of philosophy, but “negatively” or finally for the suspension of it over all.”22 Philosophy III is then the proper start of non-philosophy nearly freed from the vicious circle of the philosophical decision. It has two major concepts that arise from the axiomatic suspension of Philosophy II’s second axiom: force (of) thought and unified theory.23 It is from these two concepts that the positive project begins as differentiated from its negative and critical forms found in Philosophy I and II. The concept of force (of) thought is complex, but some understanding can be had if one understands its more prevalent philosophical precursor found in the Marxist conception of labour power. According to the Marxist ontology labour power constitutes the movement of historical materialism and labour power in itself is not reducible to a worker’s functions or output. In capitalism this labour power is alienated from the worker by his creation of a product that is then given a value outside of the product itself as crystallized in the form of money. The force (of) thought is similar in that it is the organon or means though which the Real possess a 21 Ibid. 22 Laruelle, p. 40. 23 Laruelle, pp. 40-1. I read the parentheses framing the “of” to suggest that this is a unified
relationship between force and thought rather than one being primary over the other. Thus the substantial meaning of the “of” is suspended. In my own creation of the population (of) thought and ecosystem (of) thought I make use of this parenthetical, recognizing as I do so that it can appear distracting and pretentious. I can only ask the reader’s charity in reading it as a technical use of syntax that indicates this suspension.
causality of the One which avoids alienating itself in its material. That is because the force (of) thought is a clone of the One, rather than its production or reproduction into some material form proper to it. In this way it is productive of thought in a circular manner, but in such a way that it contains the essence of the Real without adding or subtracting anything to it.24 What is most important about the force (of) thought is its alien status. The force (of) thought appears as an alien or Stranger from outside of the philosophical situation, that is to say from outside of the structure determined by the philosophical decision, and in so doing provides an occasional solution to certain problems in philosophy. In short the force (of) thought is, as Laruelle says, “the first possible experience of thought”.25 Finally, there is the concept of unified theory. By that Laruelle means a unified theory of science and philosophy, of ethics and philosophy, of psychoanalysis and philosophy, of religion and philosophy, etc: “The unified theory substitutes for the affinity of science and the One, the unilateral equality of philosophy and science, of philosophy and art, of ethics, etc., in the eyes of the One and introduces the democratic motif into the same thought rather than as simple object of thought.”26 The democracy (of) thought is ultimately an axiom and not a conclusion. One must begin as if a unified thinking of X and philosophies were equal in the sight of the One in order to attempt and think outside the problems inherent to philosophy due to its enclosure in the structure of the philosophical decision. By treating thought as if it were democratic, rather than a thought of democracy, one begins to truly think from the One, as the One is itself outside of any unitary discourse and is instead the universal discourse found in regional discourses. With the publication of Le Christ futur. Une leçon d’hérèsie Laruelle inaugurated a new stage of non-philosophy, Philosophy IV. It is here that Laruelle appears to have finally escaped from the self-sufficiency of philosophy present even in Philosophy III’s constant reference to precursors in metaphysical systems like Cartesianism and Marxism. With Philosophy IV Laruelle has begun to produce a whole host of new concepts from the vision-in-One (keeping in mind that this is an equivalent term to the Real and the One itself) alongside religion, ethics, aesthetics and a “generic view” of science (meaning Laruelle rarely interacts in a sustained manner with specific sciences, though he seems to privilege quantum physics). While 24 See the entry “Force (de) pensée (sujet-existant-Étranger) in Laruelle, Dictionnaire, pp. 76-79. 25 Laruelle, p. 77. 26 Laruelle, Principes, p. 41. 9
