The Ultimate Crisis of Civilization: Why Turn to Philosophy?, #6–Speculative Naturalism, the Radical Enlightenment and Ecological Civilization.

By Arran Gare


The essay below, Arran Gare’s “The Ultimate Crisis of Civilization: Why Turn to Philosophy?,” appearing here in serial form, originally appeared as ch. 1 of his recent book, The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future (London/New York: Routledge, 2017), and is reproduced by permission.

This is the sixth and final installment.

But you can also read or download a .pdf of the complete essay HERE.

Arran Gare is an Australian philosopher known mainly for his work in environmental philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of culture, and the metaphysics of process philosophy.

He currently holds the position of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and is the co-founder and editor of the journal Cosmos and History.

You can read more about him and his work HERE and HERE.



The Crisis of Philosophy and the Humanities

The Two Cultures and the Triumph of Scientism

Continuing the Struggle Against Nihilism

Castoriadis and the Challenge of the Radical Enlightenment

Reconfiguring the History of Philosophy After Kant

Speculative Naturalism, the Radical Enlightenment and Ecological Civilization


Speculative Naturalism, the Radical Enlightenment and Ecological Civilization

Epstein pointed out that while the practical outcome of the natural sciences is technology through which nature is transformed, and the practical outcome of the human sciences is the transformation of society through politics, the practical outcome of the humanities is the transformation of culture. With culture, the object and the subject are one, and to transform culture is to transform ourselves, to create new subjectivities. Transforming culture can and will involve transforming our conceptions of natural science and technology, social science and politics, the humanities and culture, and how we conceive our relationship to the rest of nature. This puts political philosophy and ethics at the centre of philosophy and the centre of the humanities, as not merely concerned with how we should organize society and how we should live, but with what we should be striving to become and what kind of civilization we should be striving to create. It is necessary for philosophy to provide people, who are always situated and acting within institutions, cultural forms and naturally and socially created physical environments, with the conceptual frameworks to orient or re-orient themselves in the world, to define their goals and to act and live well and effectively. Chapter Five promotes a dialectical synthesis of Aristotelian thought and the republican ideas of Rome as revived in the Florentine Renaissance with the communitarian ideas of neo-Hegelian philosophy of the German Renaissance, defended on naturalist foundations. Chapter Six utilizes advanced work in ecology, largely inspired by speculative naturalists, to reformulate the Radical Enlightenment. It provides a unifying conceptual framework through process relational theoretical ecology for an ecological political philosophy and an ethics of virtues able to produce the subjectivities with the character necessary to defend current institutions from corruption (for instance, universities), to develop these in new directions, and to create and sustain new institutions embodying a commitment to liberty and to augmenting the conditions for life. This is presented as the politics and ethics of ‘eco-poiesis’ or ‘home-making’ which can serve as the foundation for creating an ecological civilization, and inspiring people to realize this.

This manifesto is partly (although not only) a work in metaphilosophy, showing how philosophy has lost its way and defining what it should be. It is also a work in philosophy concerned to orient people to create the future. It is a rejection of scientism, a defense of the humanities, and a defense of the location of philosophy in the humanities, providing the humanities incorporates natural philosophy and engages with and encompasses the sciences. In arguing for speculative naturalism I have deployed all the methods available to philosophers: analysis, synopsis and synthesis, to show how recent philosophers, by refusing to acknowledge a role for synthesis and by devaluing synopses, have not only crippled themselves, but have crippled science as well as the humanities, and damaged culture and society. Not only analytic philosophers (who clearly, are the most culpable) are responsible for this, but also many ‘continental’ philosophers. Marxists, for instance, in promoting dialectics tend to be skeptical of speculative thought. To highlight these deficiencies I have described the work of some philosophers who did avail themselves of all these methods, notably Schelling, Collingwood, Peirce and Whitehead, while Bogdanov, Needham, Bloch and Merleau-Ponty are also alluded to. However, this manifesto is not a defense of their work as such, nor a total rejection of analytic philosophy or of the dialectical philosophy of the Western Marxist and post-Marxist ‘continental’ philosophers I have criticized. Both analysis and critical dialectics are defended dialectically as components of philosophy that should include analysis, synopses and synthetic thinking as essential to speculative philosophy.

