“I possess a sense of divine transcendence from the Catholic tradition balanced by a pagan appreciation of the mystery of nature itself, the sensuous being-there of the world in its sometimes unbearable beauty.”
- William Desmond, from Perplexity and Ultimacy
“…every visible and invisible creature can be called a theophany, that is, a divine apparition. For…the more secretly it is understood, the closer it is seen to approach the divine brilliance. Hence the inaccessible brilliance of the celestial powers is often called by theology ‘Darkness.’”
– John Scotus Eriugena from Periphyseon
NATURALISM AND THE PROBLEM OF SPIRIT
Douglas Anderson, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Thomas Alexander, Southern Illinois University, CarbondaleRandal E. Auxier, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Stephen Tyman, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Doug Anderson - SIUC
Doug Anderson - SIUC
Briefly, for our discussion of American conceptions of nature, I will sketch the nineteenth century outlooks of Emerson and Peirce that stand in opposition to mechanistic and positivistic accounts of nature and naturalism that came to dominate twentieth century American culture. To see the experiential import of the Emersonian-Peircean outlook, I will then turn to a brief description of several suggestions made by Henry Thoreau and Henry Bugbee regarding our relations with “nature” in its various guises.
Emerson and Peirce
The background to American nineteenth century conceptions of nature can be found in the work of Spinoza and Schelling. The key is that Nature reveals itself in a variety of ways or modes, all of which are real. Schelling brings life and dynamism to Spinoza’s nature and thus underwrites both Emerson’s organicism and Peirce’s evolutionary cosmology. Two features shared by their accounts of nature are important to their overall outlooks: 1) nature is creative and remains open to possibility, and 2) nature reveals a fundamentally tripartite categorial structure. For Peirce this triadicity is found in his three ontological categories—firstness, secondness, and thirdness. For Emerson, it is described in his commitment to the idealist categories of the “I,” the “not-me,” and the Over-Soul or synthetic Being in and through which the first two are operative. Thus, Natura Americana is constituted of several natures. Nature as being or Soul is the living continuum in which natura naturans—creative, agentive nature—engages natura naturata—the realm of commodified things operating under the laws of Nature in an orderly fashion.
The upshot of this sketch is that we humans are “natured’ in several ways. As creators and experimenters, we are naturing; we will entities in our environment to conform to our purposes and desires. As embodied beings, on the other hand, we are akin to all other natured entities. The key here is that the so called “emergentism” of various evolutionary outlooks takes on a radically different meaning from that given it in the twentieth century. That animals, including humans, emerge in nature does not indicate to Emerson and Peirce that they are merely natured beings in a determinate set of causal relations. On the contrary, as Schelling suggested, evolutionary emergence of these beings reveals the fundamental dynamism and life in Nature. The consequences of this difference are tremendous, and it is upon these that I will focus in our panel discussion.
Curiously, mechanism, positivism, and behaviorism are positions to which most philosophers no longer admit, or which they argue have been redescribed sufficiently to overcome the charge of reductionism. I am not convinced by these claims and believe that something like these views continues to underwrite, often tacitly, much contemporary thought. In any case, I take the issue to be still alive and perhaps even more dangerous to the extent that it is operative while being denied. Most of us are well aware of the consequences of the mechanist’s reductive move. Under it, animals and persons can be treated as quantifiable behavioral events and can be effectively manipulated and managed in this way. Such thinking has led to the eclipse of the humanities in western culture and has reduced solutions to human problems in many instances to technical manipulation of causes. But what knowledge is and how it is possible are sheer mysteries from this outlook—this is the very reason positivism sought to eradicate philosophical thought. If one cannot answer a question, one simply excommunicates it from the pool of legitimate questions.