the entire project of non-philosophy is in itself interesting, and can be highly productive of thought outside of Laruelle’s corpus as witnessed to by the work being carried out in wildly different ways under the banner of non-philosophy, it is in Philosophy IV that the true worth for thinking from the Real becomes apparent.27 The project of a transcendental ecology, which is really an attempt to think differently about environmental problems in the light of both ecology and philosophy rather than to repeat unconsciously the same philosophical problematics alongside of ecology, would not be worth engaging in if it was merely a polemic against environmental ethics, environmental aesthetics or the other already existing philosophical engagements with ecology. Rather, it is a development of these ways of thinking with complete disinterest in their authority, treating them as Strangers who provide the force (of) thought from which we can begin to consider the Real that faces us in the environmental crisis. It is under the sign of this final stage of non-philosophy that we now turn to the question of ecology and philosophy in order to change the practice of philosophy itself, to produce thought that is ethical and democratic in itself by treating it as if it were ecological. III. The Equality of Ecology and Philosophy in the Eyes of the One: The Ecosystem (of) Thought The Amphibology of the Capitalist and the Environmentalist This short history shows the complex abstractions that characterize the practice of non-philosophy. In many ways it seems hopelessly indecipherable, especially in a philosophical register, and that is precisely the point for Laruelle. Rather than thinking about the Real, which Laruelle thinks characterizes all philosophical attempts at unitary thought (as opposed to unified thought), nonphilosophy thinks from the Real about philosophy. Thus the very concerns of philosophy (Being, the subject, epistemology, etc.) are all taken as seen in the visionin-One. Laruelle refers to this immediate gnosis in his concept of the force (of) thought. Already we have seen that the force (of) thought names the first possible experience of thought. While examples, especially via phenomenology, are uncommon to Laruelle (perhaps even anathema), I am going to practice a little nonphilosophical heresy of my own and invite the reader to think of their first experience with thought. When you bring the experience to mind bracket whatever object was first being thought about and instead focus on the experience of the thought itself. In 27 For other works in non-philosophy outside of Laruelle’s development see the bibliography of the
other members of l’Organisation Non-philosophique Internationale. Available online: <http://www.onphi.net/biblio/auteurs.php>.
that moment, I think the reader will find, they experienced gnosis, a kind of “unlearned knowledge” (savoir indocte).28 In that moment you see the One as Real Identity – as something real in itself – and though there may remain confusion about what the One is, you begin thinking from there. The adventure of thought often ends in failure as thought comes up against its limits and perpetuates illusions, but that force (of) thought remains – it continues to have happened. In other words, this first possible experience of thought is always an experience with a Stranger. But how can ecology be a Stranger to our thought now? How can ecology be an occasion for any force (of) thought? These are important questions now when the response to the environmental crisis arises determined from within the situation of capitalism. We are given options to buy “green” products, encouraged to exercise our consumer choices responsibly, to participate as citizens in recycling programs, to constantly consider whether our individual actions are green. This becomes a certain kind of environmental moralism that privileges those in the middle and upper classes who can afford to buy organic food or pay for carbon offsets, those secular indulgences, and thereby fit the picture of a respectable and conscientious green individual. It is clear that this capitalist response to the environmental crisis is not enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change and offers us no way of thinking differently in order to avoid perpetuating destructive ways of living. The political and social response to the environmental crisis is doomed if it perpetuates a thinking based on individual responsibility and corporatist-individual action. All of such green-washing happens as an instance of another marketing strategy, another ideology created to sell a product, and it serves more the reigning ideology of capitalism, with capitalism’s theological undertones of individual responsibility before the god of money as that which promises the future, rather than any kind of actual response to the crisis.29 This green-washing has made ecology anything but a Stranger to thought. Yet, it would be a mistake to blame this all on capitalism as if capitalism itself were an alien force of which we were simply victims rather than accomplices. Without being simply reducible to a matter of unacknowledged habits in our thinking, there remains, as part of the problem, something about the way we think that allows for capitalism to perpetuate its ideology even amongst individuals who may in general 28 This “unlearned knowledge” is opposed to Nicholas of Cusa’a learned ignorance, which remains
too philosophically determined (that is it remains under the philosophical illusion of transcendence). See Laruelle, Le Christ futur, p. 29. 29 I am following Philip Goodchild’s analysis of money found in Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).
