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Romanticism, or as Taylor (1989) frames it, “the family of views in the late eighteenth century that represent nature as an inner source,” (p. 368) rebels against the sharp dualism between humanity and nature that became dominant with the Enlightenment’s forging of a disengaged reason. In contrast, the Romantics assert the need of a deeper engagement, as it was precisely through our emotional, spiritual, and imaginative participation in nature that one could come to an understanding of reality and its order. The Romantics thus make a plea for “a return to nature, but a return to nature specifically as a source of heightened imaginative sensibility” (Hay, 2002, p. 9). It was, thus, individualist rather than collectivist, and included intuitive or mystical modes of knowing rather than merely rational ones. As our access to nature is within, we can only come to knowledge through articulating what we find within; and this making manifest involves a creation. In the words of Taylor (1989), “it is no longer some impersonal ‘Form’ or ‘nature’ which comes to actuality, but a being capable of self-articulation” (p. 375). The Romantics thus tend to highlight the creative and self-enactive dimension of life and emphasize the unique particularity of each individual, thereby calling each individual to live up to one’s originality.
According to Taylor (1989), 63 Something fundamental changes in the late eighteenth century. The modern subject is no longer defined just by the power of rational control but by this new power of expressive self-articulation as well … This works in some ways in the same direction as the earlier power: it intensifies the sense of inwardness and leads to an even more radical subjectivism and internalization of moral sources. But in other respects these powers are in tension. To follow the first all the way is to adopt a stance of disengagement from one’s own nature and feelings, which renders impossible the exercise of the second. A modern who recognizes both these powers is constitutionally in tension (p. 390).
It is these two large currents of Enlightenment and Romanticism that came to a large extent to determine the Modern sensibility (Frisina, 2002; C.
Taylor, 1989). Tarnas (1991) speaks of the divided worldview in this context, a worldview in which the sensitive human psyche is situated in a world alien to (human) meaning: “The modern experience was still vexed by a profound incoherence, with the dichotomies of the Romantic and scientific temperaments reflecting the Western Weltanschauung’s seemingly unbridgeable disjunction between human consciousness and unconscious cosmos” (p. 377).
2.3.4 Hegel’s ‘Zeitgeist’ In a similar unifying spirit, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) set forth a conception of reality that sought to relate human being and nature, spirit and matter, time and eternity. While in Kant’s analysis of consciousness there is one set of determining categories for all rational minds, making a single human view of the world possible, for Hegel there are a variety of forms of consciousness, which he systematically examined in his Phenomenology of Mind (Naugle, 2002). With that, Hegel offers a historical perspective in which the succession of worldviews is seen as the continuing development of Geist, gradually coming to a true understanding of its absolute nature (Ritter et al., 2004). One of Hegel’s most important contributions is his grasp of the historically and socially conditioned nature of thinking (Singer, 2005 (1995)).
What at any moment was seen as certain was constantly overcome by the evolving mind, thereby opening up new possibilities and greater freedom. Each 64 phase of being contains within itself a self-contradiction, which serves as the motor of its movement to a higher and more complete phase. Through a dialectical process of opposition and synthesis, the world is always in the process of completing itself. Every era’s worldview was thus both a valid truth unto itself and also an imperfect stage in the larger truth of absolute truth’s self-unfolding (Tarnas, 1991, pp. 379-380). With that, Hegel argued that what appeared to be contraries in philosophy—such as mind/body, freedom/determinism, idealism/materialism, universal/particular, state/individual, or even God/man— appeared incompatible only because of the undeveloped and thus incomplete perspective within which these oppositions were formulated. Although highly influential, this attempt at a dialectical resolution of traditional oppositions has been the most severely criticized in Hegel’s controversial philosophy (Pippin, 1999).
Another important contribution is Hegel’s metaphysical concept of Geist, which refers to some kind of collective subject, mind, or ‘spirit,’ progressively coming to self-consciousness. With this concept, he suggests an overarching collective mind or spirit that is an active force through history, of which all individual minds are part (Singer, 2005 (1995)). To advance this perspective, Hegel had to argue against a powerful and deeply influential assumption in modern thought, that is, the priority of the individual, self-conscious subject.
