Environmental philosophy is a branch of systematic philosophy that started addressing the global environmental situation in the second half of the 20th century. Environmental philosophy appears as a philosophical reaction to the worldwide deterioration in the environment and to its partial analysis by biologic and system sciences. This is, for example, a reaction to the general system theory (L. von Bertalanffy); new ethic and axiologic challenges of the so-called Earth ethics (A. Leopold); the first studies of the Roman Club authors (The Limits to Growth, 1972); and, indirectly, older concepts of life philosophy (H. Bergson) and process philosophy (A. N. Whitehead). The most influential forms of environmental philosophy comprise ecoso-phy, that is, the deep ecology (A. Naess); various forms of environmental ethics (J. B. Callicott, J. Passmore, C. E. Haergrove); and social ecology (M. Bookchin). Development of this philosophy is supported by the annually published studies (State of the World) of the WorldWatch Institute in Washington, D.C.
Even though the deep ecology and ecologic ethics achieved decent popularity due to their emphases upon the nonanthropocentric values and upon changes in the orientation of life from nature control and property amassing toward inclusion of man into the biotic community, they are weak regions becoming ontologic anchoring. The systematic ontical conflict between culture and nature hasn’t been clearly philosophically formulated yet, and therefore it hasn’t also been accepted as the currently most serious philosophical problem. Except for evolution ontology, the relationship between culture and nature hasn’t become a part of a wider philosophic ontology. The general public still lacks a generally understandable philosophical concept of the global environmental crisis, but there hasn’t yet been processed the necessary ontological minimum for its understanding.
Philosophical analysis of the global environmental crisis requires interpreting man, nature, and culture from the viewpoint of the evolution ontology. This viewpoint implies that the current people, who appeared on the Earth at the very end of the Tertiary period, cannot be the climax and meaning of the natural evolution of the biosphere. The unfinished evolution of the life on the Earth still faces a few billion years of future development: It is hardly directed toward any climax, and therefore it cannot culminate in any biologic species. All of the currently living species, including the oldest ones (e.g. bacteria), are mutually interconnected, functionally cooperate, and complement one another, but they also fight each other, because many survive at the expense of the others. Therefore, the currently living individuals, populations, and species, as temporary elements of a higher system of life on Earth, establish the conditions for a slow evolution of the biosphere and, consequently, also for a comparatively stable frame of the human culture’s existence and development. Because man, as the first biologic species, has succeeded in starting a cultural revolution, it is apparent that this species’ peculiarity isn’t based only in speaking ethnic languages, thinking, acting morally, learning, and believing. This peculiarity is best expressed in the thesis that man has established himself on the Earth as the second ontically creative force, as a small god, as an originator and creator of the nonbiological system of the culture.
If the natural biotic evolution cannot culminate in man, then even the culture, which is a human product, cannot be a continuation of the natural evolution of life. The system of the culture, which originates within highly organized live nature and draws its nourishment from this nature, must be established in conflict with the natural biotic order. It is an artificial nonbiologic system with dispersed internal information. This internal information cannot really be the biotic genetic information, integrating the biosphere, but the ethnic-language-encoded epigenetic information, the neuronal-spiritual culture. Similarly to the biosphere, the human culture is an open, nonlinear system integrated by internal information. Only when we are able to understand that the spiritual and material cultures belong to each other and that they establish a functional system of the particular culture will we be able to correctly understand not only the role and character of the spiritual culture but also the conflict between the culture and nature. Nevertheless, until the appearance of the global culture of the current technical and consumer type, we couldn’t have known anything specific about the character of science, philosophy, and other ideas and values of the spiritual culture. Only now are we starting to realize that our spiritual culture isn’t as grand and magnificent as we had believed: It is significantly antinatural and anthropocentric.
Thinking about evolutionary ontology, you can quite easily see that there are just two basic means of origination and maintenance for all current systems and structures: The first means is represented by the natural evolution of nature, and the other is the man-generated evolution of the culture. Disagreement and conflicts between these two creative processes are the roots of the current global environmental crisis. Culture can rearrange and newly shape the highly organized surface of the Earth only by breaking the original natural order, destroying a part of the creative work of the natural evolution, of the capitalized God. Putting it less poetically, the more culture—cities, motorways, fields, cars, and computers—the less nature—rain forests, biological species, and human physical and psychical health.
