The Development of a Post-Onto-Logical
Culture of the Oikos
and the Inhabiting of Post-Postmodern Ground
* * * * * * * *
Historicizing Western Metaphysics and its Ecocidism
Martin Heidegger undertakes a destruction (Destruktion) of the presence of being (Vattimo 1991 , 2002). In the wake of this undertaking, postmodern quarters state that the question left for philosophy is no longer 'What is Being?' but 'Wie steht es mit dem Sein?' which roughly translates as 'How is it going with Being?' (Zabala 2009: 4). It must be nonetheless stated that either of the queries signals that philosophy suffers from a marked solipsism. The direction of philosophy —old and new— does not seem to be willing to feed upon events external to its own realm.
Against this backdrop, I claim that we ought to stop fueling the autarky of philosophy. Instead, we ought to allow the contemporaneous conjuncture determine the philosophical agenda. This is largely what Michel Foucault (1997: 309-10; 1996: 316) means when he prompts us to adopt the 'attitude of counter-modernity' and develop a 'critical ontology of ourselves'. With such attitude 'for the first time [...] thinking arises out of and is an attempt to respond to [its] historical situation' (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1991 : 11). In this context, philosophy should invariably adopt as its starting point the social and political pictures of the day. Philosophy should just as importantly remain attached to the concerns that arise out of our embodied condition (Thomas-Pellicer et al. 2016). No wonder that Friedrich Nietzsche placed so much emphasis upon physiology in its thinking (Schrift 1990: 146 et passim). It must be indeed noted that failure to register our worldly embodiying condition results in great analytical deficiency: embodiment is a trait shared by all kinds of existence on the Planet. Once philosophy detaches and isolates itself from the socio-political reality and the constraints imposed by our carnal condition it reifies itself. This means that we shouldn't settle for handling the remains of being as Santiago Zabala (2009) advocates but ought to aim at a full 'overcoming' of Western metaphysics.
On the other hand, it must be noted that Zabala (2009: 5), as an instance of a postmodern voice, alerts us to the impracticality of overcoming metaphysics. He asserts that metaphysics cannot be exceeded given the impossibility on the part of philosophy of ceasing to investigate Being. Hence, Zabala claims, philosophy's irreducible position is, far from that of surpassing metaphysics, coming to terms with it. In light of what was claimed in the previous paragraphs, we must state that in Zabala's apparent spotless reasoning there is a mortal Achilles's heel. In Aristotle's footsteps, Zabala perilously associates the post-metaphysical panorama with the study of Being. Yet, as it was highlighted above, this association leads to the perpetuation of philosophy's autarkic solipsism.
Contrastingly, if we truly intend to adopt 'the attitude of counter-modernity' (in the Foucauldian sense) and develop a philosophy fit for our contemporaneity, the ontological quest ought to be suspended: it is proving highly ecocidal, genocidal and oppressive for all of lifeforms on the planet including waters, rocks, oaks, whales, albatrosses, polar bears, the atmosphere, indigenous people and women. We may agree with Zabala upon the impracticability of trying to overcome metaphysics. But we disagree with him upon the fact that we still wish to cling to the exploration of Being. Once we free ourselves from this ontological burden we may not overcome but we certainly may abandon metaphysics altogether. In such a case, we have the opportunity of looking in another direction. We are, in short, called to historicize metaphysics and its object of study, Being or, in its current postmodern version, the remnants of Being.
From Being To Oikos
Above we have emphasized the relevance of Foucault's call to adopt the attitude of counter-modernity. At this juncture we should highlight once more that one of the reasons why philosophy ought to derive its 'postulates' from its actuality is to stop being deleterious for a great deal of lifeforms on the planet. Indeed, our contemporaneity begs that waters, rocks, oaks, whales, albatrosses, polar bears, the atmosphere, indigenous people, women among other oppressed or systematically exterminated or polluted groups, move to the centre stage of our philosophical concerns. To be more precise, our intellectual musings in the wake of Heidegger's destruction of the presence of Being should orbit around the oikos.
The oikos is a Greek term that means 'house', 'dwelling place', 'habitation'. In the frame of this study, we should take these meanings in their most extensive senses, as the household of the interactive non-human and human worlds. Such a far-reaching meaning signifies that we are merging eco-logy and eco-nomy —both rubrics have oikos as part of their compound root. We are concerned with the very interface among the mineral kingdom, the flora, the fauna, the atmosphere and human beings. This interface is another name for culture. We only need to take a look at the etymological root of this term. In a broad sense, culture signifies 'activity' —not any kind of activity but respectful, considerate, dutiful activity. It derives from the past participle stem of the verb colere, which indeed signifies to 'inhabit', 'cultivate', 'frequent', 'practise', 'tend', 'guard', 'respect'.
