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Anthony Paul Smith

Philosophy and Ecosystem:


Towards a Transcendental Ecology

I. Moving from Environmental Philosophy to a Unified Theory of Philosophy


and Ecology
Many are looking to foster a relationship between ecology and philosophy as
it becomes clear that the reality of our contemporary age, as well as the future that we
are rushing headlong into, is determined in large part by the environmental crisis. This
attempt is not unprecedented as the environmental movement and some form of
environmental studies has been around at least since the writings of John Muir and
Henry David Thoreau. The legacy of the relationship between ecology and
philosophy has been and continues to be led by the discipline of environmental ethics
and environmental aesthetics.1 In this way philosophy prescribes ethical and aesthetic
norms on the basis of ecological findings, but philosophy itself tends to remain
unchanged by the encounter. There may be some change, often favorable (a favorite is
replacing the Western subordination of ethics to reason with principles from Eastern
philosophy and religion), but what remains after this change is still a philosophical
system, in this case based on ethics as first philosophy, developed apart from
scientific ecology.
When comparing the immense amount of literature on environmental ethics
and aesthetics it becomes clear that attempts to begin thinking about ecology from
metaphysics prior to ethics, as found in some Schellingian thinkers like Žižek, are in
the minority.2 Most of these attempts deploy ecology very selectively, often using
more from political ecology or environmental studies than scientific ecology, and they

1 Some anecdotal evidence for this majority position of ethics and aesthetics can be had by comparing
the amount of Google hits one receives for “environmental ethics” (about 1,180,000) and
“environmental aesthetics” (about 26,900) compared to “ecological metaphysics” (241) and
“metaphysics of ecology” (9). Both environmental ethics and environmental aesthetics also have
entries in the major encyclopedias of philosophy, where ecological metaphysics does not. Further to
this anecdotal evidence there is a major journal dedicated to environmental ethics (Environmental
Ethics), but there is a complete absence of a journal that focuses on the metaphysics of ecology. Even
the more far-reaching Journal of Environmental Philosophy tends to focus on ethics and aesthetics
(largely from a phenomenological perspective), while metaphysics figures very marginally.
2 For Žižek’s criticism of the ideology of ecology and his own attempt to recast the problem of nature
alongside of ecology see “Unbehagen in der Natur,” in his In Defense of Lost Causes (London and
New York: Verso, 2008). For Žižek’s indebtedness to Schelling see his reading in Slavoj Žižek, The
Indivisible Remainder: On Schelling and Related Matters (London and New York: Verso, 1996) and
for an account and criticism of that reading see Iain Hamilton Grant, “The Insufficiency of Ground: On
Žižek’s Schellingianism” in The Truth of Žižek, eds. Paul Bowman and Richard Stamp (London and
New York: Continuum, 2007), pp. 82-98.
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do so in the service of rethinking the question of nature rather than thinking about the
nature of philosophy or ecology.3 What is common to these thinkers is a subjugation
of ecology to philosophy of nature, rather than a building of philosophy of nature in
the light of ecology. While the growing Schellingian influence on Continental
philosophy of nature is a step in the right direction in that it invites us to think
philosophy with non-philosophical practices, redirecting us to “the eternal and
necessary bond between philosophy and physics”, it is inadequate in itself for
thinking about ecological nature.4 Partly, this inadequacy comes from a difference in
goals. The Schellingian revival in Continental philosophy of nature is more concerned
with reviving a metaphysics connected to material practices, and so what I am here
calling “Schellingian” applies to a whole host of thinkers not normally associated
with Schelling as such, like Deleuze & Guattari and Bergson and those who take them
as inspiration for their own work in philosophy of nature. But there is a deeper
reasons why this is inadequate in itself for thinking about ecology and nature, for if by
nature we mean a first identity descriptive of the Real from which a whole host of
regional knowledges think (physics, ecology, poetry, philosophy of nature), then
nature cannot be captured by physics as a unitary discourse and cannot be thought
through physics alone. This becomes especially clear as physics is, as witnessed by its
own practices, not one thing in itself. Therefore, when we subordinate ecology to a
philosophy bonded to physics we have not yet begun to think about what ecology
thinks about. Instead of looking to philosophy’s outside we take philosophy of nature
itself as if it were some outside to philosophy rather than an instance of philosophy.
What is common in all of these attempts to think ecology, from the ethical and
aesthetic to the metaphysical, is the remainder of a philosophical decision built upon
faith in the self-sufficiency of philosophy.
The aim of this paper is to challenge this dominant relationship of philosophy
over and above ecology, be it via ethics and aesthetics or metaphysics, in order to
return for the first time to ecology and ask how it challenges the practice of
philosophy in philosophy’s own attempts to think the ethics and metaphysics of
3 Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy, trans. Catherine
Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004) is a popular example of this tendency. Michael
Lewis’ Heidegger Beyond Deconstruction: On Nature (London and New York: Continuum, 2007) is
also a good example of this tendency, though without the desire to erase the word nature from our
lexicon, as he creatively recasts Heidegger’s ontological investigations to deal with the question of
nature.
4 Iain Hamilton Grant’s work is at the forefront of this exciting reclamation of philosophy of nature.
See Iain Hamilton Grant, “The ‘Eternal and Necessary Bond between Philosophy and Physics’: A
Repetition of the Difference between the Fichtean and Schellingian Systems of Philosophy” in
Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 10:1 (April 2005), pp. 43-59 and Iain Hamilton Grant,
Philosophies of Nature after Schelling (London and New York: Continuum, 2006).
2
ecology. I am not offering a final criticism of these modes of philosophy and ecology,
such a criticism is not even possible from the perspective of non-philosophy, but
instead aim to create a democracy (of) thought between scientific ecology and
philosophy. More explicitly, this paper is the beginning of an attempt to cast ecology
as a non-philosophical practice that allows us to read and practice philosophy under
the auspices of a transcendental ecology analogous to Gilles Deleuze’s transcendental
empiricism or François Laruelle’s transcendental axiomatics. Note that this is only a
claim about changing the way we practice philosophy via non-philosophy and makes
no pretense of heralding in some new philosophy that can finally answer everything;
the message of this paper is not that ontology is ecological or that epistemological
questions are answered through ecological science. Rather transcendental ecology, as
developed in this paper, is a method of reading the philosophical history underling
environmental thinking and the beginning of a non-philosophical practice of thinking
the questions of nature and ecosystem outside of philosophy’s self-sufficiency in
matters of ecological metaphysics and ethics.
This paper opens that attempt by introducing the history of non-philosophy as
it has developed through François Laruelle’s work. This section will necessarily be
dense, as it condenses 30 years of work into a few paragraphs, and many will no
likely feel immediate resistance to both Laruelle’s criticism of philosophy in general
and the way he goes about his own conception of non-philosophy.5 This resistance
owes, in great deal, to what may initially appear to be an incredible amount of jargon
and obsessive focus on syntax. I make no attempt to defend Laruelle here in the
abstract, though of course I find his work not to be merely another instance of trendy
jargon but rather an attempt to think differently, and instead present the material of
non-philosophy as offensively dense as I find it. This is done, however, with the clear
purpose of showing how it opens a path towards the unified theory of philosophy and
ecology through the discovery of a transcendental (to philosophy) reading of
philosophy via ecological principles. I only note, for the sake of the reader’s sanity,
that Laruelle expects philosophical resistance to non-philosophy and has intentionally
written it as a kind of stumbling block to philosophers of Alterity and foolishness to
philosophers of Being; Being and Alterity forming philosophy’s twin obsessions.6
5 There is of course a history of “non-philosophy” in both the German and French traditions. These are
usually identified by philosophers, whereas Laruelle aims to unbind non-philosophy and practice it
from within rather than as a philosopher. See his remarks comparing the non-philosophy identified by
Deleuze and Guattari in their What is Philosophy to his own practice of non-philosophy in François
Laruelle, “Response to Deleuze”, Pli 20 (2009), pp. [Need page numbers].
6 The allusion is, of course, to St Paul’s statement “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to
the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles [Greeks]” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NSRV). Laruelle’s reference here is
to the Greek and Jewish lines of thought that have largely determined the course of Western
3
The best way to read Laruelle is not to ask what a particular concept of his means,
often the philosophical path enclosed within the circle of meaning, but what it does,
even though it may at first seem difficult to work with, and from there to test its
worthiness. This is what I propose to do in the third section of the paper where I
consider philosophy in the light of scientific ecology’s concept of the ecosystem and
develop a transcendental ecology for the reading of philosophy. Through a short
discussion of the ideology of contemporary environmentalism via Heidegger’s
analysis of “ready-to-hand” I explain how ecology can be made what Laruelle calls a
Stranger for thought. To close, we discuss what a unified theory of philosophy and
ecology is for and why a transcendental ecology is a first step towards a more
developed unified theory of philosophy and ecology.

