Order the summer edition here

There remains one philosophical question

- and the answer will determine the further life of the globe.


The task of science is to uncover the real world and describe it. With controlled, delimited and verifiable experiments, science finds out how much something weighs, what kind of properties a molecule has, how electricity works, how a planted gene works in a foreign organism, and so on. The more complex systems science examines, the more uncertain it becomes. It lies in the nature of the case, science relies on stable, orderly and verifiable conditions, so that the experiment can be repeated and verified.

The requirement for method unfortunately makes science limited. With life itself, with the biotope earth, experiments that cannot be repeated, verified and controlled cannot be made. Life in the biosphere – evolution – is irreversibly evolving, we are part of it ourselves, and can therefore never fully grasp it; there will always be something unknown, another, completely unforeseen event. We are such an event ourselves.

The biosphere consists of everything that exists of organic and inorganic life on earth, including the effects of our science and our own explosive growth. It is an intricately composed whole where everything develops in mutual influence. When life escapes science, when it cannot be grasped, it is because science is an inferior part of the globe's life.

To seize life itself we have only the story, the philosophy. With philosophy, man seeks to determine what is the correct conception of the world, how the world is to be understood and what is to apply in it; how to live in and with the biosphere as we understand it. The philosophers make drafts of descriptions of the biotope we inhabit and suggestions of ways of living on it, of how to live with and within this, our world.

The descriptions, our worldviews, are constantly changing. For a long time we learned that absolutely everything had life and soul. Plato, longing for stability, believed that the world was an imperfect imprint of an ideal, invisible world. Christians let an eternal, all-powerful God create the world – and happiness. While modern man replaced God with the individual and the dream of happiness with everlasting growth.

The last hundred Over the years, philosophy has increasingly focused on the real world and its phenomena. It has become more closely linked to how reality is. The philosophers have tried to completely let go of airy ideas in order to best describe the world as it appears, as sensed and experienced. The fact-based reality of scienceorientering has played a crucial role in this development.

Today we know most about ourselves and about life on earth. Even the random creation of life we ​​understand. We no longer speculate on the reasons why we are here, we no longer ask the big questions. The metaphysical ideas have "flattened out." Based on science, philosophers have moved on to make descriptions of the world as it is, and how we can best live in it. Many believe that the philosophy is on its way to its own conclusion.

One last philosophical questions still remain to be answered before we can phase out philosophy for good and concentrate on life practices. The answer to this last question – whether it can be answered – will guide our understanding of what is and what is not, what should apply and what should not apply: how we should live.

How does man go from the violent dream of sovereignty and infinity to living with his own and the biotope's finitude? 

Once the question has surfaced in the last fifty or sixty years, it is due to two things: the emergence of technologies that make it possible to exploit the biotope more than it can withstand and to commit mass murder – man has already irreversibly changed the planet's geological and biological future. And in continuation of this: a new understanding of – new insights into – human extinctions of ethnic groups, animal species and nature. We now know what it's about, the obvious has become obvious. The globe is a limited place with limited resources, and one human being is no more valuable than the other, one ethnic group has no more right than the other to live. We can no longer, as we have done until now, justify the extinction and killing of other people, other species. We've got a problem.

In a short time, homo sapiens has become 7 billion individuals, we have spread everywhere. Only now do we see the massive violence we as a species have directly and structurally exercised and are committing. There is nowhere to go for those who want to start all over again. Everything is busy. There is valuable life everywhere.

For the first time in history, the question of violence in the biosphere is being asked in its full breadth. The question has previously been raised at the individual level: the Buddha responded to the problem of violence by letting go of desire and letting the world flow freely through the lustless man; Christ responded by loving the outcasts and turning the other cheek when the blows came. But violence as the biotope's problem has not been posed until now.

The one the philosophical question that remains is the following: How can two different organisms, two different species or groups come together without one being radically altered or eradicated by the other; How can I live without excluding, killing, other valuable life? How do I become myself without excluding you, your life and your ideas? How can my culture continue without destroying other small or large cultures? In other words: How do we create justice?

