«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Heidegger’s ideas have been highly influential in environmental thought (Hay, 2002; Kennedy, 2011; Zimmerman, 1993). This is not surprising, as his entire philosophical edifice can be seen as critiquing the Enlightenment tradition of progressive modernity—particularly in its human-diminishing and natureobliterating tendencies—and, from that critique, trying to establish a basis for living ‘authentically’ (Hay, 2002; Zimmerman, 1993). Heidegger’s lifelong project was to answer the “question of being” (Seinsfrage), thereby shifting the dominant preoccupation at the time with questions of epistemology to questions of metaphysics or ontology (Guigon, 1999). While traditional metaphysics tended to conceptualize being as a property, substance, or essence enduringly present in things (“the metaphysics of presence”), Heidegger emphasized being as the self-manifesting or presencing by virtue of which an entity reveals itself as such (Zimmerman, 1993). Instead of being universal, unchanging, and transcendent, this presencing was understood to be temporal—and thus culturalhistorical, linguistic-interpretative (hermeneutic), and emergent, unfolding.
69 Rather than a superior or absolute type of entity (such as God or the absolute), Being is a self-disclosive event, a dynamic embodied process through which entities manifest themselves. Being, thus, is ‘in-the-world’ and inseparable from the world (Honderich, 2005 (1995); Inwood, 2005 (1995)-b).
Heidegger sought recovery of Being, but saw ‘the world as picture’ to be blocking the experience. In the ‘age of the world-picture,’ people understand nature as little more than raw material that is valuable solely because it can be used to enhance human power, thereby profoundly cutting them off from other experiences of nature. However, Heidegger simultaneously envisioned a postmodern era in which people would "let things be"—instead of treating them merely as instruments or objects (Zimmerman, 1993).
2.3.7 Contemporary currents: High postmodernism and beyond While the ancient or pre-modern period tended to be characterized by confidence in the human being’s capacity to obtain a singular and comprehensive view of the universe (either in the form of a Platonic correct vision of the great order, or the Christian vision of creation as revealed in the Bible), in the modern period a more cautious approach came to dominate the philosophical-cultural climate, shifting the center of gravity from world to viewer, from God to man, from scripture to science, from revelation to reason. Although generally more cautious, the belief was still that human beings, beginning with themselves and their own methods of knowing, could gain an understanding of the world, at least its facts, if not its values (Naugle, 2002).30 This self-questioning turn was taken to an extreme in postmodernism, where skepticism tended to replace confidence altogether, destroying any hopes of ascertaining the truth about the universe. Figures like Nietzsche and Heidegger—with their multi-perspectivism, emphasis on the embodied, particular, and temporal nature of life, and their criticisms of objectivist science—nourished the seeds of postmodernism that were originally planted during Kant’s epistemological revolution. However, thinkers like Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), Michael Foucault (1926-1984), and 30 However, a substantial amount of practicing modern and contemporary scientists are not necessarily Kantian—that is, they have not absorbed and integrated the fundamental epistemological revolution that Kant brought about. As a whole, mainstream science is thus not necessarily reflexive.
70 Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) could be said to made them come to full bloom.
Lyotard famously proclaimed an era of “incredulity towards metanarratives,” referring to a fundamental disbelief that any worldview or overarching interpretation of reality is true and ought to be believed and promulgated (Naugle, 2002). The two main narratives Lyotard attacked are those of the progressive emancipation of humanity—from Christian Redemption to Marxist Utopia—and of the triumph of science (Butler, 2002). Derrida undertook a ‘program of deconstruction,’ casting doubt about the ability of language to represent reality accurately and objectively—and more than that, even about whether there is anything beyond linguistic constructions, as his famous “there is nothing outside of the text” points to (Butler, 2002).
Worldviews, then, are reduced to a self-referential system of linguistic signifiers dispossessed of any metaphysical, factual, or moral import (Naugle, 2002).
Foucault emphasized the dimension of power, and the profound ways in which power and knowledge imply another: “In skeptical Foucaultian terms, worldviews are merely the linguistic constructions of a power elite. They are the facades of an absentee reality, and function as an effective means of social oppression” (Naugle, 2002, p. 184). The use of deconstruction, subverting our confidence in logical, ethical, cultural, and political commonplaces, has the potential to be revolutionary and liberating: for once we see our frameworks this way, we can also see that—even though we have attributed them to the natural order of things—the world, its social systems, and human identity are not givens, but are constructed and reified by us (Hacking, 1999). We are thus the architects of our world, the craftsmen of our reality (Naugle, 2002, p. 184).
Although the larger public does not partake in the highly academic, philosophical understanding of postmodernism, a convergence with the contemporary tendency to pluralism, relativism, and skepticism, and emphasis on other modes of knowing than rational, has substantially contributed to its success and (political) appeal (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009; Butler, 2002). With their attacks directed to precisely those cultural narratives that are frequently understood to be generative of our ecological and planetary issues—notably the modern notion of progress and Enlightenment rationality as expressed in objectivist/positivist science—postmodernism potentially offers an important 71 contribution to (those with) environmental concerns. Simultaneously, the relationship between environmentalism and (academic) postmodernism is complex and in some sense antithetical, as “the fragmentation of experience, disorientation and loss of overarching perspectives … are threats to the efforts of environmentalists who are struggling to proselytize a global perspective on environmental destruction” (Gare, 1995, p.1-2, cited in Hay, 2002). Moreover, the complete ‘deconstruction’ of nature is problematic for environmental discourse, since it undermines notions such as the intrinsic value of nature and nature’s integrity and autonomy. Lastly, the postmodern situation is often said to result in a profound loss of meaning, direction, and purpose, because an overarching framework is that in virtue of which we make sense of our lives morally and spiritually (See e.g. Spretnak, 1999; C. Taylor, 1989). Therefore, while appreciating the liberating and emancipating potential of postmodernism, many commentators have simultaneously emphasized its “performative” contradictions (Habermas, 1987), its self-destructive “anti-realism” (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009), and the “deep irrationalism at the heart of Postmodernism” (Butler, 2002, p. 11)—for example by pointing out that the claim that ‘there are no universal truths’ is itself formulated as a universal truth, and, similarly, that the deconstruction of all meta-narratives itself displays the structure of a metanarrative.