The Emersonian-Peircean view of Nature does understand the import of causal and empirical thinking because it sees clearly the roles of natura naturata in experience; they both see a role for scientific inquiry. As Peirce maintained, “an idealist need not deny the reality of the external world . . . for the reality of the external world means nothing except that real experience of duality” (CP 5.539). However, both Peirce and Emerson wanted to know, among other things, how this understanding (call it scientific knowledge) is possible. It is important to note here that what is important to both of them is not that positivism, for example, does not engage in transcendental argumentation but that reductionist accounts are inadequate to make sense of our actual human experiences. In quite different ways they both argue that we humans (and any other inquiring beings) represent Nature’s self-knowing. Being like the very Nature in and through which we emerge, we have an access to its meaning. “Nature,” Peirce argued, “only appears intelligible so far as it appears rational, that is, so far as its processes are seen to be like processes of thought” (CP 3.422). Thus, to understand ourselves (and Nature) is to understand our embodied finitude but also our abilities to conduct our own lives—to act. Consequently, in seeing that Nature is not a dead mechanism but dynamic, evolving Being, we see that it bears its own meaning. Peirce was adamant that his semeiotic did not lead to a subjectivism but to an objective or conditional idealism. Nature, he argued, reveals its meaning to us—its laws, habits, and general meanings. Part of our human task is to learn about these in order to engage in a conduct of life. Part of our task is also to create further meaning—this was the key to Schelling’s defense of both science and poetry. “Genius,” Emerson believed, “is the activity which repairs the decay of things, whether wholly or partly of a material and finite kind” (Emerson, 330).
Thoreau, Bugbee, and Experience
It was the richness of this transaction between natura naturans and natura naturata that Thoreau and Henry Bugbee attempt to get us to see in an experiential way. Thoreau’s metaphor of “walking” points to our agency in general; we can act; we can make things happen and make them new—we are Nature in its participial mode. However, there is always a temptation to remain asleep to our possibilities—to deaden ourselves. This deadening became systematic for positivism and the generic versions of scientism it spawned in twentieth century culture. As Peirce noted earlier, “a man who enters into the scientific thought of the day and has not materialistic tendencies, is getting to be an impossibility” (CP 8.38). Thoreau anticipated this deadening move in American thought and Bugbee found himself in the midst of it. Despite the respect Quine and Putnam had for Bugbee as a thinker when he was at Harvard, they knew that an Ivy League school in the 1950-60s could not hire a philosopher who spoke and wrote as Bugbee did. In The Inward Morning he set up a powerful line of resistance to the reductionism that had become our culturally habitual way of treating our natural state of being.
In treating both ourselves and other natural entities as “things” we lose sight of meaning and of our natural community. We hear still the claim that the meaning, say, of a piece of land is only that which a particular person sees in it—subjective and relative. It is of course obscure what this subjective “meaning” is in a nominalistic world, but even if we grant its presence, the fundamental issue goes unexplored. In order for any present feature of natura naturata to have meaning for us, it must own that possibility itself. It exhibits its own meaning—there is, as Spinoza and Dewey insisted, a transaction between natura naturans and natura naturata. Thus Bugbee tries to show us how “things” live with us in a natural community—they are gifts for us to learn about. Their utility, as Emerson suggested, is a part of that meaning but does not exhaust that meaning.
Finally, the upshot for both Thoreau and Bugbee is that Nature is the wilderness within which we and the rest of both natura naturans and natura naturata learn to live. Our conduct of life is thus a part of a much larger organic evolution. As Emerson suggested: “There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile” (Emerson 279). We play a role in this fluid and volatile evolution and therefore bear some existential responsibility. Because of our finitude we must be attentive to the otherness that surrounds us. At the same time, our agency is what creates new possibilities, so we must remain “wild” or “alive” or “awake” in order to ongoingly re-civilize the world. We, as natural agents, are in league with nature as “natured” in generating the creative development of Nature. To be egoistic in this endeavor is one of the consequences of the twentieth century positivistic conception of nature—we come to act only for ourselves, as if we had ontological priority and independence. Thoreau and Bugbee, in concert with the systematic efforts of Emerson and Peirce, point to the dangers and limitations inherent in this consequence, and they offer another, richer perspective on the very meaning of our natural lives.