Only in this context is it possible to understand the impact of the knowledge that man is not just a thinking observer of the surrounding world, but a highly active animal species who is the only one to temporarily manage to deceive the biosphere and, within this biosphere, to start one more still life-dependent but structurally different and ontically constitutive process: the antinatural cultural evolution. We are discovering that this evolution started not only a remarkable human epoch but also a sad period in the Earth’s history. Expansion of the systems and structures of the cultural existence results in the suppression and disappearance of the natural existence and causes the sixth stage of the mass extinction of species. Since the cultural evolution rather quickly spoiled the Earth, we are currently facing not only the problem of an adequate theoretical understanding of the substance of this process but also the serious ethical problem of human responsibility and guilt for the lost natural order.
Formally, a simple thesis of the evolutionary ontology, stating that the global environmental crisis is a physical conflict between human culture and the Earth and that culture is the endangered species, shows quite explicitly what is endangered and partially even what should be done about it. For example, there is no point in trying to change human nature. Human nature is as old as man himself, as the culture. It is biologically (genetically) fixed, and we cannot and must not change it in the course of a short time. Also, the Earth’s nature (biosphere) as a system that is a part of the universe and that has been established in the course of billions of years cannot be really adapted to human culture, that is, to a comparatively young, dependent and temporary structure (existentially dependent on man). At this civilization crossroads, there is therefore probably only one direction for the future positive development of the culture: an effort to build a biofile culture that would carefully guard the Earth’s fitness for habitation.
The secret of the human cultural rise was once connected with the fact that man as a species was able to change the type of his adaptation in a comparatively short time. Possibly under the pressure of extreme external influences, man switched from the prevalence of adjusting his own biological structure, which is slow and genetically limited, to an aggressive adaptive strategy, to an intentional transformation of external environmental conditions. These days, though, this highly efficient strategy, which has included human claim of the whole Earth, has met its own finality.
Yet strategy is just the means, not the ends. Even very different strategies can be equifinal (i.e., they can reach the same goal). Therefore, if we don’t want to become prematurely extinct, along with other endangered species, we will have to change the adaptive strategy type, once again. It’s an advantage that this time the circumstances make us change something that we can really change: the type of the adaptive strategy of the culture. All of the current culture, as a human-made system that has mostly aggressively adapted nature, pushed her back, reduced, and transformed her so that she would comply with the expansionist claims of his little-adaptable anti-natural structure, must turn to an opposite adaptive strategy: to its own adaptation to nature by means of internal organizational transformations without any further growth. This culture can save its indispensable host environment only by making way for nature, only by a biofile transformation of its spiritual and material elements.
Spatial expansion of the material culture elements, which are as objective and spatial as the animate and inanimate nature elements, proceeds only by the culture’s limiting or destroying the original natural order. Even though slow-developing culture was advantageous for man (for example, the first cities were rather suitable for easier meeting of cooperating people), the fast-expanding technical civilization is becoming dangerous: It expands too radically the biologically adverse, artificial environment and a differently structured sociocultural space.
The culture-nature conflict doesn’t, therefore, culminate either by the “failure” of man or by the “failure” of culture. Quite the contrary, it culminates due to the successful growth of the current antinatural culture, the planetary interconnection of the originally local human cultures. Dispersed, regionally specific cultures, which still prevail in this world, push nature back slowly and invisibly, and therefore the crisis, whose substance we cannot directly see, originates as a result of the decline in naturally organized structures, locations, and regions of the finite surface of the Earth. This crisis originates as a result of a dangerous extinction of the original, man-homogeneous, natural existence. And because the devastation of the Earth’s natural order is not just a limited and accidental but a global and dominant result of the cultural spatial expansion, it follows that it is necessary to philosophically consider not only what culture brings to man in the current, narrowly intellectual meaning but also what it brings in a perspective, biological outlook: by radically changing the Earth, natural ecosystems, and the way of humans living within the culture.
