Act: Inspiration

Ecosophy: philosophical lessons to reconcile our relationship with the planet

November 8, 2022

The link between human beings and nature has been weakening since the modern era: the Earth is no longer understood as an integrated and living being, but as an inert and material entity to be exploited. Philosophers such as Raimond Panikkar propose (re)initiating a new relationship with nature from a philosophy that accepts the human condition as it is, in its role with its surroundings.

Our understanding of what surrounds us determines how we act, think and live. Our ontologies represent a fundamental element to narrate our existence. We live in a historical, political and social context where scientific knowledge is constantly growing, driven by technical and economic progress, but we continue to face a great challenge: coexistence with nature. It is a bond that has been weakening, little by little, since the beginning of the modern era. In a short time, we have gone from conceiving the Earth as an integrated and living being, almost sacred, to an inert and material entity, which we exploit beyond its possibilities, transforming our interaction into a harmful one. This is demonstrated by the high rates of pollution and the effects of climate change, which ask us to rethink our relationship with the planet.

Some thinkers were concerned about this issue for decades ago. Arne Naess (1912-2002), a Norwegian ecological thinker, coined the concept of deep ecology during the last century, claiming a philosophy of harmony or ecological balance. His ambition was to put an end to “modern arrogance” and re-acknowledge the Earth as a living entity, exposing the need to listen to it as a subject, recapturing other ontologies that have referred to nature as “Mother Earth”, “Pachamama” or ” Unci Maka.” Naess recommends abandoning that “technological adolescence” in which humanity has plunged to rediscover that we are part of the great prodigy that is nature; to recover and develop a harmonious and participatory relationship with the web of life.

However, when it comes to seeking the resignification of ‘ecosophy’, Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) takes the lead. Panikkar was a doctor of philosophy, science, and theology and a professor at Harvard and California –as well as a lecturer around the world for his valuable contributions to intercultural and interreligious dialogue– and represents one of the most lucid voices of Catalan philosophy in the world. To recover the care of nature, Panikkar proposes ‘ecosophy’ as the solution that will allow us to pay attention again to the wisdom of the planet.

 We are currently facing what Panikkar calls a “capitalist technocracy”, a worldview that has anthropomorphized the Earth from a consumerist and extractivist approach; industrialized until that last term that makes the system incompatible with the ecological balance and with the survival of other forms of life. Faced with this reality, the philosopher asks for a cosmotheandric conception of the Earth, where the cosmos, the human being and the divine being are understood as three agents that form, together, a single living entity.

Panikkar recovers the concept of Naess’s deep ecology and formulates ‘ecosophy’ as that knowledge about the planet and its own wisdom that we have to listen to and share to feed this paradigm shift. He is thus marked in the prefix ‘eco’, which derives from the Greek root ‘Oikos’, translated as ‘house’ or ‘community’. With this, in the fight against the Earth, it will be the human being who loses, because nature will be able to continue its course without humanity, while humanity will not be able to live without it. The philosopher explains that there will never be true sustainability without a transformation of consciousness. This is where this ecological metaphysics, this ecosophy, emerges as a fundamental requirement to (re)start a new relationship between human beings and nature.

Three pillars for a new Ecosophy

 How can we promote this transition? Panikkar exposes three pillars of our societies that can act as a spring. First of all, politics: business as usual has ended up generating unsustainable progress where technological civilization has annihilated entire cultures in favour of a single system and a single economy. Both models, oriented towards infinite development through competition between states and markets, have resulted in massive exploitation of our resources, ecosystems and lives. For the Catalan philosopher, political measures must be promoted that generate a new healthy coexistence.

Second, the science. Pannikar states that technocracy has generated a conception of the Earth and nature as an inert and lifeless reality and recommends recovering the ability to listen, and understanding of nature as a living and connected organism.

Lastly, philosophy. The metaphor of progress as a forward arrow is a modern convention that fails to understand the true circular rhythms of nature. Thus, philosophy opens the possibility of building new ontologies that recover this lost link. Specifically, from ecosophy, the essence of life consists in accepting the human condition and discovering truth and peace in it. In this way, the cosmotheandric reality is related to the whole, but breaking the vicious circle in which we find ourselves. An eminently emancipatory task. We have to seek our healing, according to Panikkar, from the memory of the Earth as our home, and not as our attic.

Original article published in Ethic Magazine in Spanish.


Photo by Qingbao Meng on Unsplash

Ariadna Romans

Ariadna Romans i Torrent, political scientist and Philosophy graduate. Master's student of the International Development Studies in the University of Amsterdam.

Tags: connection to nature, ecosophy, interbeing, philosophy