mercredi 18 janvier 2017

Thinking the ambient / A. Berque

Gyotaku Print - Leaf Skeletons - Cottonwood, Populus deltoides
Eric Hochberg, 1985
To be published in an anthology of Japanese environmental philosophy (J. Baird Callicott and James McRae, eds.)

Thinking the ambient
On the possibility of shizengaku (naturing science)
by Augustin BERQUE

1. Subject, nature, and Japanese language
It is generally assumed that one of the main ingredients of the modern Western paradigm was science as instituted by the scientific revolution of the XVIIth century; that is, as founded on the will to objectify phenomena, measure these objects and ascertain their laws through experimentation. This supposed an ontological stance, called dualism, in which the object is essentially distinguished from the subject who observes it. The institution of the modern subject was thus correlative to the institution of the modern object. A telling image of this essential distinction was given by the discovery and implementation of the laws of linear perspective, which placed the observer’s eye outside and back of the picture, converting the scene represented by the latter into a strictly measurable object (PANOFSKY 1927).
This setting of the observer’s position out of the picture symbolized the abstraction of the modern subject’s being out of an objectified world. The same ontological withdrawal of the subject’s essence out of objective reality was to be later clearly formulated by Descartes’ distinction between res extensa (the extended thing, i.e. the object) and res cogitans (the thinking thing, i.e. the subject), e.g. in the following passage of the Discourse on method : “I knew thereby that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature is only thinking, and who, in order to be, needs not any place, nor depends on any material thing”[1]. This virtual abstraction of the modern subject’s essence from any particular place or object was perfectly in tune with the universality of the scientific observer’s eye, with its supposed glance from nowhere onto pure objects. This is what made the modern natural sciences ontologically possible, since nature thus became an object.
             Native speakers of European tongues like English or French are generally unaware of the homology between this universal abstraction of the modern subject’s subjecthood from an objectified nature, on the one hand, and on the other hand that which they symbolize in everyday speech with the use of their, by far, most frequent word: the personal pronoun “I” (je, ich, io, ja etc.). I am “I” always and everywhere, independently from any place or object, and even from my own body: be it male or female, black or white, old or young, I am always “I”. True, since Antiquity, grammarians had been conscious of this duality between a person’s concrete singularity and the universality of personal pronouns; this is why they rendered the grammatical idea of person with the word “mask” (prosôpon, persona). Indeed, a mask remains the same even when the actor or the scene are not the same. Yet, Europeans did not really question this strange duality between concrete beings and personal pronouns until the XIXth century, e.g. when Rimbaud wrote[2] “I is an other” (Je est un autre).
            Perhaps it took a poet for de-naturalizing the coincidence of “I” and “my selfhood (substance, essence or nature)” in our languages; but the fact is that such a coincidence is not natural at all in some other languages. This is the case in Japanese, where the notions of “subject” (shugo 主語) and “personal pronoun” (ninshô daimeishi 人称代名詞) were artificially introduced, under Meiji, by grammarians who strived to make the “national tongue” (kokugo 国語) fit into the categories of European grammars, deemed to be universal paradigms of modernity (KANAYA 2002, YANABU 2004). In fact, the basic structure and functioning of the Japanese language is profoundly alien to those of the main European tongues, which are commonly represented with the triad S-V-C (subject-verb-complement), like in “I (S) see (V) Mary (C)”. This is not all. The same model also governs, since Aristotle, the basic structure of logic, that is the dyad S-P (subject-predicate), like in “Mary (S) is sad (P)”. Now, this also does not directly apply to Japanese; so much so that, in the last century, Nishida Kitarô (1870-1945)[3] overturned Aristotle’s “logic of the subject” into a “logic of the predicate” (jutsugo no ronri 述語の論理), also called “logic of place” (basho no ronri 場所の論理) (NISHIDA 1927, 1945).
            In both cases (grammar and logic), the problem centres on that which, since Aristotle, we call the subject (hupokeimenon, subjectum). I intend to show here the incidence of this double question on the way nature can be grasped, not only in general or traditional terms, but even in the field of science, especially in the case of the evolution of species.

2. The sound of a windbell
My stance here follows what I shall call a historicized Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This amounts to acknowledging, at the same time, both the reality and the contingency of the link between language and worldview. There is a link, but it works differently according to the circumstances. This is to say that it does not belong to causality (the binary relation “A causes B”), but to motivation (the ternary relation “A becomes B for C”). For instance, the Western view of reality as an objective substance (ousia, which at the same time is a logical subject) owes much to the basic structure of European languages. Indeed, in our tradition of thought, “substance & accidents in metaphysics correspond to subject & predicate in logic” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964, at “substance”). Now, this basic structure is the same as that of Sanskrit – also an Indo-European tongue – , in which was expressed, like in Buddhism, an abyssally different conception of reality (including the conception of language itself: Panini’s grammar did not centre, as Aristotle’s, on the notion of  subject). Is this to say that there is no link between language and worldview? No; it is to say that, owing to the concrete circumstances of history, the link is contingent, not abstractly, timelessly mechanical. This is what I intend to show in a few more detail with the Japanese case.
