Third Session: Values, Mindsets and Beliefs – Conceptions of Nature


 13.00 Hans Fink (DK): Conceptions of Nature

Hans Fink is Senior associate professor and his specialities are ethics and the philosophy of nature. Our concept of nature is highly complex, allowing us to consider very different domains to be nature. Hans will talk about our modern understanding of nature highlighting six different conceptions and their relevance for issues of sustainability. Hans was trained in philosophy first at Aarhus University and then at Oxford University where he completed his D.Phil. in 1974. Since then he has been teaching philosophy in Aarhus alternating with periods as dean of the faculty of arts and as director of its Centre for Cultural Research.

“The concept of nature is the focus of my presentation today with a digression into the relation between man and nature.” said Hans Fink and his presentation was in full swing.

“Do we really know what nature is? We use the concept of nature all the time without being specific about which of all the areas and levels implicated in it.

In the 1700th century a researcher warned against talking about nature as such because it implicated nature being a sort of person, that could do something. Nature is not a person. Nature is just nature. 

Nature is ambiguous. So we should be cautions when formulating man’s future relationship to nature” said Hans Fink and proceeded to present six conceptions about nature.

1. Nature is comprehensive and all inclusive. Nature is a way that all natures fit together. It is the way everything hangs together with everything else. Nature is the all encompassing totality. Nature is all that is true about it and all that can happen to it. And all it can do to other items.

This is the only truly holistic conception of nature.

All the next conceptions are not holistic.

2. Nature as a contrast to culture. That which is not cultivated or have been subject to human interference.

There are few areas on the earth as such. The inner part of the polar ice caps, maybe.

3. Nature as oppossed to a more systematic exploitation and interference. It is a more loose version of no. 2 where the animal and plant life is relatively unaffected by man’s interference.

This is the nature as shown in a BBC nature program.

4. The rural as opposed to the urban. Nature is the place where we go for a walk and have our summerhouse. Nature is the grass we play golf on.

Nature is the immediately visual characteristic most often left to itself, such as hills, mountains, seas, etc.

5. Nature the way we associate it with the natural sciences. The ideas, the normative, as a research object, etc. as opposed to the humanistic sciences.

This is the oppossite of nature as wilderness. And it cuts directly across the former conceptions. 

This conception has made cultivation of nature possible. and Hans Fink believes we will have to rely on this conception of nature to save us in the future. Science must be used to solve the problems science has contributed to creating. 

6. Nature as an earthly entity, as opposed to a deity.  We must orient ourselves much more in terms of the first conception defining nature in a holistic way. Nature is never less than the whole.

We must remember that the totality cannot be divided into parts where one part is more natural than the other. 

We should discuss what it is in nature that we want to preserve based on a comprehensive understanding of nature. 

My comments: Hans Fink’s definitions gave me a more detailed and nuanced understanding of why it is a challenge to talk about sustainability without being specific about how we define nature. The all encomapssing definition is interesting. However, it risks being so all encompassing that it is of limited value in a concrete context. It seems to work well in terms of the utopian sustainability as defined by Karen Blincoe in her presentation.  

Download the presentation.

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