"Ecological Naturalism and the Aesthetics of Spirit"
Thomas Alexander - SIUC
Thomas Alexander - SIUC
Nature has been a central theme in American philosophy; “naturalism” may be said to be to thematize nature as an inclusive interpretive principle. Not only will the determination of “the nature of nature” be ultimate in such an approach, but it will have consequences for the possibilities for the meaning of human existence. Let us call the ways in which human existence experiences such meanings of the world and itself an “aesthetics” or life of spirit. Insofar as an aesthetics of spirit seeks to provide a “home” of meaning for human existence, one question for any version of naturalism will be what sort of “home” it provides, what sort of “ecology” of existence it makes possible. I will undertake to schematize four types of naturalism and their implications for an ecology of spirit: scientific naturalism, humanistic naturalism, ontological naturalism, and transcendental naturalism. While each type represents a genuine existential possibility that may be chosen without the others, I will argue that each may be appropriated as a domain of an inclusive naturalism, which I call “ecological naturalism.”
Scientific naturalism is the most familiar version, so that it is often regarded as determinative of the meaning of “naturalism” altogether. Nature is understood entirely as the object of scientific inquiry, and is contrasted with the “supernatural.” Nature itself is generally portrayed reductively; consequently, knowledge is limited to scientific methodology, and human consciousness is correspondingly transformed into an analytical knowing-machine (e.g. Quine, Wilfrid Sellars, Dennett). Such a position leaves the “aesthetics of spirit” the options of either fulfilling itself completely in the life of science or seeking other values in a supernatural realm (e.g. Pascal). One other option is evidenced by the later philosophy of Santayana. A committed materialist, Santayana portrayed a rich concept of “the realm of spirit” that achieved fulfillment in the intuition of essences. Though both spirit and essence for him originated in the realm of matter, they were inherently unconcerned with their origins and, considered in themselves, were impersonal and ahistorical, occupying a “poetic” dimension of being. This option aside, philosophy considered within the framework of scientific naturalism is fundamentally epistemology and adjacent fields like philosophy of mind. An ecological naturalism would accept nature as an object of knowledge, though not exclusively such, just as it would accept as aspects of a life of spirit the pursuit of natural knowledge or the aesthetic intuitionism of a “realm of spirit” without limiting it to those. Indeed, both nature as a field of knowledge and as an immanent possibility for aesthetic appreciation are highly significant ways of inhabiting nature.
Humanistic naturalism takes nature primarily as a “world,” the vital context of human life, which involves far more than the search for knowledge or the mastery of nature. The world is not a mere universe of knowable objects, but the “place” or “scene” of the drama of human existence. This is Dewey’s presentation of nature as “experience.” Experience is not Quine’s “surface stimulation of sense organs” but intelligent action. Culture is the way in which nature is thus engaged: it is hunted, farmed, molded into bricks, worshipped. Here the meaning of nature is determined by the view, “nature is what nature does.” This applies to its most complex manifestations even more than to its most elementary ones. For Dewey the aesthetic and religious experiences are most revelatory of the possibilities of nature. Nature is such that new forms “emerge” over time. The life of spirit here is the aesthetics of cultural existence—the creation of meanings and values expressive of a way of life. And philosophy here is philosophical anthropology: inquiry into symbol, semiosis, and the theory of civilization. An ecological naturalism would certainly be concerned with understanding how human experience and culture inhabit the world and civilize it as a major aspect of the ecology of spirit.
But understanding nature emergentistically remains problematic, so that the question of the being of nature as such must be raised. Ontological naturalism begins with the conscious search to clarify a more complex understanding of nature than just a broadly defined field of human activity. This requires a systematic undertaking, such as we find in Justus Buchler’s “ordinal naturalism.” Nature as an object of philosophical reflection is engaged as phusis—the manifestation of beings in time. It must be articulated by categorical complexity to reflect its order and diversity and by a polymodal ontology to reflect its temporality and process; e.g., modes of actuality and possibility, plurality and integrity, and others must be used. Modes and categories must express the inclusive being of nature as a “manifestation.” (For example, see Buchler’s appropriation of the natura naturans/natura naturata distinction. Another example would be an ecological ontology, or “eco-ontology,” that articulates a view of the being of nature in terms of inter-relation, process, complexity, order, etc. and that would be conducive to an ecological approach to knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, etc.) Ontological naturalism takes nature here as the object of theoretical contemplation, and the life of spirit is manifested in the forms of “logos” and “theoria,” discursive contemplation at a high level of generality, adequacy, and integrity for the end of an integrative understanding of nature itself as a ground of existence. Philosophy here is metaphysics: contemplative comprehension.