            Let us take the following haiku, which is grammatically a perfectly regular, complete and ordinary sentence:
            風鈴の                       Fûrin no                     The windbell’s
            ちひさき音の           chiisaki oto no                       tiny chime:
            下にゐる                   shita ni iru                  I am under
            In Yamamoto Kenkichi’s New seasonal of haiku (Saishin haiku saijiki, 1977, vol. II, p. 149), this poem by Ôshi is classed with the “season words” (kigo 季語) of summer.  Haikus compulsorily comprise a season word, which here is the windbell, fûrin.A windbell is hung in summer to a branch in the garden. Its tongue is fit with a small sail (a piece of paper), which makes it chime at the slightest puff of wind. As is the case here, this sound makes people, inside in the mugginess of the house, synesthetically feel the breeze as if they were outside, “under the tiny chime of the windbell”. This synesthesia in itself is a telling trait of the Japanese sense of reality. Windbells were not invented in the West, because Westerners tend to put the identity of subjects (substances) over their relation. Accordingly, sounds (A) are not supposed to be coolers (non-A)[4].  On the contrary, Buddhism taught the Japanese that there is no such thing as substance ; all is relation, & thereby hangs the reality of synesthesias. But this is not only a matter of Buddhism ; it is also perfectly in tune with the basic traits of the Japanese language. In the haiku above, the verb iru (to be somewhere) has no subject (a noun or a pronoun like “I”, “she” etc.); and its form, either, is impersonal. So, we literally cannot know who is there, under the windbell. What is said is a scene: the windbell’s tiny chime, and a certain presence thereunder. True, we could manage to render something like that if we translated shita ni iru with, for example, “being thereunder”; but that would not be natural at all. English does not work that way; it needs a subject, whereas Japanese does not.
            What the Japanese language needs, on the other hand, is a predicate, and organizing, codifying that predicate in all sorts of ways. In the above example, if put in the normal syntax of the English language, the translation should be: “I” (or “you”, “grandpa” or whoever = the subject S) “am under the tiny chime of the wind bell” ( = the predicate P).  First S, then P. Now, the original haiku has only P, without an S. The English translation is obliged to invent that S in order to fill the blank (which in Japanese is not a blank at all); exactly in the same way as our grammar has invented an impersonal and fictional “it” in order to say “it” rains (“il” pleut“es” regnet, etc.[5]), while the fact is only rain, i.e. P; whereas indeed, Japanese only says futteiru(“raining”) – and, for that matter, Chinese also only xiayu 下雨 (“downrain”), etc. Of course, Japanese can also precise the subject (like in ame ga futteiru, “rain is falling”); but the important fact is that, in ordinary speech, it does not need to.
            How is this possible? Because the concreteness of a real scene (bamen 場面), if expressed verbally, in fact necessarily implies the existence of a speaker. The accent is put on this implication; and therefore, in inverse ratio, explicating that existence is not necessary. Japanese does not need to, and in fact generally does not, say explicitly “I” (or “you”, “Mary”, etc.); what it needs, on the other hand, is to precise what is going on, and in which circumstances. Yet again, it perfectly can precise that subject “I” (etc.), if necessary according to the circumstances; that is, according to the bamen.

3. An ambient instead of a subject
Bamen, indeed, is the clue. The word itself structurally means “facing (men ) the place (ba )”. Who then is “facing the place” of the action, i.e. the scene? That which we call the subject, e.g. expressed by the pronoun “I”; but, in a concrete scene, the essential fact is facing that scene. That is, the aspect of the scene; in other words, the phenomenon as such (phainein: to appear). This is why, in Japanese, aspective forms are so frequent. An aspective form is a form which implies the existence of the interpreter of a scene. Whereas in European languages and logic we rely on the binary structure S-P (S is P), Japanese relies on the ternary structure S-I-P (S is P for I), where I is the interpreter of the scene. For example, whereas we can say in English “Mary (S) is sad (P)”, Japanese cannot say the equivalent “Mari wa (S) kanashii (P)”; it must say “Mari wa (S) kanashisô da (P)”, i.e. “Mary looks sad”; that is, “S is P for I” (the speaker, who is not Mary and concretely cannot express Mary’s intimate feelings in her place, but only can tell her aspect). Yet, that speaker does not verbalize his/her own existence with a pronoun (e.g. “for me, Mary is sad”). No need to do so, because this existence is implied by the aspective form kanashisô da.
            Interestingly enough, men also means a mask; e.g. in nômen  能面, a Noh mask. Yet, contrary to the Greek prosôpon or the Latin persona, this “mask” did not evolve into meaning a substantial and individual “person”; it clung to the acceptation of “face” or “aspect”, which implies both the own figure of a thing and the existence of those for whom things figure something; that is, a certain relation.    