When it Jewish Marxist Walter Benjamin in the interwar period studied the writings of the German Nazi and lawyer Carl Schmitt, it was to understand the nature and role of violence in the world. Schmitt believed that there would always be one person – the sovereign – who would solve the crisis by deciding on the violence. Benjamin replied that it is only with the broadly popular-based general strike that the violent state can be peacefully abolished and the logic of violence changed.

Do we again have to give nature its own "spiritual" life in order to enter into a respectful dialogue again? Or do we have to reintroduce the sacred to become wise?

Simone Weil worked at the same time as Benjamin on the nature of violence: Weil believed that it was the Western personality with his big ego and exclusive rights that was the problem; the personality must be built down to naked life and become part of the work for justice for all, she believed.

At the end of the last century, as a result of the European extermination of the Jews, Emanuel Lévinas and Michel Foucault posed questions of violence with new force and weight.

As the massive violence that man directly and structurally also exercises against nature as such became apparent to us in this our century, violence became the essence of philosophy.

In the United States, thinkers like Cora Diamond, Marc Bekoff, Donna Haraway, and Cary Wolfe put our relationship with animals in new perspectives: Animals are as sensitive as we are. In Australia, Deborah Bird Rose and Freya Mathews are exploring new forms of coexistence with vulnerable nature – in the countryside as well as in the cities. While the Dutch Tim Ingold and David Abram research the sentient human animal in listening movement in search of food and experiences.

German Peter Sloterdijk has developed an understanding of our culture as the human body's extended immune system against potential enemies, and asks how the various immune systems can live together.

The Italian Roberto Esposito, also an "immunologist", asks who this body in our head is who says that another part of us is an animal that needs to be disciplined, and explores what happens when the biological body's need for immunity becomes the starting point of policy, which under Nazism, and today. He is looking for alternatives to what a human being can be.

In his great Homo Sacer work, compatriot Giorgio Agamben scrutinizes the alternatives in our history and explores strategies for how we can evade violent power, evade dominance and win freedom. While French François Laruelle draws a line over all the worldviews of philosophy, he calls them equal drafts of reality, and then describes the world exclusively from the victim's, from the place and experience of the excluded, voiceless.

From very different points of view, they all revolve around this one question: How should you and I live without excluding other valuable life – how should life live with itself on the planet? How does man go from the violent dream of sovereignty and infinity to living with his own and the biotope's finitude? There are no easy answers to this, the conversation has just begun.

But one thing they agree on: It is as separate from life, from nature – which disconnected our origin, ourselves – that we have become able to destroy our own basis of life.

How did we become so blind? And how do we get in touch with nature again, including our own – how are we again able to listen to and interact with our origin, to live with nature, without destroying it and each other?

Do we again have to give nature its own "spiritual" life in order to enter into a respectful dialogue again? Or do we have to reintroduce the sacred to become wise? Time will tell. Technology will help us. But technology is of little value, yes, it is dangerous, until we have developed a fine-tuned sensitivity – before we are all re-connected, reconnected to our basis of life.

How do we become sighted again?

Greek Thyestes seduced the wife of his brother, Atrevs. Atrevs took revenge by killing Thyestes' children and serving him the children for breakfast, just as Gudrun in Volsungane served King Atle their joint children for breakfast. The food tasted good. It was only when Thyestes and Atle learned that it was their own children they had put to death, that the disgust arose, that they reacted. (The sun must, when this happened, in disgust have begun to go in the opposite direction in the sky.) We are basically innocent. We do not see that what we do is wrong until someone tells us so, until we actually get to know about it. Many perpetrators and abusers have themselves been exposed to violence and abuse, they experience it as normal. The perpetrator must learn that what he has done is wrong.

Our destruction of nature has now dawned on us. We face the last question of philosophy. How to live without ruining life?

avatar photos
Erland Kiøsterud
Author and essayist. Residing in Oslo. See also his website or Wikipedia

You may also like