Kant’s body and other natural disasters

This post is part of a series of occasional posts concerning the body and ecology.  I start somewhat circuitously by examining the body in the work of Kant.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in tones braggadocio, prefaced his intellectual autobiography, Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, with the following sentence (suggestion: read it slowly and dramatically), “Seeing that before long I must confront humanity with the most difficult demand ever made of it, it seems indispensable to me to say who I am.”

Nietzsche proceeded to review the challenges he confronted us with in several chapters with titles progressively more grandiose (or jocular, depending upon your sensibility): “Why I Am So Wise”, “Why I Am So Clever”, “Why I Write Such Good Books” and “Why I Am a Destiny”.  My objectives are more humble than Nietzsche’s.  I am interested in re-examining the relationship between the comportment of our bodies and the founding of knowledge about the natural world.  Does having a body matter at all for deepening our relationship with the rest of nature? Though my objectives are modest, nevertheless it may be mannerly to take Nietzsche’s lead and say a little more about who I am.

Once a week or so for the last three years I metamorphose into a graduate student of philosophy at the same school where I am a professor of environmental science.  Though I am a clamoring scientific cuckoo dumped into the philosophical nest, my professors have been affable, hospitably taking my fledgling efforts seriously.  They have taken me under their capacious wings, (to keep the metaphor straight I can say they have placed this outlandish egg alongside the rest of their brood beneath their downy underbellies) and they treat me as one of the clutch.  And though I have perhaps been a little more impatient than my fellow students to sweep philosophy up into rapid use, I have nonetheless taken to heart their teacherly advice to be a slower and more attentive reader.  (Could it be that scientists, in general, are less patient readers of their foundational texts than are philosophers? Surely not all biologists have read their Origin of Species line by line, though it might be harder to imagine a philosopher that has left unread The Critique of Pure Reason).  These days I am as entertained as the next man by, let us say, lengthy disquisitions on the use by Kant of the two German words translated as “object” in the English rendering (Objekt and Gegenstand).  Despite my newfound persnicketiness when it comes to texts, I remain relatively impatient to launch myself from the nest’s edge and try out my new feathers.

Read on here.

A version of post originally appeared at 3quarksdaily.com

Liam Heneghan


About dublinsoil

Professor of Environmental Science
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