Speculation originates with awe and wonder, and this moves us to the fourth mode of naturalism, transcendental naturalism. As humanistic naturalism was more inclusive than the concern for empirical knowledge, so transcendental naturalism includes more approaches to nature than that of theoretical understanding. Nature is the locus of human existence confronting itself and the mystery of being as such; awareness of mystery is what makes approaching nature possible at this level at all. Nature is experienced as a showing-forth or epiphany of the sacred or holy. There are various ways in which mystery is encountered. Nature exhibits a number of “faces” or personae to human existence other than those available to Logos (which discerns nature in the Apollonian faces of luminosity, order, and speech). There are also: depth, chaos, creation, destruction, persistence, transience, beauty, horror, love, hate, silence. The faces or masks are archetypal and have often been symbolized as the “gods” of various religions. But insofar as the acknowledgement of the sacred springs from deep within, inner aspects of the self are also realized. Instead of Logos, the speech that pertains to this dimension is Mythos. Though religions are profuse with symbol and rituals to embody or enact these meanings, there may also be a transcendence of symbol in mysticism.
This is “naturalism” in the name of the nature that includes more than reflective reason and yet which is capable of being richly symbolized and participated in. Human existence comports itself toward nature through these personae, which have a profoundly determinative meaning on how life is lived. Such an encounter is an immanent possibility for human existence. When undergone, the transcendence of the ordinary world and the ordinary self for deep nature and the deep self involves transformation, metamorphosis. The result for the aesthetics of spirit is sacred existence. Emerson may stand to represent this form of naturalism in the American tradition. Nature for him became the discipline whereby spirit came to itself and transformatively and actively reoriented itself to the world. This is where the “axis of vision” would be restored. The spiritual aesthetics of transcendental naturalism involve realizing the deepest values creatively in existence and experiencing the world with “morning wisdom”—a state of awakened insight. Philosophy conducted here is transcendental. An ecological naturalism would be transcendental in regarding nature as evocative of awe, as an epiphany for awareness of the sacred, and a fundamental existential opening of the self at levels beyond reason.
I conclude with the thesis that these four ways of understanding nature and its possibilities for spirit are each legitimate options on their own, but also present the question as to whether they can be integrated into an inclusive “naturalism.” I present ecological naturalism as such a position. The basic human desire is the desire to experience the world with meaning and value, which may be termed the Human Eros. The extent to which nature can be encountered as a home (oikos) for Eros orients us to the world in terms of creative love and care. While this Eros may be satisfied with utterly nonnatural homes, to the extent that we are alive to the need to care for nature—as we must in the civilization to come—we will need an aesthetics of spirit that finds itself at home in nature so that it may care for it.
“Imagination, Spirit, and Symbol in Emerson’s Nature”
Randy Auxier - SIUC
Randy Auxier - SIUC
In spite of much scholarly attention over the years, the structure of the “argument” in Emerson’s Nature(1836) is poorly understood. I argue that to follow its movements properly, one must grasp the way Emerson combines the theories of Spirit from German Naturphilosophie with a logic of imagination that has its roots in Kant, Coleridge, Goethe, Hegel, Schelling, and Vico. A structural analysis of the argument in Nature will reveal its debts to these sources while casting light upon how the argument actually proceeds.
Specifically, I argue that the central chapters of Nature, chs. 3-8, each recapitulate the same imaginative territory as the earlier ones, but under an ever deepening sense of the symbolic functions of nature itself, demonstrating a series of organically connected significations at each level. Each level is increasingly “free,” and each level indicates its own mode of freedom. All levels point to one and the same truth of Spirit, discoverable finally in what Emerson calls “the sentiment of virtue.”
Hence, for example, where “Economy” symbolizes the sentiment of virtue in the mode of daily exigency, need, and the mundane, nevertheless, the movement of Spirit and the sentiment of virtue are discoverable in the course of getting a living and the choices such activities present, because such activities are not wholly driven by exigency but are also symbolic of something basic in our constitution. Freedom is discoverable providence (the providing for daily need) in the cycles of everyday life. It is possible to imagine activities driven by need and mundane society under their symbolic heads, and to find the workings of Spirit within them.
