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The philosophy of life and nature

natural Philosophy
Forfatter: Sigurd Hverven
Forlag: Dreyers Forlag (Norge)
How should we understand nature's relationship to our man-made culture?


Nature cannot be taken for granted, it concerns our entire existence. This is the starting point for natural Philosophy by Sigurd Hverven, which I have read with great pleasure. The message is important and at times complex, the tone is factual and subdued, and the fine, fluent language makes the book accessible to most.

The author himself says that he wants to introduce philosophical thinking about nature. At the same time accommodate natural Philosophy a dose of independent thought activity that in the last chapter leads to a sketch of a new, holistic way of thinking about life. We will return to that.

The context of the ward is that we are living in a revolutionary age. After thousands of years of stable natural environment, changes are now taking place at a tremendous pace. Therefore, the time has come to think differently about our place on the earth. And to get there, we have to challenge the ghosts of the past so that the thought can search in new directions.

Anthropocentrism and instrumentalism. The book's release takes place in three stages. Part 1 is entitled "Environmental Ethics" and extends between a long tradition of putting man at the center of everything, and an alternative position where nature is the basis of thought. The problem with the first one, anthropocentric The position is that our ethical thinking tends to circulate about man's well-being. As far as nature has value, it is in the instrumental sense: In what way can it benefit us?

Against this, it can be said that the time we live in requires an opening for moral expansion where animals, nature and life as a whole are more equated with man. If we are to get there, nature cannot simply be attributed to instrumental value, we must also assume that it has intrinsic value. Now such a shift can still be justified anthropocentric, if we say that by treating nature better we secure our life possibilities. Optionally, the tank can be pushed into one more biocentric or eccentric position, where we argue from the animal and nature's well being, regardless of what this means to us humans.

The presentation of these positions (and the space between them) is exemplary. Essentially, in this part of the book, he is a pure mediator, introducing us to varied reflections on setting life at the center of our thinking. He points out that there is an important distinction between those who put individual life at the center (for example, a blue whale that has lost its way to shallow water) and those who prefer to focus on species, ecosystems and the entire biosphere (the blue whale that species within a complex ecological whole).

Individual or whole? This distinction forms the basis for two, at times, markedly different ways of thinking about environmental ethics. The wards take the time to explore the variation, through two chapters simply called "The individual first" and "The whole first". Here we are presented to a selection of philosophers and their thoughts, and the content is sometimes more complex than in the other chapters of the book. However, those who read slowly will gain important insights into the range of environmental ethics.

What is the family resemblance that unites a microorganism, a tree, an animal, an ant, a human?

We move on to the second part of the book, where the question is how the abstract notions of environmental ethics can be transformed into more concrete strategies and actions. With this, we are into the landscape in which I write books myself. The field is complex and complex, so it is limited how much Hverven is told in two short chapters. However, the division between experience-based changes from below and political-economic change from above is pedagogically presented, so that at least the reader gets a taste of a varied set of strategic as well as practical opportunities.

Especially the discussion of whether we should use financial valuation as a tool is important. Here, the environmentalist is in a span between the pragmatic temptation to employ established tools versus refusing no because one sees that this will not cause any fundamental change in our way of orienting ourselves in the encounter with nature.

Looking back and forward-looking. Finally, part 3 of the book looks both backwards and forwards. The retrospective look is about how thoughts conceived by, among others, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and René Descartes have given us a mechanical notion of nature – understood as a collection of objects that can be used and thrown away as needed. The book shows possible openings for how we can get out of this way of thinking. From there we are brought to the book's concluding chapter, where Hverven clearly presents a vision of a different way of looking at nature and life.

What is the family resemblance that unites a microorganism, a tree, an animal, an ant, a human – and from there on to a species, yes, maybe even an entire ecosystem? The answer is that they are all forms of life, and that this life is characterized by dynamics and movement; It is never stagnant, but always involved in relationships and connections to something more than itself.

"Metabolism." An opening to understanding what this entails lies in the concept of "metabolism". The substances you and I are composed of are constantly being changed, which means that what is in me right now has been in all sorts of places in the past. From such a point of view, one would be able to say that life's various components are life projects that interact with other life projects. If we think this idea fully, it will be impossible to reduce nature to a collection of useful objects. As an environmentally committed person, I find this perspective interesting and exciting.

I would like to round off by returning to the book's introductory chapter, where we encounter a question about how we should understand nature's relationship to our man – made culture. In short, we are presented here with the idea that our way of life has spread outwards and penetrated into all corners of the globe, with the consequence that nature no longer exists. The position rejects such a position as too one-sided. In doing so, he establishes a critical connection to my second text in this month's New Time, the review of the book Green Utopias.

I therefore write an identical message in both book essays: Anyone who reads these two books in parallel will be left with a resilient diversity of varied, green thoughts – with the associated opening to translate the changes in the natural environment into a multifaceted set of political actions.

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Svein Hammer
Hammer is a dr.polit. in sociology and regular reviewer in Ny Tid.

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