Hegel tried to show that the formation of what might appear to an individual to be his or her own particular intention, desire, or belief reflected a complex social inheritance that could itself be said to be evolving, with a “logic” of its own (Pippin, 1999). Zeitgeist, the experience of a dominant cultural climate that defines an era in the dialectical progression of a people, or of the world at large (Naugle, 2002), is for Hegel thus a necessary stage in a larger development: the unfoldment of Geist itself. Whereas for Plato the immanent and secular was ontologically dismissed in favor of the transcendent and spiritual, for Hegel the world itself was the very condition of the Absolute’s self-realization (Inwood, 2005 (1995)-b; Tarnas, 1991).
2.3.5 Nietzsche’s perspectivism Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was, in Tarnas’ (1991) words, “by all accounts, the central prophet of the postmodern mind” (p. 395). With his recognition of 65 both the liberating and catastrophic consequences of the disenchantment of the modern worldview, his zealous attack on the Christian value-system, his bold attempts to formulate alternatives for the looming crises of nihilism and positivism, and his radical perspectivism, Nietzsche has significantly contributed to the evolution of the concept of worldview, and still has a profound influence on contemporary culture. Although he did not spend much time reflecting upon the nature of Weltanschauung per se, a sketch of its understanding is possible in light of the ethos of his philosophy (Naugle, 2002).
In his work, Nietzsche shows a deep concern with issues relating to the quality of life in the culture and society of his time. He saw the Western worldview as fundamentally flawed, and was determined to come to grips with the profound crisis he believed to be impending as this comes to be recognized.
He not only prophesied the collapse of the Christian worldview, but he also sought to provide humanity with a new perspective on life, beyond what he called ‘the death of God’ and the ‘advent of nihilism’ following in its wake (Honderich, 2005 (1995); Schacht, 2005 (1995)). A complete reevaluation of our values, an Umwertung aller Werten, was a plain necessity for him. However, he deemed traditional forms of religious and philosophical thought to be inadequate to the task and indeed to be part of the problem: Platonism, Christianity, and German Idealism all aimed to transcend and sublimate the worldliness of existence by constructing a world of Ideas, an after-life, or a pure Spirit. In contrast, Nietzsche therefore calls us, in the words of Zarathustra, to ‘stay faithful to the earth,’ affirming and enhancing its worldly, sensual existence in spite of, and even eagerly embracing, its transitory, unpredictable, and elusive nature (Lemaire, 2002). Perhaps surprisingly, this call, as well as his philosophical work in more general, has only to a limited extent resonated in environmental thought (Drenthen, 2003). However, according to the Dutch environmental philosopher Ton Lemaire, Nietzsche can, in certain respects, even be compared to Henry David Thoreau: he was a ‘backcountry man’ with a clear scenic dimension to his thinking (many of Nietzsche’s ideas appeared to have arisen during long walks in the mountains), and his philosophy is revitalizing, life-embracing, and natural, rehabilitating the senses and sensuality (Lemaire, 2002).
66 Nietzsche’s philosophy offers a radically immanent perspective on life, inviting us to say ‘yes’ to life without holding back and fully embracing the worldliness of our existence. Despite his anti-religious, anti-metaphysical, and anti-pessimistic perspective on life, Nietzsche cannot be seen as a naturalist with an unyielding trust in the (natural) sciences. In fact, his position on ‘truth’ was much more paradoxical and complex (M. Clark, 1990). Nietzsche was highly critical of traditional and commonplace ways of thinking about knowledge, maintaining that as they are usually construed there is and can be nothing of the kind (M. Clark, 1990). The alleged “truth” of a worldview is merely an established convention, the product of linguistic customs and habits, an artificial construct necessary for human survival (Naugle, 2002). In the words of Tarnas (1991), “every way of viewing the world was the product of hidden impulses.