II. History of Non-Philosophy: From Philosophy I to Philosophy IV


The name “non-philosophy” comes from the work of François Laruelle whose
project was described by Deleuze and Guattari as “one of the most interesting
undertakings of contemporary philosophy.”7 This assessment is finally starting to be
shared by those outside of the Francophone world and works are beginning to be
translated. While this essay does not aim to introduce Laruelle’s work, it is largely an
attempt to think about ecology and philosophy through a non-philosophical method.
So it is important to spend some time introducing those aspects of non-philosophy
being deployed and making them intelligible by setting them within the context of
Laruelle’s project as a whole.8

philosophy. In many ways Philosophy II and III (these stages of non-philosophy are explained below)
begins by working with these twin lines of thought, which in his view both propose a unitary thinking
of the Real. This does not mean, however, that Laruelle valorizes some Christian synthesis of the two
lines of thought which would simply be another unitary thinking of the Real and so in his Philosophy
IV he undertakes a non-philosophical working with Christianity. For Laruelle’s characterization of
philosophy as Greek and Jewish see François Laruelle, Philosophie et non-philosophie
(Liège/Bruxelles: Mardaga, 1989), p. 212. For his critique of Christianity and subsequent non-
philosophical mutation of see Le Christ futur. Une leçon d’hérèsie (Paris: Exils Èditeur, 2002).
7 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 220, footnote 5.
8 For those interested in more sustained introductions to Laruelle’s philosophy they may begin with
François Laruelle, “What Can Non-Philosophy Do?”, trans. Ray Brassier, Angelaki: Journal of the
Theoretical Humanities, 8, no. 1 (2003): 169-90. Also his soon to be translated into English
Philosophie et non-philosophie (Liège/Bruxelles: Mardaga, 1989) and, perhaps most importantly,
Princpes de la non-philosophie (Paris: PUF, 1995). For introductory secondary works in English
consult Ray Brassier, “Axiomatic Heresy: The Non-Philosophy of François Laruelle,” Radical
Philosophy 121 (September/October 2003): 24-35 and John Mullarkey, “From Philosophy to Non-
Philosophy,” in Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline (London and New York: Continuum Press,
2006). For a critical evaluation of Laruelle’s non-philosophy see Ray Brassier, “Being Nothing,” in
Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Bakingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). There are
also a number of draft translations via the blog Speculative Heresy available online at:
<http://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/translations/> and
<http://speculativeheresy.wordpress.com/resources/>.
4
Laruelle’s work is striking in the breadth of interests present as well as in the
audacity and abstract complexity that characterizes his project.9 One of the easier
ways to begin understanding Laruelle’s non-philosophy is through the history
Laruelle himself presents in his Principes de la non-philosophie rather than
attempting in a short space to detangle all the abstractions in his work. In his history
he details the impetus of his work, which he calls Philosophy I, through its
developments in Philosophy II and III. I will end the short history by providing my
own reading of the shape of the current phase, Philosophy IV, which Laruelle began
after publishing Principes de la non-philosophie. In this way we begin to see how
non-philosophy is practiced, rather than what it means and in that way can begin to
practice it ourselves without concern for the authority of the master. For Laruelle
presents non-philosophy as something that should be practiced autonomously, rather
than written about as if non-philosophy offered us the new true path. Indeed, he has
constructed his non-philosophy in such a way that is rather difficult to write about it
without thereby practicing it.
In Principes de la non-philosophie Laruelle locates three distinct periods of
non-philosophy, Philosophy I-III, that he thinks responds to the triadic structure of
philosophy itself (understood by Laruelle to find its essence in the philosophical
decision).10 In his own estimation the work of non-philosophy, where philosophy is
finally taken as a simple material that one can work with, does not truly begin until
Philosophy III. Philosophy I is characterized, by what may be described in a
Deleuzian way, as Laruelle’s apprenticeship in philosophy. During this period he
wrote highly original, critical and subversive secondary works on the history of
philosophy; specifically a work on the neglected spiritualist Félix Ravaisson, works
on deconstruction, and on the philosophy of Nietzsche over and against that of
Heidegger. In his own words this period should be understood to have “placed itself
under the authority of the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy”.11 He continues on to
say, that at this stage he
“already tried to bring out certain themes that would not find their definitive
form, a transformed form, until Philosophy III: the individual, its identity and
9 Perhaps the lack of English translations of Laruelle’s work is to be blamed on that audacity and
abstract complexity, though this is beginning to change as three major works of Laruelle are
forthcoming soon, likely in mid-to-late 2010, with more undoubtedly to follow. Future Christ: A