            A bamen, then, is a certain set of such relations, in which one’s existence is implied by the things themselves. The person implied in such a relationship could certainly not say, as Descartes did, “I knew thereby … (etc.)”; that is, express the transcendence of the modern Western subject, an “I” able to say sum qui sum,  literally “I am who I am”, like our Vulgate makes Yahweh say on mount Horeb (Ex, 3, 14). This is what I shall call “the principle of mount Horeb”, according to which the human subject, absolutizing his/her own subjecthood, is her/his own predicate “I”[6]. Indeed, as Benveniste stressed in several articles after the second world war (BENVENISTE 1966)[7], “is I who says ‘I’” (est je qui dit ‘je’”). This entails that other beings (unless one’s own mates), virtually deprived of any subjecthood at all, become objective machines; and this principle is indeed the essence of mechanicism. On the other hand, the person implied in a Japanese bamen would rather pronounce a purely immanent sum id, ubi sum: “I am that, where I am”. And in fact, this is precisely the case in the above haiku, where the person in question is not expressed as such, but only as a certain ambience. Subjecthood here is not concentrated into an “I”, it is diffused into the wholebamen. Indeed,  “being under the tiny chime of the windbell” is nothing else than being that particular set of circumstances: an ambience. That being, then, is not that which we call a subject, and especially not our modern subject as opposed to the object; it isan ambient, being there in the things around and the atmosphere thereby. A thorough Dasein, as Heidegger might have put it.
            The Japanese did not only figure reality according to this ambienthood; they consciously elaborated it along history, and created the necessary concepts for it.  In the oldest anthology of poetry, the Man’yôshû (VIIIth c.), one of the categories of poems is called “letting things express one’s feelings” (mono ni yosete omoi wo nobu 寄物陳思). About the Xth century appeared the concept of mono no aware物の哀れ, “the pathos of things”, which was later to be analyzed in detail by the great philologist Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801). Yet the most telling historical fact is the development and codification of the haiku itself, at about the time when the modern paradigm was established in Europe, i.e. the XVIIth century. True, as a poetical genre, the haiku progressively emerged from a long tradition, but what concerns us here is its codification by authors like Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), Matsuo Bashô (1644-1694) or Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). The most conspicuous trait of the haiku is its briefness (three verses of 5-7-5 feet). This is made possible because the haiku immediately evokes a whole set of codified relations with the Japanese milieu (I shall define this word in the following section, 4), symbolized by what is called a season word (kigo 季語). Season words represent some thing or custom associated with one of the five seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter, new year). In the haiku above, it is the windbell, a kigo of summer. These season words are itemized and classified in seasonals (saijiki 歳時記), which nowadays can count up to 7000 kigo. The first Japanese seasonal[8], the Nihon saijiki by Kaibara Ekiken, a botanist, was published in 1688; but the first one especially dedicated to haiku, the Haikai saijiki, was published by Takizawa Bakin in 1803.
            The necessity of including a kigo in a haiku amounts to a syntax of the unwritten context of the poem, that is, the Japanese milieu. This syntax, in inverse ratio, diminishes the necessity to express verbally what the matter is about. A few words will suffice for arousing an impression. Curiously enough, in the same period when the genre of haiku was established, the Japanese language underwent a peculiar evolution; that is, an extraordinary multiplication of onomatopoeias expressing not only sounds, but also any kind of other impressions (the former are called giseigo 擬声語, the latter gitaigo 擬態語). It is said that contemporary Japanese numbers more than 2000 of these impressives, out of which 400 to 700 are of current use (TSUJI 2003).  They immediately evoke an ambience, out of the linear order of speech. For example, the chime of a windbell will be evoked by chirin, chirorin, chinchin, chiririn…  According to the context, chira chira will evoke the way snowflakes or flower petals fall down, or stars twinkle faintly in a summer night, or something or somebody fleetingly appears and disappears, or a rumour is heard here and there… Uja uja is the way insects or cars are milling about. Etc. Now, the peculiarity of these impressives is that they need no grammatical construction. They can stand alone, and their meaning is immediately felt, out of any syntax. I surmise that, on the other hand, their historical diffusion has something to do with the syntactization of the Japanese milieu as a whole. That is to say, systematically ordering (cosmizing) the milieu as a whole, like in seasonals, made possible, in direct ratio, the diffusion of these de-syntactized words, the stronger their sense as they are linked to real impressions rather than, grammatically, to other words.                
            But then, what is a milieu?

4. From environment to milieu
According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word milieu means “environment, state of life, social surroundings”. This can correspond to the way Auguste Comte understood it in his Cours de philosophie positive (1830-1842), that is, as an objective ambient system interacting with an organism[9]. This led one of Comte’s disciples, the physician Charles Robin (1821-1885), one of the founders of the Société de Biologie, to propose at its inaugural session, on June 7th, 1848, the constitution of a study of milieux, which he dubbed mésologie (CANGUILHEM 1968: 72).