distrust capitalism as such, and I am thinking of those who, on a personal level, care very deeply about the environment and our relationship to it. What is the amphibology between the capitalist who perceives an infinite availability of resources from the environment and the everyday environmentalist who recognizes the limits of the environment? Heidegger’s analysis of the environment in Being and Time is common to the analysis of the environment of both the capitalist and the environmentalist. This analysis contains one of Heidegger’s more well-known concepts, that of the environment presenting itself as ready-to-hand in the everydayness of our living. 30 Let us look at Heidegger’s words here where he marks his own foray into the philosophy of nature that then became the basis for much of Continentalist environmental philosophy: ‘In equipment that is used, “Nature” is discovered along with it by that use – the “Nature” we find in natural products. Here, however, “Nature” is not to be understood as that which is just present-at-hand, nor as the power of Nature. The wood is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock; the river is water-power, the wind is “wind in the sails”. As the “environment” is discovered, the “Nature” thus discovered is encountered to.’31 Following Heidegger’s analysis of being we are led to the conclusion that the ontological dyad of environment and nature is dependent upon a correlation between the two held together in a unity encountered only through our own anthropic teleology. The amphibology between the capitalist and the environmentalist is then that the environment presents itself, no longer so readily-to-hand, but conspicuously as an “equipmental Thing”. This thingness of the environment is presented as such because it presents itself to us as reserve or in need of repair.32 So, for both the capitalist and the environmentalist the dyad of environment/nature is presented in need of repair, for contrary reasons of course, but nevertheless it is a thing for both. Heidegger’s analysis begins to break down in our historical situation, though, because the breaking down of the environment is no longer taken as “strange” but rather as the new normal, the new everyday situation of the environment because of the way it is appropriated into a common theme of “in need of repair” that characterizes our thinking of crises. 30 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1962), pp. 98-102. 31 Heidegger, p. 100. 32 See Heidegger, pp. 102-103.
In order for ecology to become a force (of) thought that will lead to a unified theory of philosophy and ecology it must be suspended from its philosophical form as political ecology and considered from its scientific form. The main concept of scientific ecology, the one that axiomatically grounds the entire practice of ecology, is the ecosystem concept. By releasing what we think ecology is from its representation in environmental philosophy and considering it in its scientific form we can make ecology a Stranger, that is a force (of) thought, and thereby begin to see philosophy as if it were an ecosystem itself. Ecosystem Concept and Elements of the Transcendental Ecology The ecosystem concept is the axiomatic concept from which the main strand of ecology (called ecosystem ecology and differentiated from population ecology or the study of individual species relationship with their environment) undertakes all its research.33 In this section I provide a description of the ecosystem as scientific ecology gives it to us and clone it again within the discourse of thought; that is within the practice of philosophy. Yet, before we begin that task, it is important to note that it would be an error to attempt and develop any unified theory of philosophy and ecology under the impression that ecology has given us a final understanding of the ecosystem (an error extended to “science” as such which haunted Laruelle’s Philosophy II). Rather, the ecosystem concept arose out A.G. Tansley’s unification in 1935 of two rival schools of thought in early ecological studies. This debate was held between organicists, primarily coming out of the work of F.E. Clements, and individualist reactions against organicism, primarily coming out of the work of Henry Gleason. In Clements view the ecosystem, which he named “biome”, was like a single organism where all the parts worked towards the health of the whole. Whereas Gleason rejected this organic view of nature and instead proposed that natural communities of plants are simply a random grouping individual species that existed in 33 Readers unfamiliar with ecology may, at this point, be wondering what exactly is an ecosystem?