Lesson in Heresy, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (London and New York: Continuum, Forthcoming);
Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle (London
and New York: Continuum, Forthcoming); and Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, trans. Taylor Adkins
(Melbourne: Re:Press, Forthcoming).
10 Laruelle, Principes de la non-philosophie, pp. 38-9.
11 Laruelle, p. 39. Unless noted otherwise all translations are my own.
5
multiplicity, an experience that was transcendental and productive of thought,
the theoretical domination of philosophy, the attempt to construct a rival
problematic to that of Marx, but mostly on the terrain of Nietzsche and
through Nietzschean ways.”12
While the work here prefigured in an indefinite form the problems that Laruelle
continued to consider well into Philosophy III, it’s true addition to the project of non-
philosophy was the discovery of the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy. According to
Laruelle the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy can best be understood as a largely
unacknowledged pretension found in all philosophical endeavors declaring that
everything is philosophizable. In the end this faith in the sufficiency of philosophy
masks a correlation between philosophy and the appearance of the Real found in the
various regional knowledges philosophy is dependent upon (science, art, politics,
psychoanalysis, etc.) and allows the philosopher to confuse the philosophy-of-X with
X itself. That is philosophy comes to be confused with the Real itself, rather than
seeing that the X of philosophy-of-X is actually a reflection of itself. Laruelle puts it
this way:
“If noesis and noema are not solely the extract of philosophy, but of the
philosophy-of-X, then they are not taken from X as it gives itself “in itself”
but more “in philosophy”. The noetico-nomatic relation thus associates and
distinguishes, not philosophy and X, nor philosophy and the philosophy-of-X,
but the non-philosophical extracts, noetic and noematic, of philosophy-of-
X.”13
Philosophy II marks Laruelle’s break with thinking under the conditions of
this philosophical (self-)sufficiency, but that break is, he tells us, “more than a break
or than a new primary decision, it is the subordination of the non-philosophical
decision to its immanent cause, the vision-in-One”.14 There are two terms that need
explication here: the philosophical decision that always remains outside of what
philosophy can think (hence why it is called non-philosophical) and vision-in-One. In
his Les Philosophies de la difference, one of the main texts of Philosophy II, Laruelle
develops his first theory of the philosophical decision that is then developed more
rigorously in Principes.15 In sum, the philosophical decision reiterates the structure of
12 Ibid.
13 Laruelle, p. 309. I’m indebted to Rocco Gangle’s unpublished paper “Abstract Materials: Adorno’s
Aesthetics after Laruelle” for bringing my attention to this passage.
14 Ibid.
15 See Laruelle, “Théorie de la Décision philosophique” in Les Philosophies de la difference.
Introduction Critique (Paris: PUF, 1986) and his “Analytique de la Décision philosophique” in
Principes, pp. 281-304.
6
Kant’s transcendental deduction and can be found, according to Laruelle, as an
invariant structure to all philosophical endeavors. Whereas his own non-philosophy
attempts to think from the vision-in-One or what he also calls “radical immanence”
that conjoins what other philosophies call immanence, transcendence and the
transcendental, the philosophical decision is simply a dyad between immanence and
transcendence where, as Ray Brassier explains it, “immanence features twice, its
internal structure subdivided between and empirical and a transcendental function.”16
In condensed terms, philosophy breaks up immanence through positing some
empirical datum separate from the transcendence of its a priori factum (otherwise
understood as the fact of giveneness of something apart from its empirical appearing)
that must then be brought back together through some third transcendental thing (the
ego, certain conceptions of immanence, experience, etc.).17 In slightly more accessible
terms Laruelle tells us in his Dictionnaire de la non-philosophie that, “The
philosophical decision is an operation of transcendence that believes (in a naïve and
hallucinatory way) in the possibility of a unitary discourse of the Real.”18
In order to overcome the narcissism that arises out of the hallucinatory
splitting of immanence Laruelle situates the philosophical decision in its immanent
cause – the vision-in-One. The vision-in-One is equivalent to the Real, meaning that
when one thinks from (rather than about) the Real then one is thinking from the
vision-in-One as radical immanence. Laruelle appears to be intentionally obscure
about what the One is because non-philosophy aims to renounce the philosophical
desire-for-the-One or the thought-of-the-One that always subordinates the One to
Being.19 One can, however, come to know from-the-One when one begins to realize
that all discourses persist through the vision-in-One, but do not in themselves
constitute the discourse on the One. The One is radical immanence itself and thus the
vision-in-One is immanent to the One itself. Thus Philosophy II was founded on two
complimentary axioms: “1) The One is vision immanent in-One. 2) There is a special
affinity between the vision-in-One and the phenomenal experience of ‘scientific
thought’”.20

16 Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p. 123.


