JOFF. "The Possibility of an Antihumanist EcoAnarchism" (2) Dialectical Naturalism

ENGELS, Friedrich (1820-1895)BOOKCHIN, Murray (14 janvier 1921 – 30 juillet 2006) Philosophy. RationalityPhilosophy. DialecticsNature. Social ecologyHEGEL, G. W. M. (1770-1831). PhilosophePhilosophy. HumanismJOFF
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Dialectical Naturalism

Central to the project of dialectical naturalism is the transcendence of the dualism subject/object. Such a project thinks that each conjunct is not immune to the residue of the other. The philosophy of social ecology thus incorporates an ontology of nature which is at once material and subjective. Subjectivity resides in nature in various degrees and is not exclusive to the mental processes humans possess. If we concede that subjectivity inheres within every element of nature then the hierarchically structured subject/object dualism is rendered questionable by a way of thinking that examines the relationship between entities in terms of what is held in common rather than what is radically other. The question arises however: from a humanist viewpoint, how can we maintain the uniqueness of the human subject? Traditionally, the subject is considered as unique precisely because of its capacity to transcend nature through its capacity for self-consciousness. If the transcendence of nature into the realm of culture is rejected as dualistic then it is difficult not to fall into the trap of creating an egalitarian biosphere in which every entity deserves equal respect. Furthermore, is not the introduction of subjectivity within nonhuman nature itself an anthropomorphic gesture? But a more interesting question is to inquire as to whether one can ever fully extricate a perspective from an anthropomorphic position. Is an other-regarding perspective irredeemably contaminated with anthropomorphic remains? However, Bookchin is guilty more than most on this point in the sense that he is blind to his own anthropomorphizing and yet excessively critical of deep ecology’s ‘biocentric’ conception of nature.
Dialectical (naturalistic) reason opposes itself to intuitionism and mysticism precisely because of the unreasoned, cloudy and arbitrary nature of visceral feelings. [1] Bookchin is an ardent defender of Enlightenment reason (in the form of Hegel’s philosophy of optimism) and thinks that deviation from a commitment to reason is one step nearer to National Socialism whose perverted ‘ecologism’ was based upon intuition and anti-rationalism. [2] Dialectical reason as well as opposing itself to mysticism also critically questions instrumental (conventional) reason which it perceives as one-dimensional and ‘coldly analytical’. The form of reason Bookchin subscribes to then is a dialectical reason which is organic, critical, developmental yet analytical and ethical. Dialectical reason conceives the interrelationships between particular entities as mediated through the ‘totality’. Entities within the totality are forever unfolding in a perpetual process of coming into being and passing away. This process is a process of becoming which Bookchin derives from Heraclitus and later in Hegel. Nature is then in a process of continual development and each entity has boundaries which are continually being redefined. Bookchin’s philosophy of nature then perceives the working of dialectics in the sphere of nature, society and consciousness. It is at this point that we begin to see the questionable omnipresence of dialectics. It is here that the dialectical method finds its limit of application, for if we follow Lukàcs we should note that the dialectical method was misapplied by Engels. Dialectical materialism is formulated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the dialectical method. Lukács claims that the dialectical method explicates the realm of society and history (human realms). The otherness of nature is external to the application of the dialectical method. ‘The misunderstandings that arise from Engels’s dialectics can in the main be put down to the fact that Engels - following Hegel’s mistaken lead - extended the method to apply also to nature’. [3] In Anti-Dühring, Engels applies the dialectical law of the negation of the negation to the natural realm and claims that such a law can be established with reference to the biology of a butterfly.

Butterflies, for example, spring from the egg by a negation of the egg, pass through certain transformations until they reach sexual maturity, pair and are in turn negated, dying as soon as the pairing process has been completed and the female has laid its numerous eggs. [4]

The three ultimate laws of dialectical materialism (law of the negation of the negation, the transformation of quantity into quality, the unity of opposites) challenge classical logic’s laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. The obvious objection to Engels’ theory of (dialectical) nature is to note what the concept of contradiction is really doing. Contradiction, Engels claims, is universally applicable to every form of life. But to what extent is it meaningful to say that an egg exists in contradiction to a butterfly? It sounds very odd. Furthermore, if dialectics is perceived as referring to the activity of human (teleological) purposive entities we need to ask if the natural realm is composed of similar teleological entities. We also need to establish if the terms ‘teleological’ and ‘purposive’ are derivable from human activities exclusively. In asking the question we can then pose the problem as to whether nature’s teleological structure is, in effect, a mapping of human constructs onto an essentially nonteleological structure. Furthermore, it seems fair to ask whether nature lacks a concept of supersession. Natural processes are either cyclical and quantitative or gyrational and qualitative (which implies that nature does indeed possess the possibility of supersession).