Similarly, “Beauty” reveals a mode of freedom at the level of the senses and the way in which “forms” are available to the sensitive body, natural, spiritual and intellectual forms all bespeak an integral order grasped in the sign of light or illumination. This illumination is the mode of bodily freedom and reaches deeper than freedom in the economic mode. The other chapters follow a similar path in deepening the sense of freedom. The path Emerson follows in the descent into the layers of symbolism is an adaptation of Coleridge, and to some extent Vico and Goethe.
My analysis, therefore, follows the path of Spirit through its varying symbolic modes of freedom to reach the “sentiment of virtue,” set out in the key chapter on “Discipline” in the form of what I call Emerson’s “grand analogy.” Here we see that sensible objects are apprehended in both the mode of matter and of mind, and that their material existence is appropriated by “understanding” while their spiritual meaning is appropriated by “reason.” When understanding and reason are brought under the same discipline of form, the analogy appears in which the categories of understanding, space and time, find their meaning in the “sentiment of virtue,” which is the way in which reason appropriates “law” in the universe. The analogy of the categories and the sentiment of virtue brings common sense (the mode of understanding) into analogy with religion (the mode of reason, and teaches both body and spirit the moral law. The philosophical account of understanding and reason in these chapters, and its culmination in the grand analogy which teaches the moral law, is Emerson’s adaptation and synthesis of the Kantian philosophy.
The moral law is tempered by perspective and is ascended to by the will to power. At this point transcendence becomes possible for finite persons, and “Idealism,” in Emerson’s sense, is the integrated philosophical assessment of the modes of transcendence under the headings of nature, poetry, philosophy, science, and religious ethics. The idealistic philosophy is a human hypothesis which creates a framework for an account of spirit, or the relation of God to the creation and sustaining of the world of nature. The journey of spirit through these various forms of freedom is Emerson’s adaptation of Hegel’s and Schelling’s philosophies.
My essay concludes with an assessment of our prospects in light of Emerson’s vision of the relation of nature and spirit.
"Nature, Spirit and Desire"
Steve Tyman - SIUC
Steve Tyman - SIUC
The work of bringing closer together or putting on a common footing the disparate camps gathered around the themes of nature and spirit, while vital at this time, must not ignore the genuine impediments that lie in the way of the enterprise. To be sure, the enterprise itself is at present nothing less than a cultural imperative. One need only reflect upon the utter dysfunctionality of current debates such as the evolution/intelligent design fiasco to understand that the argument on both sides is falsely framed, with the result being that the confrontation produces much heat but little light. The argument adumbrated here will go to the suggestion that the two concepts are entirely coordinate, that they are locked in a binary relationship as tightly interwoven as that between the north and south poles of a magnet. But having said this, it is still incumbent upon us to discern a certain functional dissonance, even as it were a dimensional fracture, which distinctively characterizes the problem as we must at present encounter it. This means in effect that the two dimensions of spirit, on the one hand, and nature, on the other, do after all tend to fall apart from one another, with the result being that real work of a very practical kind remains to be done to bring them back into a vital and functioning relationship.
By practical work I still mean something of the order marked out by Kant when, as part of his comprehensive attempt to take the measure of the meaning of Aufklarung, he distinguished this from theoretical work, and proceeded to mark out as discrete the associated realms of free will and nature. The distinction between the two domains of discourse is as radical here as it is in any vector of Western thought. It is radical to the point of entailing two entirely diverse and even antithetical sets of presuppositions. While theory, thus understood, is predicated on the universal applicability of such concepts as causation to anything that can be encountered under the rubric of phenomenon – that is, anything that can be experienced –, practice in its essential possibility is predicated on the capacity, on the part one who proposes to act, freely, in fact, to do so. It is in the element and atmosphere of this essential freedom that all free undertakings are conceived and generated; and it is here, too, of course, that moral judgements concerning the value of individual acts are registered. Now the connundrum that Kant himself faced in relation to his original inability to conceive free action, action attributable to legislative reason, as anything but already moral, given that it represents by definition, the application of self-generated moral law, need not detain us here. For this consequence, we find, is the result of that central facet of Kant’s approach that I regard as flaw and foible. This flaw is evident already in the Kantian concept of nature. Nature as it is here understood coincides with the scope and range of possible experience, or what may be brought before the mind as something understood. It was by limiting nature to this meaning, and segregating this from the reach of moral meaning, that Kant was able, as he thought, to have his cake (his natural science) and eat it, too, that is, also to preserve the humanly all-important sense of moral activity.
