“Nature, Nihilism, and Life in Heidegger and Nietzsche:
Naturalistic Metaphysical Foundations for Environmental Ethics”
My project pursues two tasks: first, it analyzes, compares, and evaluates the accounts of three concepts in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger: nature, nihilism, and life. Second, it spells out the implications of their work for environmental philosophy.
Part One focuses on Heidegger’s philosophy of nature. In the first chapter, I summarize the major branches of environmental philosophy and ethics and situate Heidegger within the field. In the next two chapters, I trace the development of the concept of nature in Heidegger’s thought. In chapter 2, I focus on Being and Time. After summarizing the aim, structure, and method of this work, I explain the three senses of nature that emerge from his analysis: productive, objective, and poetic. In chapter 3, I examine Heidegger’s later approach to nature, which centers on his unique notion of earth, his appropriation of physis, the Greek word for nature, his notion of poetic dwelling, and his critiques of humanism and modern technology.
Part Two centers on the concept of nihilism. In chapters 4, 5, and 6, I argue that Heidegger’s and Nietzsche’s vital contributions to the philosophy of nature stem in large part from their views of nihilism. After summarizing historical and philosophical accounts of nihilism, I examine Heidegger’s view of nihilism as the logic of Western metaphysics, link it to his understanding of humanity’s relation to nature, and compare it with Nietzsche’s view of nihilism. I argue against Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche as an anthropocentric thinker and challenge his view of nihilism on the grounds that his declinist view of history and negative view of modernity are untenable.
Part Three examines the concept of life. Chapters 8 and 9 deal, respectively, with Heidegger’s and Nietzsche’s accounts of life, focusing specifically on their views of biology, the status of value, and the place of evolution in their philosophies of nature. In the final chapter, I situate Nietzsche within environmental ethics, review the secondary literature on the topic, and argue that he can be best framed as what we might call a “hierarchical biocentrist.” I trace some of the connections between his view and others in the field, such as Paul Taylor’s biocentrism, David Ray Griffin’s process ecology, and Michael E. Zimmerman’s integral ecology, and plot vectors for future research.