            The field of this mesology was more encompassing than that of ecology, later introduced by Haeckel; it might be defined as an addition of ecology and sociology. That was too much for a single positive discipline, and it is probably the reason why mesology, in the XXth century, eventually faded out of the scientific realm. Yet it was to be reborn on a new ground in the works of Jakob von Uexküll (1864-1944), who introduced a radically different point of view; that is, to consider the animal not as a machine, determined by an objective environment, but as a machinist interpreting the environment in its own subjective way[10]. Accordingly, Uexküll made a revolutionary distinction between what he called Umwelt on the one hand, and Umgebung on the other hand. The Umwelt is an animal’s ambient world (Welt), whereas the Umgebung is constituted with the objective data (Gebung) of the environment, as they can be grasped by a modern science like ecology.
            Through classical scientific protocols, Uexküll has proven that what concretely exists for an animal is its proper Umwelt, not the general Umgebung. I use here “milieu” as an equivalent for the former, and “environment” for the latter. In that sense, amilieu is what really exists for a certain living being, while the environment is what is abstractly considered from the point of view of nowhere of modern science. A milieu is singular, the environment is universal. Accordingly, mesology (the study of milieux:Umweltlehre) must not be confused with ecology (the study of environments: Ökologie). In the realm of ecology, binary statements like “S is P” (e.g. “water is H2O”) can be made altogether; in that of mesology, what must be made is ternary statements like “S is P for I”, where I is the interpreter of a certain milieu (i.e. Uexküll’s “machinist”); e.g. “rain (S) is good (P) for plants (I)”. Yet, human reason is also able to acknowledge this objectively, and conclude that “rain (S) is good for plants (P)”; and this is indeed what makes mesology scientifically possible. Nevertheless, we should not forget that it is first for plants that rain is good (S-I-P); because if it were not the case, we would not be there to state that S-P.
            At about the same time when Uexküll introduced Umweltlehre in the natural sciences, a similar stance was defined, in the humanities, by the Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsurô (1889-1960) in his essay Fûdo (Milieux, 1935)[11], which also distinguished milieu (fûdo 風土) from the natural environment (shizen kankyô 自然環境). Correlatively, Watsuji introduced the concept of fûdosei 風土性, which he defined as “the structural moment of human existence” (ningen sonzai no kôzô keiki 人間存在の構造契機). This concept expresses the dynamic coupling (moment) of a human being with her/his milieu. Basing on Watsuji’s definition, I have translated it with “mediance” (médiance).[12] It renders the fact that in a concrete, eco-techno-symbolic human milieu (not in an abstract, purely physical environment), reality is never a pure S (the logician’s subject = the physicist’s object), but, ternarily, an interpretation of S as P by a certain being (I), either individual (e.g. a certain person, or organism) or collective (e.g. a society, or a species), since the existence of that milieu is a function of that being’s existence, and reciprocally.

5. From species to speciety
The fact that mediance was conceived of by a Japanese and in Japanese is probably not a coincidence. This concept is just another name for the structural moment which, eleven centuries earlier, had made Ôtomo no Yakamochi think of the category of “letting things express one’s feelings”, and later made Motoori Norinaga put forward the “pathos of things” as properly Japanese. Mediance is certainly a universal trait of human existence – of existence tout court, in fact –, but it took Japanese culture to grasp it as such. Though he created a plenty of neologisms to constitute his mesology, Uexküll has not thought of that ontological, overarching concept. True, the word fûdo existed already in Japanese, with the acceptation of natural features of a certain region; yet, Watsuji gave it a special turn, which we might interpret as “the way (fû  = P) a certain land (do  = S) is interpreted [by its inhabitants = I] ”; that is, the triadic structure S-I-P. This is homologous with the basic structure of the Japanese language. The dyadic structure S-P, for sure, does not so easily allow us to think of mediance; it is much more in tune with the abstraction of the modern subject out of an objectified environment. No wonder since, structurally, S-P does not suppose I.   
            A double blind trial of the Japanese mediance can be found in the works of the great naturalist Imanishi Kinji (1902-1992). Indeed, though he did not use Watsuji’s terminology, nor even that of Uexküll, Imanishi based his interpretation of nature on two postulates, which amount not only to acknowledging mediance, but to making it a clue for reinterpreting the natural sciences themselves. The first one was to consider that a living being does not face an external and objective environment as such, but in the course of a mutual process which he called “subjectivation of the environment, environmentalization of the subject” (kankyô no shutaika, shutai no kankyôka 環境の主体化、主体の環境化). This principle was laid as early as his first book, entitled The world of the living (Seibutsu no sekai, written in 1941), and tenaciously reaffirmed in numerous works thereafter. The second one was to consider that any living being, including the human, is a member of a global society, which Imanishi called seibutsu zentai shakai生物全体社会, “the whole society of the living”; on which grounds a scientist is entitled to feel something in common with the animal he/she observes, and penetrate, so to say hermeneutically, into this animal’s proper world.
