Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 15, No 1 (2019)

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Schelling's Dark Nature and the Prospects for 'Ecological Civilisation'

Gord Barentsen

Abstract


‘Ecological civilisation’ establishes ecology as an ur-science which informs a radical rethinking of humanity’s relationship with Nature, fuelled by the acknowledgement that neoliberalist assumptions about Nature and science ultimately pose dire threats to the survival of the human species.  Friedrich Schelling’s thought, and specifically his Naturphilosophie, has rightly been seen as a precursor of the process philosophy underwriting contemporary notions of ecological civilisation and the critique of the Cartesian gap between humanity and Nature perpetuated by neoliberalism.  Yet the psyche-Nature isomorphism cemented early in Schelling’s Naturphilosophie by his description of Nature in protopsychoanalytic terms such as drive [Trieb] and compulsion [Zwang] gesture to a dark, indeterminate Nature which, in its profound ambivalence toward its own products, resists idealist projections of unity or harmony.  The question thus arises: can the transformative political action demanded by an ecological civilisation be underwritten by a Nature infected by an indeterminacy which also implicates the human psyche?  This essay explores this question by examining first the Nature articulated by Schelling in his First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature (1799), then turning to this Nature’s recrudescence as theodicy and a theory of personality in his Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom (1809).  I conclude without concluding, with more questions than answers in the form of brief observations on the implications of Schelling’s dark Nature for ethical metanarrative and its relevance to the future.


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