Following Nature: Ontological, epistemological, and ethical remarks on a current phenomenon in the Anthropocene

Online Talk by Philipp Höfele on Monday, 13. November 2023, 20:00 CET / 14:00 EST

The diagnosis of the Anthropocene, according to which humans, through their technological actions, are irreversibly and in part ecologically irresponsibly inscribing themselves in nature or, more precisely, in the geological strata, is currently being widely discussed in almost all sciences and beyond. Against this background, the sciences see themselves increasingly obliged to present new approaches to solutions in response to the challenges indicated by the term Anthropocene. In this debate, the potential and the special position of nature-imitating technologies is increasingly emphasized, that they offer promising approaches to solve many of these challenges. From an ontological, epistemological and ethical perspective, however, the question arises as to the reasons why such imitation can be accompanied by normative claims such as the so-called ‘biomimetic promise’. Natural phenomena and processes can neither be understood as sustainable per se, nor can they be ascribed normativity, if one does not want to succumb to a naturalistic fallacy from what is to what ought to be.

It seems to be promising to broaden the view for the evaluation of this nevertheless widespread opinion and to ask for the ontological-ethical approaches to justification and their validity as a basis for such an assumption by going back to the nature-ethical ‘naturam sequi’ argument, which has already been advocated several times and discussed intensively. Here, two things have to be considered: on the one hand, what is axiologically understood as having value, i.e. the ‘object domain’ of ethical appreciation. But the principle ‘to follow nature (naturam sequi)’ is at the same time to be understood as guiding action; it is, in other words, at the same time deontologically relevant, insofar as duties or at least orientations judged as ‘good’ are to be derived from nature for ethically right action.


Dr. Philipp Höfele is an Assistant Professor at the Seminar for Philosophy at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg since 2023. Previously, he was a Postdoctoral Researcher within the interdisciplinary Cluster of Excellence livMatS (2019-2021) as well as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Freie Universität Berlin and Visiting Scholar at Pennsylvania State University (2021-2023). His main topics are practical philosophy and ethics of German idealism and post-idealism as well as ethics of nature and technology in the context of the Anthropocene discourse. At the same time, he is a board member (secretary) of the International Schelling Society and co-editor of the international journal “Schelling-Studien” (Karl Alber). Major works: “Wollen und Lassen. Zur Ausdifferenzierung, Kritik und Rezeption des Willensparadigmas in der Philosophie Schellings” (2019), Das Böse im Anthropozän? (Special Issue in “Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie”, ed. with Lore Hühn, 2021), Nature in the Anthropocene (Special Issue in “The Anthropocene Review”, ed. with Lore Hühn and Oliver Müller, 2022).