Pour une nouvelle approche de l’idée de « nature »

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

Among the Achuars of Amazonia, the relationship with nature is part of an animist approach, attributing to all human and non-human beings the same kind of interiority, subjectivity, intentionality. Jared Sternberg/Flickr , CC BY
Catherine Larrère , University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

As long as we stick to the balances of nature, we perpetuate the dualisms of modernity (which oppose man and nature, the artificial and the natural, culture and nature) by contenting ourselves with reverse its signs: instead of praising man as the conqueror of nature, we denounce him as its destroyer.

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

This is the good news that environmental ethics – or an “ecosophy” like that of Arne Naess – seeks to elaborate in philosophical terms: how to develop a relational vision of the world, how to move from a morality of uprooting ( to nature) to an ethic 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 questions, is not a necessary element of the solution (whether we wonder about the moral dimension of our relationship to 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 spokespersons for a unit, nature, presupposed as given.

According to Philippe Descola , you have to learn to situate yourself “beyond nature and culture”. But does this imply that, as Bruno Latour and Philippe Descola declare, we must abandon all reference to nature, and concern ourselves with constituting “a common world” bringing together “humans and non-humans”? Should we not rather consider that one of the effects of the environmental crisis is to return the discussion on nature to the domain of philosophy, by removing from science the monopoly on the question of nature that 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 Beyond Nature and Culture , he intended warn against the consequences of exporting Western models of nature protection: imposing Western standards – those of the wilderness – in other parts of the world is not protecting nature, it is emptying spaces of their usual inhabitants, to make them leisure parks for Western tourists or places under scientific control. It is therefore by defending the life of non-Western cultures and by respecting their own ontology that we will protect what we conceive as their nature – because 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 on cultures other than our own protection schemes that lead to forms of neo-colonialism, does this mean that we should give up talking about nature? We do not think so. If only because one does 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 idea of ​​nature, in environmentalist circles, Politics of Nature and Beyond Nature and culture , mention the term they criticize. And, in cases like these, the mention of the word matters more than what is said about it.

The notion of nature is certainly not universal, but it is because it is a Western category that this condemns us, up to a certain point, to remain attached to it. One does not change ontology, nor ways of expressing oneself, on a simple decision, and the categories by which one can attempt to replace nature (the couple of humans and non-humans, or biodiversity) are also Western categories. And, by speaking only of humans and non-humans, we run the risk, quite quickly, of being interested only in humans, so indefinite is the category of non-humans and only makes sense by relation to us.

There is therefore no question of renouncing any idea of ​​nature, but one can avoid its drawbacks by relying on the plasticity of naturalism, in the sense, which is that of Philippe Descola , of the characteristic ontology of nature. Western modernity, which posits the physical continuity of all that is natural, while reserving interiority for humans alone. The main characteristic of naturalism is its dualism: if it has made it possible, by objectifying nature, to develop scientific knowledge of it, it is also what makes it possible to oppose man and nature, even though the distinction between the natural and the artificial, between human history and natural history, is 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 naturalist ontology.

Concern for nature stems from modernity: it is at the moment when the domination of nature asserts itself that we also begin to question this domination and to preserve natural spaces. That environmental ethics have been able, from the very interior of naturalist modernity, to call it into question, testifies to the inventiveness authorized by the Western idea of ​​nature. Plasticity is also found in the capacity of naturalist ontology to accommodate segments of other ontologies, in particular animists : the interest that we are increasingly showing in animal sensibility goes hand in hand with an empathy with regard to animals. animals. Now, to modify our attitude towards nature, and in a way that does not consist only in leaving it outside of us, but in knowing how to intervene in it, we must stop considering it as a pure mechanism, and show a certain empathy with the living, and nature in general. We will thus be able to try to reconcile our attitude towards nature and the conception that we have of it.

Find this text in its entirety by consulting the collective work "Guide to environmental humanities" (edited by Aurélie Choné, Isabelle Hajek and Philippe Hamman, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion), to be published in December 2015. The Conversation

Catherine Larrère , University Professor of Philosophy, University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article .

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