Bookchin claims that he avoids a mechanistic theory of nature by incorporating natural (evolutionary) science into dialectical philosophy. Change, on this account, is subject to internal and external factors and the question of the emergence of qualitative differences is answered by thinking the environment as an essentially chaotic and unpredictable milieu propelled towards ever increasing differentiation. Contra Engels, dialectical naturalism thinks evolution as organic and plastic rather than mechanistic and cyclical.
A dialectical naturalism attempts to collapse the distinction between the is and the ought. Developmental thinking seeks to overcome the is-based, factual-centred (rational) emphasis of conventional reason and the ought-based, value-centred (emotional) emphasis of ethical reason through thinking the is and the ought as mediated by the totality and therefore reconcilable. ‘What is needed... is to free this form of reason [dialectical] from both the quasi-mystical and narrowly scientific worldviews that have made it so remote from the living world’. [5] A dialectical theory replaces the old categories of materialism and idealism with an emphasis upon the naturalistic and the ecological.
The collapse of the is-ought distinction is better grasped if we understand that Bookchin borrows Hegelian logic to disclose the latent potentiality inherent in ‘natural objects’. The dialectic of unfolding potentiality is central to understanding the dialectic of social ecology. The dialectic of social ecology is a speculative dialectic. In uncovering what is implicit within every thing, consciousness draws out those contradictory aspects of a thing and thus renders them explicit. In this way, implicit potentiality is given its full actuality or realisation. Bookchin is aware that one of the assumptions necessary for this perception is that there is teleological development towards greater complexity or differentiation within the universe. [6] Dialectical naturalism celebrates the process of ‘natural’ becoming and advances a ‘vision of wholeness, fullness, and richness of differentiation and subjectivity’. [7] Reason is defended here as the means through which latent potentialities are identified. Thus, the unleashing of latent potentialities by the articulation of reason, for Bookchin, is the means through which social development occurs. A ‘rational society’ emerges out of the unfolding process of reason’s development. In a clear sense then, the abandonment of reason which Bookchin perceives in several areas of social life signals the combined obsolescence of social development and the excrescence of the irrational.
A social ecology is thus considered ethical given the prescriptive ethical import in the statement that being ‘must ripen into the fullness of its being’. [8] The political question which arises is: who is to decide what constitutes the fullness of a being’s being? Who is to decide what a being is to become? And furthermore, what are the means for disclosing the constitution of a being’s being? It is also legitimate to ask whether the warping of the development of an entity within nature by another entity constitutes an unethical act? If this were so, then animals, plant and insects, would be humorously considered to live unethically. In the human sphere, the political implications would necessarily encourage passivity in a global agreement to let all being be in order for them to fulfil their latent potentiality. But perhaps these questions are unwarranted. Perhaps we are trying to extract a confession from Bookchin under duress. Bookchin replies to the question concerning ethical acts by maintaining a strict incommensurability between process-orientated dialectical philosophy and ‘analytical’ philosophy which directs its attentions to ‘brute facts’. [9] Bookchin considers that answers to dialectical questions can only be answered by dialectics and hence dialectical reason.

A logic premised on the principle of identity A equals A, can hardly be used to test the validity of a logic premised on A equals A and not-A. [10]

It is here that the dispute with antihumanism, mysticism and ‘postmodernism’ appears in bold relief. Bookchin is contesting the dominance of other forms of nondialectical reason. Other forms of consciousness and different ways of conceiving the workings of things are considered as a betrayal of social development, a betrayal of Enlightenment ideals and their overt quest for liberation. In more ordinary terms one could say that this is sheer intolerance (of diversity, of other voices) on Bookchin’s part. Professor Kovel in examining the invective in Bookchin ‘s prose contends: ‘Dialectic, instead of unfolding, becomes static, frozen in an endless series of vendettas’. [11] In less personalistic terms, we could argue that the reconstructed Hegelian logic Bookchin employs renders the existence of positive differences problematic.

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[1Bookchin, Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.10.

[2Bookchin, Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.10.

[3Lukács, G, History and Class Consciousness, London: Merlin press, 1983, p.24.

[4Engels, F, Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring Revolution in Science, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978, p.166-167.

[5Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.24.

[6Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.27.

[7Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.30.

[8Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.28.

[9Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.36.

[10Philosophy of Social Ecology, p.36.

[11Kovel, «Murray Bookchin: Nature’s Prophet», Essay ’Negating Bookchin’ in Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. WWW page: