Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Noetics of Nature: Environmental Philosophy and the Holy Beauty of the Visible

The Noetics of Nature: Environmental Philosophy and the Holy Beauty of the Visible

Bruce V. Foltz
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Noetics of Nature: Environmental Philosophy and the Holy Beauty of the Visible
    Book Description:

    Contemplative or "noetic" knowledge has traditionally been seen as the highest mode of understanding, a view that persists both in many non-Western cultures and in Eastern Christianity, where "theoria physike," or the illumined understanding of creation that follows the purification of the heart, is seen to provide deeper insights into nature than the discursive rationality modernity has used to dominate and conquer it. Working from texts in Eastern Orthodox philosophy and theology not widely known in the West, as well as a variety of sources including mystics such as the Sufi Ibn 'Arabi, poets such as Basho, Traherne, Blake, Holderlin, and Hopkins, and nature writers such as Muir, Thoreau, and Dillard, The Noetics of Nature challenges both the primacy of the natural sciences in environmental thought and the conventional view, first advanced by Lynn White, Jr., that Christian theology is somehow responsible for the environmental crisis. Instead, Foltz concludes that the ancient Christian view of creation as iconic its "holy beauty" manifesting the divine energies and constituting a primal mode of divine revelation offers the best prospect for the radical reversal that is needed in our relation to the natural environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5468-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: The Noetics of Nature
    (pp. 1-22)

    I want to introduce an account of immanence and transcendence—and of the possibility of balancing the demands due to both, of being faithful to both the visible and the invisible. At the same time, it will need to trace a largely hidden dialectic—taking place in art and philosophy and theology, as well as in the deepest currents of overt schism between Rome and Constantinople in 1054—a quiet, largely unnoticed story that has nevertheless had the most profound consequences for our world, and especially for our relation to the natural environment.

    Materialism has failed. Not that it has...

  2. CHAPTER 1 Whence the Depth of Deep Ecology? Natural Beauty and the Eclipse of the Holy
    (pp. 23-41)

    Despite their pretensions to depth, dreams are affairs of the surface. Which surface? The dreaming consciousness enjoys a constant motion, but always a lateral rather than a vertical movement, one that never arrives at its own denouement since the advent of finality is inevitably the moment the dreamer awakes—to the deeper breathing of relief or of longing, but awakes outside the dream even as it is shed off, just as the swimmer emerges dripping-wet from the surface of the water, plunging only now upon awaking into the truer depths of what transcends the self. The motion of the dream,...

  3. CHAPTER 2 Nature’s Other Side: The Demise of Nature and the Phenomenology of Givenness
    (pp. 42-54)

    The idea of a universe that is self-subsistent—standing entirely on its own, fully operational and intelligible, independent from anything outside itself—is both odd and modern. In the course of human experience, it is an extraordinary concept, defying the shared wisdom of virtually all peoples, almost everywhere outside of Western Europe and its sphere of influence. And even within this orbit it is distinctively, and in its fully articulated configuration, exclusively modern. It is today commonly taken to be one of the great achievements of Western culture, paving the way for modern science and an enlightened understanding of nature...

  4. CHAPTER 3 Layers of Nature in Thomas Traherne and John Muir: Numinous Beauty, Onto-theology, and the Polyphony of Tradition
    (pp. 55-75)

    No Western philosopher has provided a richer context for addressing environmental issues than Martin Heidegger. According to Heidegger, the ancient (and perhaps future) experience of nature asphysisor “self-emergence,” as the site of “the arrival of the gods” and thus as “divinely beautiful,” has been supplanted in modernity by the experience of nature as object (Gegenstand) and ultimately as resource (Bestand). This has, moreover, come about through the predominance of what he calls onto-theology, a development inaugurated within ancient Greek philosophy, but which becomes fully constituted only within Christendom and its post-Christian bequest.

    In his earlier writings, heavily influenced...

  5. CHAPTER 4 Sailing to Byzantium: Nature and City in the Greek East
    (pp. 76-87)

    Constantinople.Constantinopolis. Nova Roma: “thepolisfounded by Constantine as the New Rome.” First established as the Greek colony of Byzantium, it had been settled by residents of ancient Megara, faraway city on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow landbridge between Attica and the Peloponnese. Spanning both Europe and Asia, Byzantium—Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul—has always served as a bridge between these two great continents of the ancient world, a double-headed eagle looking simultaneously east and west. And this was indeed the principal reason for its selection as the New Rome, the future imperial capital for what by the fourth...

  6. CHAPTER 5 The Resurrection of Nature: Environmental Metaphysics in Sergei Bulgakov’s Philosophy of Economy
    (pp. 88-112)

    For nearly three decades, environmental philosophy has been caught upon the horns of a dilemma, bound by the antinomic tension between anthropocentrism and deep ecology. From the beginning in the early seventies, it was clear to many that the “shallow” roots of humanism and environmental anthropocentrism were inadequate. Preserving and maintaining the natural environment for purely anthropocentric reasons seemed not just too limited, but positively wrongheaded. It seemed selfish, mean-spirited—and beyond this,irreverent and profane—to see in nature only what it offers humanity, especially since it was the myopic pursuit of self-interest that had forced these reflections upon...