That is, far from being a rejection of critical dialectics, an expanded form of dialectics that makes speculation central has been defended, and it has been deployed. The whole manifesto is a work in dialectics, involving synopses to ‘view together’ different philosophers and philosophical traditions, in this way defending, deploying and developing dialectical thought. From being defined in opposition to analysis and speculation, dialectics as deployed and defended in this work encompasses analysis, synopsis and synthesis and is essentially speculative. The work begins with the approach to philosophy exemplified by Quine that is most abstract and therefore most one-sided. However, the critique of this is not meant to deny completely the value of Quine’s work. While the equation of naturalism with scientism is attacked, the promotion of naturalism is taken to be an advance in philosophy. Furthermore, there is value in analysis, but it is argued that Hintikka’s form of analytic philosophy is superior, overcoming much of Quine’s one-sidedness. While Hintikka is an analytic philosopher, his work opens the way for and even embraces some aspects of dialectics and speculative philosophy. After showing the promising start to speculative dialectical philosophy by the post-Kantians, Fichte and Hegel, and to the naturalist version of this developed by Schelling, it is shown in the following chapter how most Marxists again truncated the potential of both dialectics and philosophy by excluding any role for speculation in the creation of the future. The dialectical philosophers Georg Lukács and Sartre, the structuralists Lévi-Strauss, Althusser and Godelier, the genetic structuralists, Piaget, Goldmann and Bourdieu and the hermeneutic narratologists Ricoeur, David Carr and Mikhail Bakhtin, are examined and criticised, again, not to reject them, but to draw attention to their achievements while showing that their thinking also is one-sided. Their insights also need to be incorporated into a broader perspective. It is to address this one-sidedness that the speculative naturalists, carrying on the tradition that originated with Schelling, are defended, but in a way that is designed not to idolatrize them but to require that speculative naturalists incorporate the advances of analytic, phenomenological, structuralist and hermeneutic philosophy, contributing to an ongoing quest for comprehensive understanding of ourselves and the world. This should be seen as the process of humanity’s (and nature’s) self-creation that can never be complete and can never be finalized. Recognizing this is in itself wisdom.

So long as the importance of such speculative philosophy and wisdom are acknowledged, then the Marxist point that philosophy should not be just contemplation but should also orient people to live and to change the world; that is, to create the future, should be embraced. The failure to appreciate the importance of ideas to orient people manifests the residual Cartesian dualism of orthodox Marxism. To change one’s understanding of the world is to participate in the transformation of culture, which is to change the world, and is the condition for social and political action to create new social forms and to develop new forms of technology. On this assumption alone the work of Robert Rosen must be judged not only more profound and more defensible than the work of the French Marxist philosopher, Alain Badiou, but also more relevant to praxis. This leads on to the humanities, including political philosophy and ethics, which are specifically concerned with our self-creation through the transformation of culture.

The introduction to [The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization], this chapter and the last two chapters highlight the crises facing us in our everyday lives and as participants in history. The last chapter identifies major work underway in theoretical ecology, eco-semiotics, human ecology, eco-Marxism, ecological economics and political ecology. While this chapter is designed to point to the most promising work in specific disciplines, it is also designed to show why philosophy, including metaphysics, natural philosophy, philosophical biology, philosophical anthropology, social and political philosophy and ethics, is required to overcome the isolation and marginalization of such work, to link it together and integrate it with the humanities so that it can effectively challenge current orthodoxies and their proponents and constitute a new grand narrative of emancipation. It also shows that philosophy is required to transform culture and produce new subjectivities. It is shown how a naturalistic form of speculative dialectics can orient those engaged in specialist work and in political action and provide an alternative hegemonic culture, a culture that can challenge, overcome and replace, not only intellectually but in practice, the hegemonic ‘anti-culture’ that has locked us onto a path of decadence and enslavement to powers that are driving us to a global ecological disaster. The last chapter and the conclusion set forth the basic ideas required to create an ecological civilization.


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