            Imanishi began his research as an entomologist in the twenties. It is by studying mayflies in their nymphal state in a nearby stream that he came to define a concept which was to become the pillar of his later theories: sumiwake 棲み分け, which associates the two ideas of inhabiting (sumi) and dividing (wake). Imanishi himself later translated this concept with habitat segregation.[13] One of his disciples, Sano Toshiyuki, preferred to render it with lifestyle partitioning, adding the following quotation from the Iwanami seibutsugaku jiten (Iwanami Dictionary of Biology): “Biologically, the phenomenon of sumiwake can be defined as follows : two or more species, with the same potential to live in a given ‘place’, divide the place into exclusive habitats” (SANO 2003: 241). Yet this cannot do justice to the richness of the concept, which implies not only the spatial fact of segregation, but also the temporal fact of speciation. Indeed, wake means here both the division of habitat and that into (sub)species. This is why I prefer to render sumiwake with the neologism ecospecy.
            Ecospecy also implies one of Imanishi’s most fundamental ideas, which he represented with the concept of shushakai 種社会. This literally means “species (shu) society (shakai)”. This expresses the socialness of species both intrinsically (the members of a species form a society) and extrinsically (the relations between different species form a society). The latter aspect leads to the concept of whole society of the living, which we have seen above.
            This idea of shushakai differs profoundly with that of population, which dominates the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. A population is a purely statistical sum of individual organisms. On the other hand, a society implies some kind of integrative principle, or better said, some kind of selfconsciousness. A population is a mechanical combination of objects, whereas a society is a sensible integration of subjects.
            Indeed, Imanishi professed correlatively that living beings are subjects (shutai 主体), not machines. They are endowed with subjecthood or selfhood (shutaisei 主体性) at all levels, ranging from the cell to the whole society of the living. One of Imanishi’s last books is entitled, precisely, Shutaisei no shinkaron (Subjecthood in evolution, 1980). Needless to say, this view is totally discrepant with that of Darwin, which classically belongs to the modern Western paradigm of mechanicism.
            In other words, whereas Darwinism, in compliance with the mount Horeb principle, only acknowledges in evolution an objectified binary combination of chance (mutation) and necessity (the statistical laws of selection), Imanishi’s theory of evolution implies a ternary combination in which any fact (S) is concretely interpreted in a certain way (P) by a certain selfhood (I); that is, once again, it relies on the triad S-I-P.
            I shall add that Imanishi’s theory of evolution implies a thorough realism, as opposed to the nominalism of the reigning neo-Darwinian theory – e.g., utterly so, Dawkin’s thesis of the selfish gene. Indeed, whereas the latter, like Mrs Thatcher said that “there is no such thing as society”, amounts to saying that there is no such thing as species but only populations, Imanishi professed that evolution implied some kind of choice by the species itself; that is, as a shushakai.   
            For that reason, I think that translating shushakai deserves in its turn a neologism, that of speciety. This implies the proper selfhood of a species. It is the aspective way that species appears to itself through its own members (which in its turn implies the selfhood of these members, and so on from the cell to the whole society of the living and the other way round). One should remember that species originally meant view, aspect (hence spectacle, etc.). As a modern Western Homo sapiens sapiens, for instance, speciety is that which generally makes you ashamed to appear in the nude in front of another person, but not in front of a cat (Felis silvestris catus).
            It should now be clear that Imanishi’s position in front of natural phenomena can be opposed to the classical modern Western worldview as characterized, especially so in the Anglosphere, by a bent to dualism, mechanicism, nominalism, utilitarianism and  methodological individualism. Is this to say that Imanishi’s stance is not scientific?  

6. From the theory of evolution to naturing science
Imanishi’s scientific status is not a simple question. On the one hand, he has been internationally recognized as the initiator of a paradigm shift in primatology, the essence of which consists in acknowledging the animal’s subjecthood, sociality and culturalness. Yet, he was much more than a primatologist. Also an entomologist, ecologist, anthropologist and a great mountaineer, he was fundamentally a thinker of nature, life and evolution. In his later years, he summarized his epistemological stance in the concept ofshizengaku 自然学, as opposed to shizen kagaku自然科学, the natural sciences. Though robot translators make no difference between the two terms, what is at stake here is in fact an alternative between two radically different conceptions of reality, one (shizen kagaku) in which, in accordance with the classical modern Western scientific paradigm, nature is considered as an object, and another one (shizengaku) in which the scientist participates in the general subjecthood of nature, and thus is able to know it hermeneutically, i.e. from the inside, making science itself a particular aspect of nature’s general bent. This is why I propose to translate shizengaku with “naturing science”.