Zabala (2009) advocates that we settle for the traces and scraps of Being. By contrast, we aim at a vibrant oikos. Our eagerness for the flourishing of all lifeforms entails indeed that we stop falling prey to the nihilistic direction into which Western metaphysics is deepening and largely turn the page of Western philosophy. Our true concern is not 'How is it going with being?', let alone 'What is being?', but 'To what extent does the oikos survive and flourish?' Philosophy can no longer turn its back to our embodying condition (Thomas-Pellicer 2010, 2017; Thomas-Pellicer et al 2016). Nor can philosophy afford to fail to politicize our contemporaneity. Two entwined remits. Philosophy must develop novel categories of knowledge for ecocidics, the science that studies ecocides or destruction of the oikos, and aims to prevent or put an end to them.
Beyond Logocentrism and Naturalism: Towards a Culture of the Oikos
If our philosophical focus of attention starts falling upon the interface between the non-human and the human, namely upon culture, we seem to be freed from not only Being —onto-logy— but also another trait that defines the Western ecocidal trajectory, namely, logocentrism —onto-logy.
Logocentrism states that logos —the Greek term for 'speech', 'thought','law' or 'reason'— is the central principle of philosophy and language. This logos aims at an absolute point of reference, which Jacques Derrida correspondingly calls the 'transcendental signified'; for the signified is not affected by the worldly vicissitudes of the signifier. Similarly, upon account of the logocentrism that pervades Western philosophy, Derrida, in the wake of Heidegger, characterizes the latter as a 'metaphysics of presence': the immobile point upon which the transcendental signified hinges evokes a perennial presence.
In the scientific realm, logocentrism translates into the purported presence of perennial laws (Dupré 1993; Giere 1999; Cartwright 2005 ; Ulanowicz 2009). Ecology, as a modern scientific field of inquiry, enjoys a relatively belated birth. The German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the neologism in 1873. For all its belated creation, ecology has become the queen of environmental philosophy and is conspiring to also turn into the queen of the ecohumanities. Nonetheless, ecology is a pastiche of old, long outdated conceptions of the true essence of nature. What is more, ecology is fully bathed in Western metaphysical conceptual waters including all the dichotomies that so patently characterize the Western trajectory: truth vs. error, mind vs. matter, life vs. death, nature vs. culture, productivity vs. sustainable development just to name a few (Johnson 2004: viii; Thomas-Pellicer, 2016, 2017).
The assumption common in environmental philosophy that the laws of ecology can provide social and personal rules of conduct must be suspended. This piece of research, to be sure, confronts ecology's naturalistic slant and argues for a 'post-naturalistic' turn both in (environmental) philosophy and the ecohumanities. It intends to ground philosophy not in the immutable laws that allegedly crisscross the oikos but in the relations or culture that characterize it. Just as the remit above was that of turning the page of Western philosophy, now the goal is to critically read ecology and develop a culture of the oikos.
The Post-Androcentrization of Thought
As ecocentric environmental philosophers have argued (cf Curry 2011), a key reason why Western metaphysics proves disrespectful of waters, rocks, oaks, whales, albatrosses, polar bears, the atmosphere, indigenous people, women, etc, is its marked anthropocentrism. Ecofeminists have in turn remarked that this anthropocentrism is but sheer androcentrism (Mellor 1997, Salleh 1997). Intellectual reliance upon the superiority of Man is manifestly captured in Heidegger's ontological difference. According to the German philosopher, Dasein, the experience of being that is peculiar to Man, is characteristically different from the extantness of things including ' stone, plant, and animal' (Heidegger 2000: 86). One of the main reasons for this ontological difference is that Man irreducibly enjoys the gift of language. 'Human beings are yes- and no-sayers only because they are, in the ground of their essence, sayers, the sayers.' (ibid; cf also Dupré 2003: 6).
