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On Nature
Translated by Ben Garceau (bio)

The concept of nature, at least in the modern era, has most often been constructed on the basis of two related distinctions: first, that nature is on the side of Being and not of appearing,1 and second that it refers back to the non-human rather than to the human. In effect, nature is first of all that which is found behind phenomena, is what reveals such phenomena according to laws—the discovery of which entails breaching the plane of the immediately given. This is the scientific concept of nature which is itself the tributary of an ontology for which Being-in-itself must be graspable independently of its appearing, because it does not depend on it and, in relation to this, we learn nothing from this appearing about Being in itself, because in short it is nothing but an appearance. The second assumption is in a certain way nothing but a specification of the first: if it is true that the phenomenal plain is based upon the relation of humans to reality and therefore expresses the nature of humans more than nature as such, it is necessary to recognize that ‘natural’ is synonymous with ‘foreign to the human,’ with the ‘not yet affected by humans’. It is from there that determinations of originarity proceed, of the purity or the virginity frequently attributed to nature. This common [End Page 122] idea of nature rests entirely on the assumption of a scission, the modalities of which vary, between Being and appearing, or moreover the ‘in-itself’ and phenomena; it is in any case this assumption that directs the activity of science because science concerns itself with surpassing such appearing (appearances) in order to unveil its raison d’être. The question which arises then is the following: what would the status of nature be from a phenomenological perspective, a perspective which refuses this scission because for this perspective the essence of that which is necessarily includes its appearing? Would nature still have a place in such a theoretical framework, and if so, how?

It is true that in the classical phenomenological approach, that of Husserl, the break evoked above is found conserved, even if the ontological hierarchy is inverted. Nature is the product of a naturalist attitude, which is essentially that of science, and this attitude must itself be comprised as a certain relationship with nature in another sense, that of the natural attitude, namely as a pre-given ‘life-world’ (Lebenswelt), before any taking of position or any idealization, which we live at the heart of. The difference between this and classical metaphysics comes from the fact that nature itself is no longer the background of reality but rather a superstructure, a “blanket of ideas,” correlative to a certain idealizing activity. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the price of a phenomenological approach is too high if it means the abandonment of the ontological privilege conferred to nature vis-à-vis appearing, a privilege that is no doubt consubstantial with the concept of nature. Nature only makes sense as the background of reality itself, as that which is truly found behind phenomena, and the question will therefore instead be of knowing whether nature is a quiet reality, like an ontological mirror of rational activity, or a wilder one. Hence the problem becomes clearer: how to think of nature without depriving it of its ontological privilege by way of a perspective in which reality still exhausts itself in phenomenality?

The answer to this question is only possible within the framework of a singularly phenomenological approach, that which consists of taking measure, the most radical measure possible, of what is implied by the universal a priori of correlation between the transcendent being and its subjective modes of givenness, the elucidation of which was, in Husserl’s view, the very task of phenomenology. If it is true that the meaning of a being’s Being is to be relative to a subject, in brief to appear, and the meaning of a being of the subject is to be relative to the being which it makes appear,2 that is to say of being intentional...