What is wanting in this account, in my estimation, is something the lack of which is due to the extreme limitation Kant placed – for clear strategic purposes, no doubt – on his concept of experience. Notably, Kant did not allow for direct experience by the self of the self. On the one hand, from a theoretical point of view, this opened up the corridor of investigation invested in the function of critique, and, beyond the scope of what Kant himself envisioned, made thinkable the mediated problematics of situating the unmanifest self as diverse as those of Marx, Freud, and Foucault. From an immediate practical/personal point of view, however, the vista was not so encouraging. With respect to the self, the distinction between freedom and nature runs right through the middle of the house. It is easy to see why the tradition of pragmatism, prefigured as I understand, already by Fichte and his school, was resolved to move into this middle zone and to speak of an essential and irreducible inter-engagement of self and world. While there is, for many purposes, substantial merit to be found in this orientation, it seems to me that the correlated emphasis on situated enactability mostly leaves out of account a dimension especially in need of investigation. That is the dimension of what, in one capacity, is recognized as will, and, in another capacity, is recognized as desire.
The task is to think these two capacities as two dimensions of one reality. If this project is thinkable, Kant cannot have been right to think desire simply as that part of nature that reaches, willy nilly, into the human constitution, and there will simply be what it will be, such that moral action is generated largely in despite of this condition. Instead, we will need to find a way to own desire and to take responsibility for it even up to the absolute. But merely to proclaim this as desideratum is not to establish its viability; much less is it to accomplish the task itself. Indeed, in order to make a beginning here, one does well to take not as a given fact but as a problem the Kantian position that desire is really not tractible in the sense of simply being subject to human volition. The recalcitrance and hidden nature of the origins of desire, fugitive animal that it is, is precisely the point of embarkment. The remainder of my reflections go to address this issue. In the course of this address, a conception of what I will call spiritual evolution will be developed.
 See, for example, the curious case of Rorty’s “physicalism.”
 By “ecology” is meant a concern with interactive, dynamic systems that support a variety of “homes” (oikoi) for beings-in-relation. Interaction and development (like evolution and natural history) are fundamental ways of understanding the being of nature.
 “‘Experience’ denotes the planted field, the sowed seeds, the reaped harvests, the changes of night and day…that are observed, feared and longed for; it also denotes the one who plants and reaps, who works, rejoices, hopes, fears, plans, invokes magic or chemistry to aid him…” (LW 1:18).
 See Justus Buchler, The Metaphysics of Natural Complexes (1966; 2nd ed. 1990).
 See Justus Buchler, The Metaphysics of Natural Complexes, Ch. III and “Probing the Idea of Nature,” Process Studies Vol 8, No. 8 (1978), included in the second edition of MNC. The distinction has a complex and not very consistent history ranging from Eriugena to Aquinas to Bruno to Spinoza to Schelling to Buchler. See Olga Weijers, “Contribution à l’histoire des termes ‘natura naturans’ et natura naturata’ jusqu’ à Spinoza,” Vivarium XVI, 1 (1978), pp. 70-80.
 By “mythos” I mean an account that reveals and constitutes a fundamental identity in human existence or the world, and for that reason is treated as very important or sacred. See Mircea Eliade’s term hierophany.
 Emerson, Nature, Ch. VIII, “The axis of our vision is not coincident with things, and so they appear not as transparent but opake. The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist, until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. Love is as much its demand, as perception. Indeed, neither can be perfect without the other. In the uttermost meaning of the words, thought is devout, and devotion is thought. Deep calls unto deep. But in actual life, the marriage is not celebrated. There are innocent men who worship God after the tradition of their fathers, but their sense of duty has not yet extended to the use of all their faculties. And there are patient naturalists, but they freeze the subject under the wintry light of the understanding. Is not prayer also a study of truth—a sally of the soul into the unfound infinite? No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall at the same time kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation.”
 See Ibid. where he contrasts the cognitio vespertina (evening knowledge) of man with the cognitio matutina (morning knowledge) of God. See also Thoreau, Walden, Ch. 2.