Where are they located and what do they do? To start off with, you exist within an ecosystem. One might expect the statement to read something akin to, “When you step outside you step into an ecosystem.” Except saying “outside” already perpetuates the fantasy that there is some outside to ecosystems human beings can begin with. The reality is that there are corridors, called ecotones, from one to the other, but there is no space on the planet Earth that is free from an ecosystem. The reality is that when you are inside your house you are inside an ecosystem. When you are on the city street you are in an ecosystem just as much as when you are in the forest or any green clearing outside our cities and villages. There are small ecosystems, including (though it would be strange to study it as such) your own body, and there are large ecosystems, the largest of which is the Earth itself called the biosphere. This conception of the Earth as the largest example of an ecosystem may change in the future if humanity extends beyond the Earth. In fact one can already see that there is a kind of cosmic element to ecology in so far as the spatial environment is effected by other bodies in space and dependent upon energy from the sun.
that place because of the possibility of satisfying their needs. Tansley rejected the organicism of Clements, but could not follow the coincidentalism of Gleason that constituted a decisive critique of Clements views but did not provide any satisfactory understanding of the relation between plant communities. Thus, in a highly nonphilosophical way, Tansley forged a new theory from the dyad of holisitic organic community and individualistic coincidental community.34 There have been, as detailed somewhat below, changes to the concept of ecosystem as the science of ecology has developed and responded to challenges. However, one can work with an axiomatic definition which states that the ecosystem is a physically locatable and quantifiable community formed by a system of energy exchange between the living, the dead, and the never-living where, when energy animates the system, there is an exchange of energy-material between the living and the dead.35 This definition of ecosystem is preferable to Tansley’s original definition for two reasons: first, against the puerile mechanism of the early 20th Century it forges a non-vitalist and non-mechanist axiom of ecology that frees the ecosystem concept from vitalist and mechanistic philosophical determination and second, it frees the ecosystem concept from Tansley’s representationalism. We use the term non-vitalist and non-mechanist in a similar manner that Laruelle uses non-philosophy, which is to say that the axiomatic definition refuses the sufficiency of organic/vitalist and mechanistic philosophies for ecology, and rather mutates the concept of vitalism to include within the ecological community both the dead and the never-living as well as the concept of mechanism in light of the advanced view of machines and the advent of the computer.36 With regards to the second point, Tansley himself considered the ecosystem a mental representation imposed on physical environments by the ecologist whereas the actual environment was a whole arising out of the prevailing relations. Lévêque explains it this way, “[The ecosystem] is thus an abstract reality formed mainly from elements that are themselves concrete.”37 Yet ecologists came to see that, by using the ecosystem concept as a way of organizing research and thereby advancing their methods, they could find concrete objects able to be identified in 34 For the full history of the development of the ecosystem concept see Christian Lévêque, Ecology:
From Ecosystem to Biosphere (Plymouth, UK: Science Publisher, Inc.), pp. 15-35. 35 This understanding of ecosystem is faithful to the mature formulation by A.G. Tansley in 1935. See A.G. Tansley, "The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms," Ecology 16.3 (1935): pp. 299-303. See also Lévêque pp. 25-27. I am deeply indebted to my colleague and friend Prof. Liam Heneghan of DePaul University’s Institute for Nature and Culture for the notion of the “never-living” and his help in understanding the concept of ecosystem more fully. 36 For a contemporary and popular attempt to navigate ecology between organicism and mechanism see Daniel B. Botkin, Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). 37 Lévêque, p. 27.