            Needless to say, from the first point of view, this is a totally heretic, unscientific stance. This discrepancy was best illustrated with respect to the theory of evolution. All his life long, Imanishi was highly concerned with evolution, and published abundantly about it, tenaciously contesting the neo-Darwinian dogma. His late book Subjecthood in evolution is a good example of what his naturing science can consist of in such matters. No surprise, his theses were discarded by the academic world (though he was himself titular of a prestigious chair at the University of Kyoto) ; e.g. a recent book, entitled Why is evolution a philosophical question? (MATSUMOTO ed. 2010), in which a team of nine philosophers of science, in nearly 300 pages, accomplish the feat of not mentioning his name even once. This is more or less as if a book on ontology would ignore the name “Heidegger”. My stance here is different. I do consider that naturing science, for better or worse, is a highly philosophical question, which deserves much more attention than that kind of mura hachibu 村八分 (village ostracism). We should remember that, during a whole generation, if not totally ignored, Imanishi’s primatology was laughed at in the West as childishly anthropomorphic, before it became so naturally paradigmatic as to make young Western primatologists unaware of its origin (DE WAAL 2003). Yet, it was and remains consistent with his shizengaku. All the question fundamentally relies on the modern distinction between subject and object and its relevance, on the one hand, to Japanese realities (language, attitudes toward nature, etc., which, as we have seen, in fact imply an ambient rather than a subject), and on the other hand to reality in general, beyond the classical modern Western scientific paradigm. Is science to remain within the gauge of shizen kagaku, or can we conceive of scientifically “naturing” science itself ?
            In such matters, the essence of modernity has been embodied by physics. Physics is that science to which any other natural science has to refer, directly or not, if it is to be deemed scientific. True, some scientists have contested the validity of this reference. Though a great quantifier of biological data, Haldane, for one, in his Philosophy of a biologist (1935), professed that in biology, it is physics which is not an exact science.[14] Yet, Imanishi’s naturing science, as a contestation of reigning dogmas in the natural sciences, went much farther. He was able for example to write the following: “[In the same way as] ‘if the baby stood up, it is because he had to stand up (tatsu beku shite tatta)’ (…) evolution evolved because it had to (kawaru beku shite kawatta). Saying that it changes because it must change is to see evolution no longer from a mechanistic point of view, but as a course (kôsu)” (IMANISHI 1980: 204).
            This is undoubtedly a finalist, unscientific stance, which, mutatis mutandis, one can compare with the idea of “intelligent design” in cosmology. Yet we are facing here a series of problems to which neo-Darwinism cannot rationally answer. The most fundamental one is the infinitesimal probability of life as we know it, given the number of possible combinations of  natural protein chains. Chance alone can mathematically not have produced it[15]; hence the unscientific idea of intelligent design. If one is to remain scientific, then, one has to make another hypothesis; that is, to suppose that life itself has determined its own course as it went along, taking into account the path already followed for choosing, in some way or other, the path to follow next.
            Such a hypothesis is of course not consistent with mechanicism, since it amounts to recognize nature as having some kind of subjecthood; and this is precisely what, starting with his primatology, Imanishi’s naturing science amounts to. But then, why should science be equated with mechanicism? Why should nature be reduced to a mere object? This is an ontological bias which in itself owes nothing to science, but much to religion. It ensues from the mount Horeb principle more than from physics itself. Did not one of the great physicists of the last century, Werner Heisenberg, write that “If one is allowed to speak of the image of nature according to the exact sciences of our time, one has to understand thereby, rather than the image of nature, the image of our relation to nature. (…) Science, ceasing to be the spectator of nature, recognizes itself as part of the reciprocal actions between nature and man. (…) [C]onsequently, the method can no longer be separated from its object” (HEISENBERG 1962: 33-34).
            Though expressed in a different language, this attitude amounts to acknowledging the mesological ternary structure S-I-P which we have seen at work in the Japanese case, ranging from haikus to Imanishi’s naturing science. True, in his rejection of the modern Western paradigm as exemplified by neo-Darwinism, Imanishi went too far. The “course” he speaks of has a scent of teleology, rather than of the contingency entailed by the ternary structure S-I-P which, nowadays, one should reasonably substitute to the mechanical alternative of chance and necessity in biological processes. Just as dinosaurs did not “have to” become birds, our ancestors did not “have to” stand up. They came to stand up, like certain small dinosaurs came to exapt their feathers to flying.