17 Ibid.
18 François Laruelle et collaboratuers, Dictionnaire de la non-philosophie (Paris: Éditions Kimé,
1998), p. 40. See also Taylor Adkins draft translation of this passage and the rest of the Dictionnaire
available online: <http://nsrnicek.googlepages.com/DictionaryNonPhilosophy.pdf>. My own
translation is modified from that of Adkins.
19 See the entry “Vision-en-Un (Un, Un-en-Un, Réel)” in Laruelle, Dictionnaire, pp. 202-05.
20 Laruelle, Principes, p. 39.
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The shift from Philosophy II to III is subtler than the one that marks the move
from Philosophy I to II. Laruelle came to regard the second axiom of Philosophy II,
which stated that scientific thought had some privilege in thinking the Real via an
affinity with the vision-in-One, as a reversal of the reigning post-Kantian epistemico-
logical hierarchy. This reversal ultimately constituted a “ruse of philosophy” that
allowed it to refuse “to surrender to the real”.21 Philosophy III begins with the
suspension of this second axiom of Philosophy II in order to begin thinking from the
radical autonomy of the Real – not as a reversal of Philosophy II’s valorization of
science, but in order to free the Real from all authority, even that of science. Laruelle
summarizes the history up to this point writing,
“If Philosophy I is intra-philosophical and if Philosophy II marked the
discovery of the non-philosophical against philosophy and to the benefit of
science, Philosophy III frees itself of the authority of science, in actuality from
every hierarchical philosophical spirit, and takes as object the whole of
philosophical sufficiency. It corresponds thus paradoxically to the self-
affirmation of philosophy, but “negatively” or finally for the suspension of it
over all.”22
Philosophy III is then the proper start of non-philosophy nearly freed from the vicious
circle of the philosophical decision. It has two major concepts that arise from the
axiomatic suspension of Philosophy II’s second axiom: force (of) thought and unified
theory.23 It is from these two concepts that the positive project begins as differentiated
from its negative and critical forms found in Philosophy I and II.
The concept of force (of) thought is complex, but some understanding can be
had if one understands its more prevalent philosophical precursor found in the
Marxist conception of labour power. According to the Marxist ontology labour power
constitutes the movement of historical materialism and labour power in itself is not
reducible to a worker’s functions or output. In capitalism this labour power is
alienated from the worker by his creation of a product that is then given a value
outside of the product itself as crystallized in the form of money. The force (of)
thought is similar in that it is the organon or means though which the Real possess a

21 Ibid.
22 Laruelle, p. 40.
23 Laruelle, pp. 40-1. I read the parentheses framing the “of” to suggest that this is a unified
relationship between force and thought rather than one being primary over the other. Thus the
substantial meaning of the “of” is suspended. In my own creation of the population (of) thought and
ecosystem (of) thought I make use of this parenthetical, recognizing as I do so that it can appear
distracting and pretentious. I can only ask the reader’s charity in reading it as a technical use of syntax
that indicates this suspension.
8
causality of the One which avoids alienating itself in its material. That is because the
force (of) thought is a clone of the One, rather than its production or reproduction into
some material form proper to it. In this way it is productive of thought in a circular
manner, but in such a way that it contains the essence of the Real without adding or
subtracting anything to it.24 What is most important about the force (of) thought is its
alien status. The force (of) thought appears as an alien or Stranger from outside of the
philosophical situation, that is to say from outside of the structure determined by the
philosophical decision, and in so doing provides an occasional solution to certain
problems in philosophy. In short the force (of) thought is, as Laruelle says, “the first
possible experience of thought”.25
Finally, there is the concept of unified theory. By that Laruelle means a
unified theory of science and philosophy, of ethics and philosophy, of psychoanalysis
and philosophy, of religion and philosophy, etc:
“The unified theory substitutes for the affinity of science and the One, the
unilateral equality of philosophy and science, of philosophy and art, of ethics,
etc., in the eyes of the One and introduces the democratic motif into the same
thought rather than as simple object of thought.”26
The democracy (of) thought is ultimately an axiom and not a conclusion. One must
begin as if a unified thinking of X and philosophies were equal in the sight of the One
in order to attempt and think outside the problems inherent to philosophy due to its
enclosure in the structure of the philosophical decision. By treating thought as if it
were democratic, rather than a thought of democracy, one begins to truly think from
the One, as the One is itself outside of any unitary discourse and is instead the
universal discourse found in regional discourses.
With the publication of Le Christ futur. Une leçon d’hérèsie Laruelle
inaugurated a new stage of non-philosophy, Philosophy IV. It is here that Laruelle
appears to have finally escaped from the self-sufficiency of philosophy present even
in Philosophy III’s constant reference to precursors in metaphysical systems like
Cartesianism and Marxism. With Philosophy IV Laruelle has begun to produce a
whole host of new concepts from the vision-in-One (keeping in mind that this is an
equivalent term to the Real and the One itself) alongside religion, ethics, aesthetics
and a “generic view” of science (meaning Laruelle rarely interacts in a sustained
manner with specific sciences, though he seems to privilege quantum physics). While

24 See the entry “Force (de) pensée (sujet-existant-Étranger) in Laruelle, Dictionnaire, pp. 76-79.
25 Laruelle, p. 77.
26 Laruelle, Principes, p. 41.
9
the entire project of non-philosophy is in itself interesting, and can be highly
productive of thought outside of Laruelle’s corpus as witnessed to by the work being
carried out in wildly different ways under the banner of non-philosophy, it is in
Philosophy IV that the true worth for thinking from the Real becomes apparent.27 The
project of a transcendental ecology, which is really an attempt to think differently
about environmental problems in the light of both ecology and philosophy rather than
to repeat unconsciously the same philosophical problematics alongside of ecology,
would not be worth engaging in if it was merely a polemic against environmental
ethics, environmental aesthetics or the other already existing philosophical
engagements with ecology. Rather, it is a development of these ways of thinking with
complete disinterest in their authority, treating them as Strangers who provide the
force (of) thought from which we can begin to consider the Real that faces us in the
environmental crisis. It is under the sign of this final stage of non-philosophy that we
now turn to the question of ecology and philosophy in order to change the practice of
philosophy itself, to produce thought that is ethical and democratic in itself by treating
it as if it were ecological.