spatial terms that corresponded to the way the theoretical concept of an ecosystem worked. In other words, the ecosystem concept exists in both theory and as natural object and not as just mentally constructed. In the terms of non-philosophy the ecosystem is an instance of the One and it is the Real Identity of what we call nature; it is the scientific cloning of the One that describes its reality without representation or capture. Philosophy as Ecosystem While the ecosystem concept has been around since 1935, and responded in many ways to the philosophical overdetermination of ecology in the form of two rival accounts of the world (organicism and mechanism), it has had little impact on the considerations of philosophy itself. Yet, there is way of seeing the practice of philosophy ecologically via the ecosystem concept in its different articulations as distinct and real ecosystems (of) thought. Such a view looks to the ecosystem concept and clones it for philosophy and we have named this transcendental ecology. There are five main elements that are important for our explication of transcendental ecology: Populations, or the diversity of species that populate the ecosystem (biodiversity); ecological niches, which both allow for the stability of ecosystems as well as the possibility of change; the never-living space and temporality of the environment; the external energy relations of exchange that arise out of the populations interaction with one another; and, finally, the ecological understanding of resilience of populations and ultimately the particular ecosystem itself.38 To truly bear this out one would need a practical working with these abstract concepts via some philosophical material. For example, one could read the works of Aquinas and Spinoza on nature via a transcendental ecology in order to break from Thomistic and Spinozist dogmatics and recast thinking of nature from the One. However, in the space of one article this working out is not possible, and instead we must limit ourselves to an abstract description of this transcendental ecology to give a sense of the project rather than a case-study using it, though we will give some short examples relating to Aquinas. It is here that we begin to ask questions from the perspective of transcendental ecology, rather than creating yet another philosophical error in asserting that a transcendental ecology is the unitary discourse on philosophy. 38 On populations, biodiversity, and ecological niches see Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life
(London and New York: Penguin Books, 2001). On the spatial and temporal elements of the ecosystem see Lévêque, “Spatial and Temporal scales and their Consequences”, pp. 145-173. On energy exchange and flows see Lévêque, “Part III: Functioning of Ecosystems”, pp. 201-352. On resilience see Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Thinking, Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World (London and Washington: Island Press, 2006).
Rather, a transcendental ecology allows us to treat thought ecologically, in that way attuning ourselves to the reality of ecology and its problems, rather than proposing to answer ecology’s problems from the perspective of philosophy. The attempt here is the beginning of thinking differently than either pure philosophy or pure ecology offer; the task is to think a unified theory of ecology and philosophy via the concept of ecosystem. Rather than treating the works of philosophers as if they were words from an oracle, one treats them as if their philosophy were an ecosystem. This is not an extended hermeneutic metaphor. Philosophy, nested within a whole host of systems, is actually ecological and within a unified theory of ecology and philosophy it is considered from that aspect. It may seem a strange statement, but it is made on the basis of the existence of philosophy in real ecosystems on the Earth that determine their material reality. Thus one cannot see it as a metaphor if by that one means something outside but like an ecosystem, for the metaphor too depends on the ecosystem for its existence. One may name this the materialist element of transcendental ecology, but only if what the material is remains open to revision.39 Amongst philosophical work there are populations that interact with one another (to name two dominant populations (of) thought, Being and Alterity) in a way that either creates a healthy ecosystem (of) thought, called biodiversity in ecology, or where a dominant species degrades the health of the ecosystem by destroying the niches allowed other populations. Laruelle’s non-philosophy claims that philosophy always creates a unilateral duality, or a duality that is ultimately united in the form of a philosophical decision, but a philosophical work demands more than this simply unilateral duality in order to operate. There are other populations (of) thought that both support this duality of dominant species and that populate the philosophical field as the duality itself has needs that allow for the formation of niches within the ecosystem (of) thought. Thus there is no account in Heidegger of Being without a 39 Some readers may question why we have chosen ecology rather than a closely related discipline
like systems theory. A non-philosophical response to this concern must proceed along two line, each a mix of theory and practice. First, there is an implicit material relativism at work in non-philosophy such that it does not cast judgment on the material it takes up in its creation of any unified theory. One could create a unified theory of philosophy and systems theory along non-philosophical lines and the end result may share much in common with a unified theory of philosophy and ecology. Second, we have chosen ecology as material because it is the science of ecosystems and thus of the organization and functioning of nature in its living, dead, and never-living forms. In that way it is more attentive to the question of environmental thought and ethics than systems theory. Or, in other words, its material fits better with the theoretical task of challenging philosophy’s modes of thinking nature (environmental philosophy, philosophy of nature, environmental aesthetics, etc.) than systems theory would. It directs our attention to the ecosystem, always actual and “embodied”, rather than to the abstract nature of systems as such. But the difference is ultimately one of attention (to ecosystems) rather than principles or claims to sufficiency.