            Why did some dinosaurs exapt to flying ? This is a question to which mechanicism cannot reasonably answer. Mechanicism considers S-P (functions), not S-I-P (reasons). Machines have no reasons, but only functions. For instance, as Gould wrote, feathers (S) formerly worked as thermoregulators (P); and they (S) were exapted to flying (P).[16] Here, the only interpret (I) of this exaptation is Gould himself, because he is the only subject. Yet, neither chance nor necessity can explain that exaptation. The only reasonable hypothesis is that, at some time of their own history, in their proper milieu, these dinosaurs came to have enough subjecthood for interpreting (I) their feathers (S) as something for flying (P). How can we know? Certainly not if we cling to the mount Horeb principle, which will forever deny nature any subjecthood at all; so, like physics already has done in its own way, perhaps in biology also, following the path opened up in ethology by Uexküll’s Umweltlehre and Imanishi’s primatology, should we “nature” science a little more decidedly… That is, we should clear the way to biohermeneutics. Evolution then, involving subjecthood, would have to be conceived of also in terms of milieu, rather than only environment.[17] Reality (S-I-P) is not ours only, is it ?

Palaiseau, April 5th, 2014.


- BENVENISTE, Émile (1966) Problèmes de linguistique générale (Problems in general linguistics), Paris, Gallimard, 2 vol.
- BERQUE, Augustin (1997) Japan : nature, artifice and Japanese culture (Le sauvage et l’artifice. Les Japonais devant la nature, Paris: Gallimard, 1986), Yelvertoft Manor: Pilkington.
–  (2000) Écoumène. Introduction à l’étude des milieux humains (Ecumene. Introduction to the study of human milieux), Paris : Belin.
– (2013) Thinking through landscape, Abingdon : Routledge.
– (2014a) Poétique de la Terre. Histoire naturelle et histoire humaine, essai de mésologie (Poetics of the Earth. Natural history and human history, an essay in mesology), Paris : Belin.
– (2014b) La mésologie, pourquoi et pour quoi faire? (Mesology, why and what for ?), Nanterre: Presses de l’Université de Paris Ouest.   
- CANGUILHEM, Georges (1968) Études d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences concernant les vivants et la vie (Studies in the history and philosophy of sciences concerning the living and life), Paris : Vrin.
– (2009) (1965) La connaissance de la vie (The knowledge of life) Paris : Vrin.
- DESCARTES, René (2008) (1637) Discours de la méthode (Discourse on method), Paris : Garnier-Flammarion, 2008.
- DE WAAL, Frans (2003) Silent invasion. Imanishi’s primatology and cultural bias in science, Animal cognition, 2003, 4 (6) 293-299.
- FILLIOZAT Pierre-Sylvain (1992) Le sanskrit (Sanskrit), Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.
- GOULD, Stephen Jay (2002) The structure of evolutionary theory, Cambridge, Mass.: Bellknap Press.
- HEISENBERG, Werner (1962) (1955), La nature dans la physique contemporaine (Nature in contemporary physics) (Das Naturbild der heutigen Physik), Paris : Gallimard.
- ICHIKAWA, Ryôichi (2008) Imanishi Kinji goroku. Shizen no fukken (Quotations from Imanishi Kinji. Reempowering nature), Tokyo: Shûfûsha 
- IMANISHI, Kinji (1972) (1941) Seibutsu no sekai (The world of the living), Tokyo: Kôdansha.
– (1994) (1948) Seibutsu shakai no ronri (The logic of the societies of living beings), Tokyo : Heibonsha.
– (1980) Shutaisei no shinkaron (Subjecthood in evolution), Tokyo: Chûôkôron.
– (1984) Shizengaku no teishô (For naturing science), Tokyo: Kôdansha.
- JACOB, François (1970) La logique du vivant. Une histoire de l’hérédité (The logic of the living. A history of heredity), Paris : Gallimard.
- KANAYA, Takehiro (2002) Nihongo ni shugo wa iranai (There is no need of a subject in Japanese), Tokyo: Kôdansha.
- KOBAYASHI, Toshiaki (2010) Shutai no yukue (The destiny of the subject), Tokyo: Kôdansha.
- MATSUMOTO, Shunkichi (ed., 2010) Shinkaron wa naze tetsugaku no mondai ni naru no ka (Why is evolution a philosophical question?), Tokyo : Keisô shobô.
- NISHIDA, Kitarô (1966) (1927) Basho (Place), vol. IV in Nishida Kitarô zenshû, Tokyo: Iwanami.
– (1966) (1945) Bashoteki ronri to shûkyôteki sekaikan (Logic of place and religious worldview), vol. XI in Nishida Kitarô zenshû, Tokyo: Iwanami.
- PANOFSKY, Erwin (1975) (1927) La perspective comme forme symbolique (Perspective as a symbolic form) (Perspektive als symbolische Form), Paris : Minuit.
- RIMBAUD, Arthur (2009), Œuvres complètes (Complete works), Paris : Gallimard.
- SANO, Toshiyuki (2003) The effect of culture on the development of scientific theory: Imanishi and Darwin, Nara Women’s University, Faculty of Human Life and Environment, Annual Report of the Graduate Division of Human Culture, vol. XIX.
- TSUJI, Sanae (2003) Les impressifs japonais (Japanese impressives), Lyons : Presses Universitaires de Lyon.