Every philosophy revealed not an impersonal system of thought, but an involuntary confession” (p. 370). The notion of a factual reality accessible prior to interpretation was a self-deception, covering up processes of knowing that ruled out for all any objective grasp of reality (Small, 2006). However, although critical and skeptical towards ‘truth,’ Nietzsche simultaneously manifested a passionate commitment to ‘truthfulness’ and pursued philosophical tasks that quite clearly supposed to have something like knowledge as their aim (Schacht, 2005 (1995)). For Nietzsche, the world is always understood within the perspective of some point of view, thus allowing for different and even contradictory truths. According to Tarnas (1991), radical perspectivism as developed by Nietzsche and articulated in various forms by many other thinkers
of the (late) modern era, lies at the very heart of the postmodern sensibility:
In this understanding, the world cannot be said to possess any features in principle prior to interpretation. The world does not exist as a thing-initself, independent of interpretation; rather it comes into being only in and through interpretations. The subject of knowledge is already embedded in the object of knowledge: the human mind never stands outside the world, judging it from an external vantage point. […] All human knowledge is mediated by signs and symbols of uncertain provenance, constituted by historically and culturally variable predispositions, and influenced by often unconscious human interests.
Nietzsche also rejected the notion of a Kosmos as a rationally knowable order, but instead affirmed the world as chaos without goal, nature being unfathomable and opaque (Small, 2006). In this chaotic world without prescribed meaning and order, it is the heroic individual, the Übermensch, who takes his fate in his own hands and endows life with forms of meaning and value that it may not have in the first place, but is capable of attaining. According to Tarnas (1991), “then the God who had long been projected to the beyond could be born within the human soul. … Truth was not something one proved or disproved; it was something one created” (p. 371). With his bold and highly creative ideas about the potential development of the emancipated, unique individual, Nietzsche forged a new ideal of the free spirit (Dohmen, 1994).
Therefore, as Small put it, “a cosmology in any traditional sense is irrelevant to Nietzsche’s Dionysian mode of thought. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, he might have said, but the point is to affirm it” (pp.
2.3.6 Heidegger and die Zeit des Weltbildes The ideas of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) about worldviews, or more precisely, world pictures, cannot be adequately understood distinct from his analysis of the worldview of his age, which he coined, in an essay in 1938, “Die Zeit des Weltbildes,” or ‘the age of the world picture.’ By studying the phenomena brought forth by a certain age, Heidegger thought it possible to uncover the metaphysical underpinnings they are based on. He therefore studied the phenomenon of science, as one of the most characteristic features of the modern time. Rather than embracing worldviews as necessary phenomena rooted in the essential psychology of human beings, Heidegger believed that a world picture originates when humans are conceived as subjects and the world is presented as on object for interpretation and representation—the objectification 68 (Vergegenständlichung) of being that is so distinctive for science, and modernity at large (Naugle, 2002).
Although there is a potentially pathological or dangerous aspect to Heidegger’s outspoken anti-modernism (as may have become manifest in his involvement with National Socialism in Nazi Germany, see e.g. Hay, 2002;
Zimmerman, 1993), the virtue of his thought lies in its profound questioning of the epistemological revolution of Kant, which established human consciousness as the foundation for true and secure knowledge. According to Heidegger (1983), this put man center stage and subjectivized and anthropocentrized the modern worldview, in a dynamic interplay with the objectification of the world and nature. In this process, “the very essence of man itself changes, in that man becomes subject” (p. 45). That is, humanity becomes the ground and locus of all that is—the measure of all things, including what the world itself is and how it is viewed. The world, then, is conceived and grasped as object of knowledge and representation, as object of exploitation and disposal (Naugle, 2002). Thus, for Heidegger (1983), “world picture, when understood essentially, does not mean a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as picture. What is, in its entirety, is now taken in such a way that it first is in being and only is in being to the extent that it is set up by man, who represents and sets [it] forth” (p. 44).