whole host of other populations (of) thought that in turn affect that account within the unified ecosystem (of) thought. Or, to use another example, there is no thought of God in Aquinas without other populations (of) thought such as causality and Church doctrine. How though do these populations interact with one another and what population can be removed from an ecosystem (of) thought while remaining its particular vitality when proposed in a different ecosystem (of) thought? With regard to Aquinas, one can locate in the authority of Christian doctrine a dominant species that chocks out other species of thought and other niches for those species. When one suspends the authority of Christian doctrine from his thought it may open up to a notion of analogy that is more fluid and able to say something about nature as such, rather than to unsay something about God. Specifically, the absence or super-presence of God in analogical thought shows the need for selecting some aspect of nature in order to think divinity. One can’t think an aspect of nature, as Aquinas was forced to do in attempting to account for the monarchy of God, but must think from the diverse Oneness of Nature as such. Every philosophy is built upon some never-living element that in ecology forms the inorganic spatial and temporal element of the ecosystem. Often philosophy, especially philosophy of nature, focuses on this never-living element confusing it with transcendence or some transcendent element of things in the world. One thinks of the place accorded to logic or time in philosophical investigations where these aspects tend to be seen as dominant over above the unified aspect of its interactions with the living and the dead. However, a transcendental ecology allows us to see these elements as what they are – elements within a wider system of thought. They are of course necessary for the entire working of the system itself, but their overall shape also comes to be changed by the overall working of the system itself. There is no dominant relationship here, but only a unified working of the system as such. This is true also of philosophy and can be shown if we consider Deleuze’s conception of immanence. On the surface Deleuze’s pure immanence appears to be a variant of Anglo-American naturalism, or the idea that all transcendental and eternal ideas of reality should be rejected in favor of taking things as merely given, valueless things. However, this is in itself a kind of transcendent idea concerning value. Deleuze’s attempt to create a philosophy of immanence locates this issue, albeit not completely, and shows that immanence is never merely given but is produced.40 These sorts of 40 On this see Daniel Colucciello Barber, The Production of Immanence: Deleuze, Yoder, and
Adorno (PhD Dissertation, Duke University) and my own essay, which builds upon Barber’s work to describe Deleuze and Guattari’s ecological philosophy of nature, “Believing in this World for the Making of Gods: On the Ecology of the Virtual and the Actual” in SubStance (Forthcoming).
never-living aspects must change their spatial and temporal configurations in response to the energy exchange of the living and the dead that plays out across them and in response to collisions with other never-living elements. Whatever is taken as transcendent and a condition of thought in a philosophical ecosystem (of) thought is always changed in the unified working of the ecosystem itself. A difficulty remaining for a transcendental ecology is separating the populations that inhabit this never-living space and time and the never-living element of the populations. The way being appears in different philosophies will differ, being in one a population and the other an instance of the never-living. This example holds for Deleuze, but teasing out this difference will vary from philosophy to philosophy and will depend upon the way the elements of each ecosystem (of) thought are discovered through a transcendental ecology rather than some illusory transcendental essence of the never-living. After the work of Deleuze and Guattari many will already accept that every philosophy also generates its own form of energy flow. What a transcendental ecology does is begin to think about those energy flows more intentionally in philosophy by locating them between living thoughts and those that die on the page of philosophical treatises. Simply stated no philosopher’s thoughts live on the page. Rather these dead thoughts are reserves of energy that can be consumed and thereby exchanged with living thoughts. The ecological definition of energy is “the ability to do work” and a dead thought is by its very disembodied existence unable to do work.41 Work can only be done when the energy present in the dead thought is realized in some new thought. In this way a particular population (of) thought may perpetuate itself, so that when Thomists or Hegelians produce work on Aquinas or Hegel they are perpetuating certain ecosystems (of) thought, but a different population (of) thought, one even antagonistic, can also feed upon the dead thought and produce work from it that is creative within a different and possibly new ecosystem (of) thought outside of a Thomist or Hegelian ecosystem. A transcendental ecology, taking these aspects of flows as given, can begin to think about the energy exchange in a managerial manner. What dead elements of past philosophies are the most productive for new and necessary ecosystems within a unified theory of philosophy and ecology? To continue the Aquinas example from above, after removing the Church doctrine population (of) thought, we may then work with the consequences of Thomist analogy without the goal of a negative theology protecting the essence of God (and thus the essence of Church sovereignty). By suspending its self-proclaimed sufficiency and its claim to think God negatively, it becomes simply 41 Lévêque, p. 29. 18