III. The Equality of Ecology and Philosophy in the Eyes of the One: The
Ecosystem (of) Thought
The Amphibology of the Capitalist and the Environmentalist
This short history shows the complex abstractions that characterize the
practice of non-philosophy. In many ways it seems hopelessly indecipherable,
especially in a philosophical register, and that is precisely the point for Laruelle.
Rather than thinking about the Real, which Laruelle thinks characterizes all
philosophical attempts at unitary thought (as opposed to unified thought), non-
philosophy thinks from the Real about philosophy. Thus the very concerns of
philosophy (Being, the subject, epistemology, etc.) are all taken as seen in the vision-
in-One. Laruelle refers to this immediate gnosis in his concept of the force (of)
thought. Already we have seen that the force (of) thought names the first possible
experience of thought. While examples, especially via phenomenology, are
uncommon to Laruelle (perhaps even anathema), I am going to practice a little non-
philosophical heresy of my own and invite the reader to think of their first experience
with thought. When you bring the experience to mind bracket whatever object was
first being thought about and instead focus on the experience of the thought itself. In
27 For other works in non-philosophy outside of Laruelle’s development see the bibliography of the
other members of l’Organisation Non-philosophique Internationale. Available online:
<http://www.onphi.net/biblio/auteurs.php>.
10
that moment, I think the reader will find, they experienced gnosis, a kind of
“unlearned knowledge” (savoir indocte).28 In that moment you see the One as Real
Identity – as something real in itself – and though there may remain confusion about
what the One is, you begin thinking from there. The adventure of thought often ends
in failure as thought comes up against its limits and perpetuates illusions, but that
force (of) thought remains – it continues to have happened. In other words, this first
possible experience of thought is always an experience with a Stranger.
But how can ecology be a Stranger to our thought now? How can ecology be
an occasion for any force (of) thought? These are important questions now when the
response to the environmental crisis arises determined from within the situation of
capitalism. We are given options to buy “green” products, encouraged to exercise our
consumer choices responsibly, to participate as citizens in recycling programs, to
constantly consider whether our individual actions are green. This becomes a certain
kind of environmental moralism that privileges those in the middle and upper classes
who can afford to buy organic food or pay for carbon offsets, those secular
indulgences, and thereby fit the picture of a respectable and conscientious green
individual. It is clear that this capitalist response to the environmental crisis is not
enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change and offers us no way of
thinking differently in order to avoid perpetuating destructive ways of living. The
political and social response to the environmental crisis is doomed if it perpetuates a
thinking based on individual responsibility and corporatist-individual action. All of
such green-washing happens as an instance of another marketing strategy, another
ideology created to sell a product, and it serves more the reigning ideology of
capitalism, with capitalism’s theological undertones of individual responsibility
before the god of money as that which promises the future, rather than any kind of
actual response to the crisis.29 This green-washing has made ecology anything but a
Stranger to thought.
Yet, it would be a mistake to blame this all on capitalism as if capitalism itself
were an alien force of which we were simply victims rather than accomplices.
Without being simply reducible to a matter of unacknowledged habits in our thinking,
there remains, as part of the problem, something about the way we think that allows
for capitalism to perpetuate its ideology even amongst individuals who may in general

28 This “unlearned knowledge” is opposed to Nicholas of Cusa’a learned ignorance, which remains
too philosophically determined (that is it remains under the philosophical illusion of transcendence).
See Laruelle, Le Christ futur, p. 29.
29 I am following Philip Goodchild’s analysis of money found in Philip Goodchild, Theology of
Money (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).
11
distrust capitalism as such, and I am thinking of those who, on a personal level, care
very deeply about the environment and our relationship to it. What is the
amphibology between the capitalist who perceives an infinite availability of resources
from the environment and the everyday environmentalist who recognizes the limits of
the environment?
Heidegger’s analysis of the environment in Being and Time is common to the
analysis of the environment of both the capitalist and the environmentalist. This
analysis contains one of Heidegger’s more well-known concepts, that of the
environment presenting itself as ready-to-hand in the everydayness of our living. 30 Let
us look at Heidegger’s words here where he marks his own foray into the philosophy
of nature that then became the basis for much of Continentalist environmental
philosophy:
‘In equipment that is used, “Nature” is discovered along with it by that use –
the “Nature” we find in natural products. Here, however, “Nature” is not to be
understood as that which is just present-at-hand, nor as the power of Nature.
The wood is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock; the river is
water-power, the wind is “wind in the sails”. As the “environment” is
discovered, the “Nature” thus discovered is encountered to.’31
Following Heidegger’s analysis of being we are led to the conclusion that the
ontological dyad of environment and nature is dependent upon a correlation between
the two held together in a unity encountered only through our own anthropic
teleology. The amphibology between the capitalist and the environmentalist is then
that the environment presents itself, no longer so readily-to-hand, but conspicuously
as an “equipmental Thing”. This thingness of the environment is presented as such
because it presents itself to us as reserve or in need of repair.32 So, for both the
capitalist and the environmentalist the dyad of environment/nature is presented in
need of repair, for contrary reasons of course, but nevertheless it is a thing for both.
Heidegger’s analysis begins to break down in our historical situation, though, because
the breaking down of the environment is no longer taken as “strange” but rather as the
new normal, the new everyday situation of the environment because of the way it is
appropriated into a common theme of “in need of repair” that characterizes our
thinking of crises.

30 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1962), pp. 98-102.
31 Heidegger, p. 100.
32 See Heidegger, pp. 102-103.
12
In order for ecology to become a force (of) thought that will lead to a unified
theory of philosophy and ecology it must be suspended from its philosophical form as
political ecology and considered from its scientific form. The main concept of
scientific ecology, the one that axiomatically grounds the entire practice of ecology, is
the ecosystem concept. By releasing what we think ecology is from its representation
in environmental philosophy and considering it in its scientific form we can make
ecology a Stranger, that is a force (of) thought, and thereby begin to see philosophy as
if it were an ecosystem itself.

