IPP 508: Nature in Romantic and European Thought

AWAYMAVE - The Distance Mode of MA in Values and the Environment at Lancaster University

Module Description

This course provides an introduction to ideas about nature in the tradition
of Continental European philosophy, beginning with German Romanticism. The
course focuses on a range of thinkers including: Kant, the Romantics
Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich Hölderlin, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
Concentrating on core readings accompanied by secondary literature, the
course explores these thinkers’ ideas of nature, and asks what ethical
implications their conceptions of nature may have.

A special theme of the course is its focus on the idea of the
'disenchantment' of nature. We will also assess Romantic attempts to bring
about nature’s 're-enchantment' through poetry and philosophy.

By taking this course, students will be able to appreciate how Romantic and
Continental European approaches to nature and ethics differ from more
conventional approaches within environmental ethics, and will be able to
critically assess the potential of the Romantic and Continental European
traditions to contribute fruitfully to environmental thought.

The module adopts a similar strategy to other MAVE modules by involving the students in a variety of activities: reading, writing, and contributing to web based discussions.

Outline of the main areas covered

(1) Introduction to themes of the course, (partly through reading of an article by Steven Vogel on 'Nature as Origin and Difference'), and introduction to Kant's conception of nature. Writing at the end of the 18th century, Kant initiates the whole continental tradition of thinking about nature which follows him. He introduces the idea that nature must be understood as 'purposive', a key idea for all the thinkers who follow. He understands this as a challenge to then-dominant 'mechanistic' views of nature - though subsequent continental thinkers found Kant still too close to a mechanistic worldview.

(2) German Romanticism. German Romantic thinkers were very concerned at what they perceived to be the 'disenchantment' nature had suffered with the rise of modernity (i.e. the Enlightenment, ideas of rationality, science, urbanisation). However, they thought that modernity also made possible a particular way of re-enchanting nature (re-infusing it with meaning and value) - through the new kind of poetry and art that modernity enables us to produce. We will look at Friedrich Schlegel's formulation of these ideas and the criticisms of his approach by his contemporary the poet Friedrich Holderlin.

(3) Writing in the early to mid 19th century Hegel developed an elaborate philosophical theory of nature which depicts all of its component phenomena as rational. They all change and develop themselves continuously, according to Hegel, in ways that are rational and progressive. Hegel sees this view as a way of revaluing nature by depicting it as good (insofar as it acts rationally). But it may be argued that this approach to nature is too rationalistic, and continues implicitly to privilege human beings as the most rational beings.

(4) In the late 19th century Friedrich Nietzsche developed another theory of nature as composed of diverse forces which organise themselves into bodies and larger unities. These forces are in conflict, and become organised as some forces take over others and harness them to their own purposes. Thus, for Nietzsche, all of nature is 'will to power'. He also stresses that we as humans need to remember that we are natural (and 'animal') - yet he thinks of the remembering of our natural dimension as a going beyond the human, above the human, to the condition of the Ubermensch.

(5) One of the most fascinating texts of all in terms of continental perspectives on nature is Heidegger's discussion of the ancient Greek concept of nature as physis. As physis, whatever is natural has a specific way of being, whereby it comes into presence from and by itself, spontaneously acquiring form and not tending to any definite goal. Ultimately, for Heidegger, nature is the same as being itself and both can be characterised as 'loving to hide'. Heidegger's thought has been hugely influential for environmental/ecological thought and we can start to explore his very complex ideas here.

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