an aspect of natural thought. Within the context of ecosystem science we can now think the unilateral relation of the biosphere to local ecosystems. No longer a negative theology of God, but a positive ecology of thought that determines any ethical considerations from the aspect of a global situation, which always means thinking from the perspective of minorities. Finally, we must begin to think about the resilience of philosophical ecosystems (of) thought. Walker and Salt give a very simple definition of resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.”42 Why is it, that by the standards of radical philosophy, the worst philosophies are the most resilient in thought? Philosophies, like individualism, that undergird so many of the destructive ideologies of our age seem within the wider culture to be the most resilient to disturbance. This realization is in itself a disturbance to the radical philosopher, yet the plurality of ecosystems (of) thought from Thomism to Heideggarianism that themselves retain their basic function and shared structure as minor ecosystems within the wider ideological field must also demand our attention. By understanding what makes a philosophy resilient we can begin to understand both how to create a resilient unified theory of philosophy and ecology and how to break up those destructive ideologies in order to respond to the shared problems of ecology and philosophy that are the shared problems of humanity and the non-human in the biosphere. IV. What is a Unified Theory of Philosophy and Ecology For? Ecology celebrates as healthy a multiplicity of diverse ecosystems that perpetuate further biodiversity within the biosphere and yet human action in the environment has tended to perpetuate a unitary and dominating conception of the relationship between humanity and non-human elements of the environment. Some of this is a historical accident, an instance of evolution allowing a golem-species into the ecosystem, but even as accident it retains plasticity meaning something can be done with it. This means that some of the problems in our human relationship to the nonhuman environment stems from repeating the mistakes in wider ecosystems that find their structure in our unitary ecology of thought and that these mistakes can be addressed. The goal of treating philosophy and ecology (as well as philosophy and generic science, religion, ethics, etc.) as an ecosystem (of) thought is to bring about a
42 Walker and Salt, p. xiii. 19
realization that the ecosystem is a work and we do not yet know it and further that we do not know what we can do as an ecosystem.43 In the light of the long history of environmentalism and the rise of environmental philosophy, why is it that our thinking has not been treated as if it were an ecosystem? Why have our greatest environmental thinkers perpetuated already existing philosophies instead of posing the ecosystem as a challenge to those philosophies?44 The goal of this paper has never been to give answers, but to raise questions and propose a method of transcendental ecology that is the first step, from the position of philosophy, towards a unified theory of philosophy and ecology. Both are developing and changing practices that must be undertaken together, so that as we undertake the task of managing and fostering a diversity of ecosystems that populate the Earth within and outside of our cities we must also undertake the process of managing and fostering a diverse ecosystem of our own thoughts. The transcendental ecology proposed here is not the answer to the environmental crisis, nor is it the only form a transcendental ecology can take. But it can be used in an occasional manner in order to begin that most arduous task present to us today; that of thinking how we might think differently in the light of this crisis and in the light of the science of ecology. Undertaking that arduous task is what a unified theory of philosophy and ecology is for.
43 This phrase is borrowed from Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain, trans.
Sebastian Rand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008) where she writes, “The brain is a work, and we do not know it (p. 1).” As the unified theory of philosophy and ecology developments it must interact with brain science and non-reductive neurophilosophy, the model of which has already been given in Gregory Bateson. 44 For instance, Botkin is most attentive to the overdetermination philosophical thought has had on scientific ecology, but instead of proposing a mutation of philosophy via ecology he proposes new philosophical visions as a better fit instead. These visions, such as the cybernetic model, may help develop ecology but do nothing to change the practice of philosophy. Cf. Part III of his Discordant Harmonies.
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