Ecosystem Concept and Elements of the Transcendental Ecology


The ecosystem concept is the axiomatic concept from which the main strand
of ecology (called ecosystem ecology and differentiated from population ecology or
the study of individual species relationship with their environment) undertakes all its
research.33 In this section I provide a description of the ecosystem as scientific
ecology gives it to us and clone it again within the discourse of thought; that is within
the practice of philosophy. Yet, before we begin that task, it is important to note that it
would be an error to attempt and develop any unified theory of philosophy and
ecology under the impression that ecology has given us a final understanding of the
ecosystem (an error extended to “science” as such which haunted Laruelle’s
Philosophy II). Rather, the ecosystem concept arose out A.G. Tansley’s unification in
1935 of two rival schools of thought in early ecological studies. This debate was held
between organicists, primarily coming out of the work of F.E. Clements, and
individualist reactions against organicism, primarily coming out of the work of Henry
Gleason. In Clements view the ecosystem, which he named “biome”, was like a single
organism where all the parts worked towards the health of the whole. Whereas
Gleason rejected this organic view of nature and instead proposed that natural
communities of plants are simply a random grouping individual species that existed in

33 Readers unfamiliar with ecology may, at this point, be wondering what exactly is an ecosystem?
Where are they located and what do they do? To start off with, you exist within an ecosystem. One
might expect the statement to read something akin to, “When you step outside you step into an
ecosystem.” Except saying “outside” already perpetuates the fantasy that there is some outside to
ecosystems human beings can begin with. The reality is that there are corridors, called ecotones, from
one to the other, but there is no space on the planet Earth that is free from an ecosystem. The reality is
that when you are inside your house you are inside an ecosystem. When you are on the city street you
are in an ecosystem just as much as when you are in the forest or any green clearing outside our cities
and villages. There are small ecosystems, including (though it would be strange to study it as such)
your own body, and there are large ecosystems, the largest of which is the Earth itself called the
biosphere. This conception of the Earth as the largest example of an ecosystem may change in the
future if humanity extends beyond the Earth. In fact one can already see that there is a kind of cosmic
element to ecology in so far as the spatial environment is effected by other bodies in space and
dependent upon energy from the sun.
13
that place because of the possibility of satisfying their needs. Tansley rejected the
organicism of Clements, but could not follow the coincidentalism of Gleason that
constituted a decisive critique of Clements views but did not provide any satisfactory
understanding of the relation between plant communities. Thus, in a highly non-
philosophical way, Tansley forged a new theory from the dyad of holisitic organic
community and individualistic coincidental community.34
There have been, as detailed somewhat below, changes to the concept of
ecosystem as the science of ecology has developed and responded to challenges.
However, one can work with an axiomatic definition which states that the ecosystem
is a physically locatable and quantifiable community formed by a system of energy
exchange between the living, the dead, and the never-living where, when energy
animates the system, there is an exchange of energy-material between the living and
the dead.35 This definition of ecosystem is preferable to Tansley’s original definition
for two reasons: first, against the puerile mechanism of the early 20th Century it forges
a non-vitalist and non-mechanist axiom of ecology that frees the ecosystem concept
from vitalist and mechanistic philosophical determination and second, it frees the
ecosystem concept from Tansley’s representationalism. We use the term non-vitalist
and non-mechanist in a similar manner that Laruelle uses non-philosophy, which is to
say that the axiomatic definition refuses the sufficiency of organic/vitalist and
mechanistic philosophies for ecology, and rather mutates the concept of vitalism to
include within the ecological community both the dead and the never-living as well as
the concept of mechanism in light of the advanced view of machines and the advent
of the computer.36 With regards to the second point, Tansley himself considered the
ecosystem a mental representation imposed on physical environments by the ecologist
whereas the actual environment was a whole arising out of the prevailing relations.
Lévêque explains it this way, “[The ecosystem] is thus an abstract reality formed
mainly from elements that are themselves concrete.”37 Yet ecologists came to see that,
by using the ecosystem concept as a way of organizing research and thereby
advancing their methods, they could find concrete objects able to be identified in
34 For the full history of the development of the ecosystem concept see Christian Lévêque, Ecology:
From Ecosystem to Biosphere (Plymouth, UK: Science Publisher, Inc.), pp. 15-35.
35 This understanding of ecosystem is faithful to the mature formulation by A.G. Tansley in 1935. See
A.G. Tansley, "The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms," Ecology 16.3 (1935): pp.
299-303. See also Lévêque pp. 25-27. I am deeply indebted to my colleague and friend Prof. Liam
Heneghan of DePaul University’s Institute for Nature and Culture for the notion of the “never-living”
and his help in understanding the concept of ecosystem more fully.
36 For a contemporary and popular attempt to navigate ecology between organicism and mechanism
see Daniel B. Botkin, Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1990).
37 Lévêque, p. 27.
14
spatial terms that corresponded to the way the theoretical concept of an ecosystem
worked. In other words, the ecosystem concept exists in both theory and as natural
object and not as just mentally constructed. In the terms of non-philosophy the
ecosystem is an instance of the One and it is the Real Identity of what we call nature;
it is the scientific cloning of the One that describes its reality without representation
or capture.