Yet setting language as a distinctive trait emerges as a deliberately self-privileging move —one that ratifies Man's alleged uniqueness. As Patrick Curry (2008: 58) aptly underscores, 'nature' is 'eloquent: [...] saturated with messages and stories'. However, this discursivity isn't expressed (exclusively) through human language. Privileging language, moreover, is not a move that derives from 'the attitude of counter-modernity' in relation to our historical situation. Our highly ecocidal present rather points to the fact that human beings (chiefly Western/ized Man) distinguish themselves from stone, plant and animal in their capacity to be highly destructive of the latter. It is ecocidism —the ability to exterminate many lifeforms— that marks not so much an ontological but a cultural difference between Western/ized Man and waters, rocks, oaks, whales, albatrosses, polar bears, the atmosphere, indigenous people, women, etc.
Androcentrism is ecocidal. Western/ized androcentrism can no longer operate as the point of reference in our intellectual constructions; it only entails systematic destruction of both cultural and biological diversity. Man's categorical position in the theoretical bodies we erect must be decentred (Thomas-Pellicer 2010).
Moving into Post-Postmodern Ground to Effect a Post-Ecocidal Turn
Arguably the postmodern condition has been effective in questioning the intellectual and factual deeds of modernity. On the other hand, this condition has paralyzed us when it comes to making progress in terms of erecting novel intellectual edifices in firm. Yet the global eco-debacle, the very same that it was claimed above that ought to inform philosophical currents, is heavily pressing upon us. It begs us that we position ourselves intellectually (cf. Brennan 2000).
It is the postmodern effect that has purged philosophy and science of its ontological and logocentric inclinations as articulated above; the postmodern condition inoculates us against falling back into a modern scientific paradigm, as the latter is arguably running out of steam. Yet now we need to call upon a post-postmodern setting, so that we are encouraged to erect novel ground upon the basis of this purging. We need to duly articulate an operative culture of the oikos which should displace ecology and endeavour to historicize the markedly ecocidal Western metaphysical trajectory. We need to consolidate a post-ecocidal turn upon philosophy and the realm of cognition at large.
BRENNAN, Teresa, Exhausting Modernity: Grounds for a new Economy (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).
CARTWRIGHT, Nancy, The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005 ).
CURRY, Patrick, ‘Nature Post-Nature,’ New Formations (Spring 2008), 51-64.
____________, Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, Cambridge, (UK and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011).
DUPRÉ, John, The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1993)
____________, Darwin’s Legacy: What Evolution Means Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
DREYFUS, HubertL. and Paul Rabinow, “What is Maturity? Habermas and Foucault on ‘What is Enlightenment?’’’ in David Couzens Hoy (ed.) Foucault: a Critical Reader (Oxford, UK and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1991 ), pp. 109-122.
FOUCAULT, Michel, “What is Critique?” James Schmidt, (ed.), What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1996); pp. 382-395.
GIERE, Ronald N., Science without Laws, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1999).
HEIDEGGER, Martin , Introduction to Metaphysics, (New Heaven and London: Yale University Press, 2000; translation by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt).
JOHNSON, Barbara Johnson, “Introduction and Additional Notes” in Jacques Derrida (2004), Dissemination (London & New York: Continuum, 2004; translated, with an Introduction and Additional Notes, by Barbara Johnson).
MELLOR, Mary, Feminism and Ecology, (Cambridge and Oxford, Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers, 1997).
SALLEH, Ariel, Ecofeminism as Politics: Nature, Marx and the Postmodern (London and New York: Zed Books Ltd, 1997).
SCHRIFT, Alan D. Schrift, Nietzsche and the Question of Interpretation: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction (New York: Routledge, 1990).
THOMAS-PELLICER, Ruth, ‘Reimagining our Sociological Contemporaneity: What is the Age of Re-Embodiments? BSA Theory Study Group Symposium Booklet, London: 16 July 2010. Available HTTP: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/staff/academicstaff/gurminderkbhambra/research/bsatheorygroup/event2010/reimagining.booklet.pdf>.
________________, 'Dystopian Contemporary Positions: Sustainable Development as a Manifest Instance of the Epistmological Disposition' (Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 12, no. 1, 2016: pp. 309-335). Available online at https://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/513/882
THOMAS-PELLICER, Ruth, Vito de Lucia, Sian Sullivan, Law, Philosophy and Ecology: Exploring Re-Embodiments (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).
ULANOWICZ, Robert E., The Third Window: Natural Life Beyond Newton and Darwin, (Templeton Foundation Press, 2009).
VATTIMO, Gianni, The End of Modernity (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1991 ).
________________, After Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002; translated by Luca d'Isanto).
ZABALA, Santiago, The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology after Metaphysics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009)