The biosphere, as the only earth-based system capable of an independent, long-term existence and evolution, is currently in the state of a critical dynamical imbalance. The biological species extinction rate is about 1,000 times faster than the natural extinction rate. And since an open, nonlinear Earth system is not subject to mechanic causality, even a small impetus could turn it into a new, unbalanced state. We are almost certain that this planetary system, which is capable of self-regulation, will “sacrifice” most of the current higher life forms to maintain its own integrity in new conditions because these life forms will not be currently needed.
Even though this “allergic reaction” of the biotic system of our planet is generally caused only by the human species, we can see a certain, higher, and abstract justice in the fact that even this species is subordinated to the unforgiving logic of maintaining the stability and integrity of life. Man becomes an endangered species. For the first time in history, man and his culture are endangered by their maternal planet environment, which had nourished their rise a long time ago. The central topic of philosophic thinking, which was astonishment in the Antique period, humility in the Middle Ages, and doubt in the Modern Times, is slowly turning toward the feeling of responsibility and guilt.
The conflict between culture and nature has also its gnoseologic roots, connected with human knowledge. All of our conceptual interpretations are influenced by our interests, not only by the individual and group ones, as generally accepted, but also by the generally human ones and species-selfish that aren’t usually much talked about. Nature has always been for us just what our conservative biologic equipment has mediated to us in the particular historical era and what part of the external reality we have understood due to our forefathers, training, and education. Not even man as a species learns primarily for the purpose of enjoying the truth, but mostly for the purpose of his own active (aggressive) adaptation to nature by means of culture.
Each particular piece of knowledge about a live or a cultural system (every information revealed within the environment) is not just information about external reality but also an attempt at reconstructing its structure. Learning is possibly ontically creative; it occurs in order that an ontically active system could use it for its own survival, reproduction, and evolution. Therefore, within live or cultural systems, the information acquired from the environment can not only be inscribed and compressed into their internal memories, it can also be retrieved and embodied in ontical structures (in biotic or cultural structures). Considering the similar ontical functions of learning, both the live systems and culture grow in an analogous way: Elements of the external environment are included in their own systems, their learning is materialized, and their own internal information is ontologized. And we could even extend this analogy: The natural biotic knowledge, which is inscribed in the genetic memory, divides the terrestrial nature into animate and inanimate sections; it integrates the biosphere and provides for its evolution. Social-cultural knowledge, which is actually inscribed in the human neuronal memory (in the social-spiritual culture), even without drawing any attention, ontically divides the Earth: into the culture and nature. It integrates the culture, and for the time of the human existence, it participates in its evolution.
Yet despite this similarity, the most important fact still remains hidden. Knowledge of a particular system arises for the purpose of allowing this system’s existence, adaptation, and evolution. Contents of the biotic learning is objective to such an extent that it was able to participate in the biosphere creation, the ontical layer of reality interconnected with the abiotic universe by means of substance and energy. By animating some inanimate terrestrial structures, the natural biotic evolution establishes emerging live systems compatible with the evolutionally older processes and structures of the Earth. Even though the social-cultural knowledge whose growing objectivity and exactness were the bases for the Modern Age culture provided for the origination of an emerging ontical layer of the terrestrial reality (culture), the abiotic structures of the culture (for example, the microelectronic technics) were only pseudoanimated. And worse, so far, they cannot be channeled in the direction of life, but only against it.
Therefore, we have to try to establish the biofile planetary culture that we couldn’t have built directly due to our biologic settings, on the basis of our negative experience with the antinatural culture, on the basis of a theoretically sound reconstruction of the current, spontaneously originated culture. The character of this historically unprecedented task implies that its solution can be started only with the help of an adequate ontological increase in wisdom of the philosophy proper, only with the use of a theoretically competent and publicly comprehensible understanding of the crisis. And such a transparent view of the terrestrial existence, an ontological and axiological minimum adjusted to the current world, is needed because the environmental transformation of the culture must proceed both from above and from below, by means of coordinated professional and civil efforts.
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