Philosophy as Ecosystem
While the ecosystem concept has been around since 1935, and responded in
many ways to the philosophical overdetermination of ecology in the form of two rival
accounts of the world (organicism and mechanism), it has had little impact on the
considerations of philosophy itself. Yet, there is way of seeing the practice of
philosophy ecologically via the ecosystem concept in its different articulations as
distinct and real ecosystems (of) thought. Such a view looks to the ecosystem concept
and clones it for philosophy and we have named this transcendental ecology. There
are five main elements that are important for our explication of transcendental
ecology: Populations, or the diversity of species that populate the ecosystem
(biodiversity); ecological niches, which both allow for the stability of ecosystems as
well as the possibility of change; the never-living space and temporality of the
environment; the external energy relations of exchange that arise out of the
populations interaction with one another; and, finally, the ecological understanding of
resilience of populations and ultimately the particular ecosystem itself.38
To truly bear this out one would need a practical working with these abstract
concepts via some philosophical material. For example, one could read the works of
Aquinas and Spinoza on nature via a transcendental ecology in order to break from
Thomistic and Spinozist dogmatics and recast thinking of nature from the One.
However, in the space of one article this working out is not possible, and instead we
must limit ourselves to an abstract description of this transcendental ecology to give a
sense of the project rather than a case-study using it, though we will give some short
examples relating to Aquinas. It is here that we begin to ask questions from the
perspective of transcendental ecology, rather than creating yet another philosophical
error in asserting that a transcendental ecology is the unitary discourse on philosophy.
38 On populations, biodiversity, and ecological niches see Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life
(London and New York: Penguin Books, 2001). On the spatial and temporal elements of the ecosystem
see Lévêque, “Spatial and Temporal scales and their Consequences”, pp. 145-173. On energy exchange
and flows see Lévêque, “Part III: Functioning of Ecosystems”, pp. 201-352. On resilience see Brian
Walker and David Salt, Resilience Thinking, Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World
(London and Washington: Island Press, 2006).
15
Rather, a transcendental ecology allows us to treat thought ecologically, in that way
attuning ourselves to the reality of ecology and its problems, rather than proposing to
answer ecology’s problems from the perspective of philosophy. The attempt here is
the beginning of thinking differently than either pure philosophy or pure ecology
offer; the task is to think a unified theory of ecology and philosophy via the concept
of ecosystem.
Rather than treating the works of philosophers as if they were words from an
oracle, one treats them as if their philosophy were an ecosystem. This is not an
extended hermeneutic metaphor. Philosophy, nested within a whole host of systems,
is actually ecological and within a unified theory of ecology and philosophy it is
considered from that aspect. It may seem a strange statement, but it is made on the
basis of the existence of philosophy in real ecosystems on the Earth that determine
their material reality. Thus one cannot see it as a metaphor if by that one means
something outside but like an ecosystem, for the metaphor too depends on the
ecosystem for its existence. One may name this the materialist element of
transcendental ecology, but only if what the material is remains open to revision.39
Amongst philosophical work there are populations that interact with one another (to
name two dominant populations (of) thought, Being and Alterity) in a way that either
creates a healthy ecosystem (of) thought, called biodiversity in ecology, or where a
dominant species degrades the health of the ecosystem by destroying the niches
allowed other populations. Laruelle’s non-philosophy claims that philosophy always
creates a unilateral duality, or a duality that is ultimately united in the form of a
philosophical decision, but a philosophical work demands more than this simply
unilateral duality in order to operate. There are other populations (of) thought that
both support this duality of dominant species and that populate the philosophical field
as the duality itself has needs that allow for the formation of niches within the
ecosystem (of) thought. Thus there is no account in Heidegger of Being without a
39 Some readers may question why we have chosen ecology rather than a closely related discipline
like systems theory. A non-philosophical response to this concern must proceed along two line, each a
mix of theory and practice. First, there is an implicit material relativism at work in non-philosophy
such that it does not cast judgment on the material it takes up in its creation of any unified theory. One
could create a unified theory of philosophy and systems theory along non-philosophical lines and the
end result may share much in common with a unified theory of philosophy and ecology. Second, we
have chosen ecology as material because it is the science of ecosystems and thus of the organization
and functioning of nature in its living, dead, and never-living forms. In that way it is more attentive to
the question of environmental thought and ethics than systems theory. Or, in other words, its material
fits better with the theoretical task of challenging philosophy’s modes of thinking nature
(environmental philosophy, philosophy of nature, environmental aesthetics, etc.) than systems theory
would. It directs our attention to the ecosystem, always actual and “embodied”, rather than to the
abstract nature of systems as such. But the difference is ultimately one of attention (to ecosystems)
rather than principles or claims to sufficiency.