Several approaches have emerged that seem to build forth on some of postmodernism’s most important insights, while developing alternatives for its (widely perceived) shortcomings. Critical theory (that is, the Frankfurt School and its associated thinkers) poses the idea, similar to postmodernism, that societal conditions are not natural and inevitable, but historically created and heavily influenced by the asymmetries of power and special interests, which can—and should—be made subject of radical change (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009, p. 37). However, in contrast with the anti-hierarchical and nihilistic stance of postmodernism, critical theory tends to maintain a dialectical and generally developmental view of society. Notably in the person of Jürgen Habermas (1929 who conceptualizes worldviews in a historical-developmental sense, drawing explicit linkages between individual development and social evolution. At the level of worldviews, he distinguishes a number of stages of development, claiming that the pattern of development of individual identity is key to 72 uncovering these societal changes (Held, 1980). However, his understanding of development is dialectical rather than linear: “Evolutionarily important innovations mean not only a new level of learning but a new problem situation as well, that is, a new category of burdens that accompany the new social formation. The dialectic of progress can be seen in the fact that with the acquisition of problem-solving abilities new problem situations come to consciousness” (Habermas, 1976, p. 164).
The field of integral theory can be seen as a response to some of the major problems as brought forth by postmodernity, notably its cacophony, relativism, and lack of integration. In the words of Ken Wilber (1949 -), the primary founder of the field, integral means “comprehensive, inclusive, nonmarginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches … include as many perspectives, styles and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into a network of interrelated, mutually enriching perspectives” (Wilber, 2003, p. xii). In a postmodern fashion, he argues for a post-Kantian perspective that recognizes that what is being perceived is enacted, brought into being through the consciousness that perceives it: “reality is not a perception but a conception; at least in part” (Wilber, 2007, p.
231). However, while social constructionists have been criticized for investigating the constructions of others, yet leaving themselves and their constructions out of the picture (see e.g. Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009), integral theory emphasizes the importance of illuminating the constructions of the researcher, through arguing for a post-metaphysical 31 approach. Such an approach replaces perceptions (ontic assertions) with perspectives (verifiable injunctions) and locates knowledge claims by explicating one’s “Kosmic address” (Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006)—that is, by disclosing one’s epistemic structures, potentially through a process of “researching the researcher” (Hedlund, 2008). In this way, Wilber argues that we should attempt to integrate as many different perspectives and methodologies as possible, while 31 The term ‘post-metaphysical’ was coined by Habermas, who in 1988 published a book titled: “Nachtmetaphysisches Denken: Philosophische Aufsatze,” which was translated as “Post-metaphysical Thinking.” 73 simultaneously reflexively situating ourselves in the view of the world that we are collectively drafting.
Critical realism, originated in writings by the philosopher Roy Bhaskar, (1944 - ) is more and more often suggested as a counterweight and alternative to both positivist (modern) and constructionist (postmodern) approaches (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009). Critical realism shares positivism’s interest in the objective world, patterns, generalization, and in finding causalities; yet diverges from it in claiming that the study of the empirical is too superficial, as it disregards the unobservable mechanisms that produce the phenomena that positivists seek to measure and explain. Simultaneously, critical realism shares postmodernism’s interest in context, synthesis, and qualitative research, but it also argues that a sole focus on social constructions is insufficient and misleading (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009). Critical realism therefore positions itself as an alternative to both, arguing for a critical, emancipatory perspective that simultaneously acknowledges ontological reality. Like critical theory and integral theory, critical realism holds a complex dialectical view of development: “While rejecting any view of geo-history that sees it as an inexorable process of development towards a pre-ordained goal, viewing it rather as a radically contingent, uneven and multiform process punctuated by regression and foldback, critical realism does hold that there is a certain ‘tendential rational directionality’ in history” (Hartwig, 2011, p. 501). The fundamental impetus of Bhaskar’s philosophy is, in his own words, “the transcendence and healing of division and split in a reconciliation that sees an end to the blind domination of nature and humans by humans” (Bhaskar, 2002). Hereby he argues for a “(re-) enchanted view of the cosmos,” in what seems like a dialectical return to and integration of Plato’s Anima Mundi, resurrecting the living soul of the universe, yet this time in a more complex, critical, pluralist, reflexive, and co-creative fashion.
2.4 Summary and discussion The evolution of the worldview-concept seems to be characterized first and foremost by a reflexive turn. In ancient Greece the predominant emphasis was on the correct vision of the larger order, as exemplified in Pythagoras and Plato’s 74 Kosmos—a concept describing a living universe that is pervaded by spiritual intelligence, beauty, and structural perfection (Tarnas, 1991). However, profoundly informed by the Scientific Revolution of the time, the Enlightenment-thinkers—and notably Kant, who coined the term Weltanschauung—introduce a “Copernican Revolution in philosophy,” emphasizing the constructive and creative power of the human mind, thereby shifting the emphasis from the vision of the world to the one who is viewing that world; from the content of thought to the activity of thinking, and from a found or given to a self-created order (Naugle, 2002; Tarnas, 1991; C. Taylor, 1989).