  7. CHAPTER 6 The Iconic Earth: Nature Godly and Beautiful
    (pp. 113-157)

    Environmental philosophy is relatively young, its features still unformed and undecided. Initially, it took shape as an environmental ethic with a straightforward orientation toward justifying practical imperatives, and often this meant little more than extending the boundaries of existing moral theories to include the natural environment. At the same time, it rarely questioned whether there were grounds for right action lying outside the properly ethical—that is, grounds based not on moral obligation, but on appreciation and reverence—i.e., based not on the ethical alone, but also the aesthetic and theological, and invoking not simply or even primarily justice, but...

  8. CHAPTER 7 Seeing Nature: Theōria Physikē in the Thought of St. Maximos the Confessor
    (pp. 158-174)

    It was Heidegger who first made “the earth” a possible topic for serious philosophical inquiry. His former student, Hans-Georg Gadamer, vividly describes the philosophical “sensation” that was generated by the “new and startling” concept of “earth,” as it was introduced in several 1936 presentations of what was to later become “The Origin of the Work of Art.”³ Yet Heidegger was by no means the first philosopher to use the word in a philosophical context. For example, in the work of Nietzsche,die Erdeanddas Irdische(earth and the earthly) play a crucial part in the unfolding of his metaphysics,...

  9. CHAPTER 8 Seeing God in All Things: Nature and Divinity in Maximos, Florensky, and Ibn ‘Arabi
    (pp. 175-186)

    Why wish to see God in all things? Or what amounts to the same question, why wish to see all things in God? Aren’t things in themselves—just the pine and just the bamboo—fine enough, without needing to serve as vehicles for a seemingly extraneous agenda, windows for some monotone view of the divine? But what does it mean to become one with pine or bamboo? And as phenomenology has shown, if it has shown anything at all, the difficulty lies precisely in getting to the things themselves, a process that involves a cleansing of consciousness strikingly parallel to...

  10. CHAPTER 9 The Glory of God Hidden in Creation: Eastern Views of Nature in Fyodor Dostoevsky and St. Isaac the Syrian
    (pp. 187-202)

    Every field has its canonical works, texts exerting such great influence that their conclusions are accepted rather uncritically. And as already noted, one of the few indisputably canonical texts in environmental thought—comparable in influence perhaps only to Also Leopold’s “The Land Ethic”—is surely the seminal article by the Protestant historian of medieval technologies, Lynn White Jr., published in 1967 in the AAAS journalScience, and entitled simply, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.”

    By way of review: Its author indicts Christianity for generating our present environmental problems, arguing that the “victory of Christianity over paganism”—“the greatest...

  11. CHAPTER 10 Between Heaven and Earth: Did Christianity Cause Global Warming?
    (pp. 203-214)

    The evidence now seems overwhelming. Not only is the climate warming, but human activities have been an important cause of this process, perhaps even the principal cause. Meanwhile, global warming has replaced pollution, and even species depletion, as the preeminent symbol of environmental degradation. The ruthless pursuit and lavish expenditure of natural energies that have contributed to this problem stand as indictments of our shared complicity in environmental disruption, signs of modernity’s “original sin” against nature.

    Remarkably, nearly the same insight was being presented by Martin Heidegger as early as the nineteen fifties. Modern technology, he argued, constitutes an ontological...

  12. CHAPTER 11 Nature and Other Modern Idolatries: Kosmos, Ktisis, and Chaos in Environmental Philosophy
    (pp. 215-231)

    A curious paradox with far-reaching implications. William Blake—poet, engraver, and great precursor of the Romantic view of nature—celebrated “the world of vegetation and generation,” calling modern humanity both “to see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower” and to take up arms against the “dark Satanic mills” of the Enlightenment worldview that suppressed our very ability to see.³ How is it, then, that throughout Blake’s writings, the very word “nature” itself accrues consistently negative connotations, even to the extent of being cast by him as debased and Satanic and inherently idolatrous?...

  13. CHAPTER 12 Traces of Divine Fragrance, Droplets of Divine Love: The Beauty of Visible Creation in Byzantine Thought and Spirituality
    (pp. 232-246)

    In discussing beauty, which is extraordinary, I want to begin from everyday, ordinary experience, to suggest that ordinariness itself is a constraint we heedlessly impose upon the extraordinary. I want to begin with the small owl unexpectedly encountered, bathing in a pool of water after a rain, whose beauty illumines the remainder of the evening with a certain charm, a spiritual fragrance of enchantment—or with the dusty, late afternoon sky glimpsed momentarily along a country road long ago, whose muted, translucent hues are beautiful in some subtle, but deeply satisfying way, giving rise to a distinct sense that this...

  14. Index of Terms in Greek, German, and Latin
    (pp. 279-282)
  15. Index of Names and Places
    (pp. 283-296)