16
whole host of other populations (of) thought that in turn affect that account within the
unified ecosystem (of) thought. Or, to use another example, there is no thought of
God in Aquinas without other populations (of) thought such as causality and Church
doctrine. How though do these populations interact with one another and what
population can be removed from an ecosystem (of) thought while remaining its
particular vitality when proposed in a different ecosystem (of) thought? With regard
to Aquinas, one can locate in the authority of Christian doctrine a dominant species
that chocks out other species of thought and other niches for those species. When one
suspends the authority of Christian doctrine from his thought it may open up to a
notion of analogy that is more fluid and able to say something about nature as such,
rather than to unsay something about God. Specifically, the absence or super-presence
of God in analogical thought shows the need for selecting some aspect of nature in
order to think divinity. One can’t think an aspect of nature, as Aquinas was forced to
do in attempting to account for the monarchy of God, but must think from the diverse
Oneness of Nature as such.
Every philosophy is built upon some never-living element that in ecology
forms the inorganic spatial and temporal element of the ecosystem. Often philosophy,
especially philosophy of nature, focuses on this never-living element confusing it with
transcendence or some transcendent element of things in the world. One thinks of the
place accorded to logic or time in philosophical investigations where these aspects
tend to be seen as dominant over above the unified aspect of its interactions with the
living and the dead. However, a transcendental ecology allows us to see these
elements as what they are – elements within a wider system of thought. They are of
course necessary for the entire working of the system itself, but their overall shape
also comes to be changed by the overall working of the system itself. There is no
dominant relationship here, but only a unified working of the system as such. This is
true also of philosophy and can be shown if we consider Deleuze’s conception of
immanence. On the surface Deleuze’s pure immanence appears to be a variant of
Anglo-American naturalism, or the idea that all transcendental and eternal ideas of
reality should be rejected in favor of taking things as merely given, valueless things.
However, this is in itself a kind of transcendent idea concerning value. Deleuze’s
attempt to create a philosophy of immanence locates this issue, albeit not completely,
and shows that immanence is never merely given but is produced.40 These sorts of
40 On this see Daniel Colucciello Barber, The Production of Immanence: Deleuze, Yoder, and
Adorno (PhD Dissertation, Duke University) and my own essay, which builds upon Barber’s work to
describe Deleuze and Guattari’s ecological philosophy of nature, “Believing in this World for the
Making of Gods: On the Ecology of the Virtual and the Actual” in SubStance (Forthcoming).
17
never-living aspects must change their spatial and temporal configurations in response
to the energy exchange of the living and the dead that plays out across them and in
response to collisions with other never-living elements. Whatever is taken as
transcendent and a condition of thought in a philosophical ecosystem (of) thought is
always changed in the unified working of the ecosystem itself. A difficulty remaining
for a transcendental ecology is separating the populations that inhabit this never-living
space and time and the never-living element of the populations. The way being
appears in different philosophies will differ, being in one a population and the other
an instance of the never-living. This example holds for Deleuze, but teasing out this
difference will vary from philosophy to philosophy and will depend upon the way the
elements of each ecosystem (of) thought are discovered through a transcendental
ecology rather than some illusory transcendental essence of the never-living.
After the work of Deleuze and Guattari many will already accept that every
philosophy also generates its own form of energy flow. What a transcendental
ecology does is begin to think about those energy flows more intentionally in
philosophy by locating them between living thoughts and those that die on the page of
philosophical treatises. Simply stated no philosopher’s thoughts live on the page.
Rather these dead thoughts are reserves of energy that can be consumed and thereby
exchanged with living thoughts. The ecological definition of energy is “the ability to
do work” and a dead thought is by its very disembodied existence unable to do
work.41 Work can only be done when the energy present in the dead thought is
realized in some new thought. In this way a particular population (of) thought may
perpetuate itself, so that when Thomists or Hegelians produce work on Aquinas or
Hegel they are perpetuating certain ecosystems (of) thought, but a different
population (of) thought, one even antagonistic, can also feed upon the dead thought
and produce work from it that is creative within a different and possibly new
ecosystem (of) thought outside of a Thomist or Hegelian ecosystem. A transcendental
ecology, taking these aspects of flows as given, can begin to think about the energy
exchange in a managerial manner. What dead elements of past philosophies are the
most productive for new and necessary ecosystems within a unified theory of
philosophy and ecology? To continue the Aquinas example from above, after
removing the Church doctrine population (of) thought, we may then work with the
consequences of Thomist analogy without the goal of a negative theology protecting
the essence of God (and thus the essence of Church sovereignty). By suspending its
self-proclaimed sufficiency and its claim to think God negatively, it becomes simply
41 Lévêque, p. 29.
18
an aspect of natural thought. Within the context of ecosystem science we can now
think the unilateral relation of the biosphere to local ecosystems. No longer a negative
theology of God, but a positive ecology of thought that determines any ethical
considerations from the aspect of a global situation, which always means thinking
from the perspective of minorities.
Finally, we must begin to think about the resilience of philosophical
ecosystems (of) thought. Walker and Salt give a very simple definition of resilience as
“the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and
structure.”42 Why is it, that by the standards of radical philosophy, the worst
philosophies are the most resilient in thought? Philosophies, like individualism, that
undergird so many of the destructive ideologies of our age seem within the wider
culture to be the most resilient to disturbance. This realization is in itself a disturbance
to the radical philosopher, yet the plurality of ecosystems (of) thought from Thomism
to Heideggarianism that themselves retain their basic function and shared structure as
minor ecosystems within the wider ideological field must also demand our attention.
By understanding what makes a philosophy resilient we can begin to understand both
how to create a resilient unified theory of philosophy and ecology and how to break
up those destructive ideologies in order to respond to the shared problems of ecology
and philosophy that are the shared problems of humanity and the non-human in the
biosphere.

IV. What is a Unified Theory of Philosophy and Ecology For?


Ecology celebrates as healthy a multiplicity of diverse ecosystems that
perpetuate further biodiversity within the biosphere and yet human action in the
environment has tended to perpetuate a unitary and dominating conception of the
relationship between humanity and non-human elements of the environment. Some of
this is a historical accident, an instance of evolution allowing a golem-species into the
ecosystem, but even as accident it retains plasticity meaning something can be done
with it. This means that some of the problems in our human relationship to the non-
human environment stems from repeating the mistakes in wider ecosystems that find
their structure in our unitary ecology of thought and that these mistakes can be
addressed. The goal of treating philosophy and ecology (as well as philosophy and
generic science, religion, ethics, etc.) as an ecosystem (of) thought is to bring about a

42 Walker and Salt, p. xiii.


19
realization that the ecosystem is a work and we do not yet know it and further that we
do not know what we can do as an ecosystem.43
In the light of the long history of environmentalism and the rise of
environmental philosophy, why is it that our thinking has not been treated as if it were
an ecosystem? Why have our greatest environmental thinkers perpetuated already
existing philosophies instead of posing the ecosystem as a challenge to those
philosophies?44 The goal of this paper has never been to give answers, but to raise
questions and propose a method of transcendental ecology that is the first step, from
the position of philosophy, towards a unified theory of philosophy and ecology. Both
are developing and changing practices that must be undertaken together, so that as we
undertake the task of managing and fostering a diversity of ecosystems that populate
the Earth within and outside of our cities we must also undertake the process of
managing and fostering a diverse ecosystem of our own thoughts. The transcendental
ecology proposed here is not the answer to the environmental crisis, nor is it the only
form a transcendental ecology can take. But it can be used in an occasional manner in
order to begin that most arduous task present to us today; that of thinking how we
might think differently in the light of this crisis and in the light of the science of
ecology. Undertaking that arduous task is what a unified theory of philosophy and
ecology is for.

43 This phrase is borrowed from Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do with Our Brain, trans.
Sebastian Rand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008) where she writes, “The brain is a work,
and we do not know it (p. 1).” As the unified theory of philosophy and ecology developments it must
interact with brain science and non-reductive neurophilosophy, the model of which has already been
given in Gregory Bateson.
44 For instance, Botkin is most attentive to the overdetermination philosophical thought has had on
scientific ecology, but instead of proposing a mutation of philosophy via ecology he proposes new
philosophical visions as a better fit instead. These visions, such as the cybernetic model, may help
develop ecology but do nothing to change the practice of philosophy. Cf. Part III of his Discordant
Harmonies.
20