- UEXKÜLL, Jakob von (1965) (1934) Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen (Incursions in the milieux of animals and humans), Hamburg: Rowohlt.
- WATSUJI, Tetsurô (1935) Fûdo. Ningengakuteki kôsatsu (Milieux, a study of the human intercourse), Tokyo: Iwanami.
- YANABU, Akira (2004) Kindai nihongo no shisô (The thought of the modern Japanese language), Tokyo: Hôsei Daigaku shuppankai.

The author
 Augustin BERQUE, b. 1942, a French geographer, orientalist and philosopher, is director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris), where he teaches mesology. A member of the Academia europaea, he was in 2009 the first Westerner to receive the Fukuoka Grand Prize for Asian cultures. E-mail:   

[1] « Je connus de là que j’étais une substance dont toute l’essence ou la nature n’est que de penser, et qui, pour être, n’a besoin d’aucun lieu, ni ne dépend d’aucune chose matérielle ». René DESCARTES, Discours de la méthode, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 2008 [1637], p. 38-39.
[2] In a famous letter addressed to Paul Demeny, dated May 15th, 1871.
[3] Throughout this article, Japanese names are given in their normal order : patronymic (Nishida) first, given name (Kitarô) second.
[4] It is said ( that, in a certain experiment, letting people hear the chime of a windbell made the temperature of the skin of Japanese participants actually drop, while that of other participants (unaware of windbells) did not change. 
[5] Whereas in Spanish (está lloviendo), etc., it is the form of the verb which indicates that fictional “third person”.
[6] The essential distinction between subject and predicate makes it difficult for us to figure subjectpredicates, but this category explicitly exists in Chinese grammar, where it is called zhuweiweiyu 主謂謂語; e.g. in neige ren zui dadade 那個人嘴大大的 (literally “that man mouth big big of”, i.e. “that man has a big mouth”), where zui (mouth) is both the predicate of ren (man) and the subject of da (be big). The structure here is S-(P:S)-P ; whereas the English translation comes down to S-P : “that man (S) has a big mouth (P)”. Though Chinese and Japanese belong to two different families, that same structure S-(P:S)-P also exists in Japanese, where the translation would be ano hito wa kuchi ga ookii.
[7] For instance in the following: “It is in and by the language that man constitutes himself as a subject; because only language founds in reality, in its reality which is that of Being, the concept of ‘ego’. The ‘subjectivity’ which we are here dealing with is the capacity of the speaker to pose himself as a ‘subject’. It is defined, not by the feeling everyone experiments to be oneself (this feeling, inasmuch as one can report it [dans la mesure où l’on peut en faire état], is only a reflection), but as the psychic unity which transcends the whole of the lived experiences it gathers, and which ensures the permanence of consciousness. Now, we assume that this ‘subjectivity’, be it posed in phenomenology or in psychology, is only the emergence of a fundamental propriety of language. Is ‘ego’ who says ‘ego’. We find here the foundation of ‘subjectivity’, which is determined by the linguistic status of the ‘person’” (BENVENISTE 1966, vol. II p. 259-260; original in Journal de psychologie, July-September 1958).    
[8] The genre itself, pronounced suishiji in Chinese, began in China in the VIth c. AD.
[9] E. g. when he wrote the following : “According to the universal law of the necessary equivalence between reaction and action, the ambient system could not modify the organism unless the latter, in its turn, exercised a corresponding influence”. Original French in  Cours de philosophie positive ; Œuvres, vol. III, p. 235. Quoted by JACOB 1970 : 172.
[10] “Whoever wants to cling to the conviction that living beings are only machines, abandons the hope to ever have a glimpse of their milieux (ihre Umwelten). (…) Animals are thus pinned as pure objects (reinen Objekten). One forgets then that one has, from the start, suppressed the essential; that is,the subject (das Subjekt), the one who uses the means, perceives with them and acts with them. (…) Now, who considers that our sensorial organs serve our perception, and our motor organs our action, will see in beasts not only mechanical devices, but will discover the machinist (den Maschinisten), who is embodied in the organs just as we are in our body. Then one will no more address animals as mere objects, but as subjects (als Subjekte), whose essential activity consists in perceiving and acting” (UEXKÜLL 1965: 21-22; my translation).
[11] Watsuji, who stayed in Germany in 1927-1928, may have heard of Uexküll’s works through Heidegger, who at the time was profoundly influenced by these discoveries. He dealt with the question in detail in his 1929-1930 seminar, published after his death as Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt-Endlichkeit-Einsamkeit (The fundamental concepts of metaphysics. World-finitude-loneliness), Frankfurt-am-Main: Klostermann, 1983, partic. in the IInd part.
[12] “Mediance” derives from the Latin medietas, which means “half”. One of these “halves” is the concerned being, the other one is that being’s milieu. Only joining the two “halves” makes a concrete being. “Mediance”, like “milieu”, stems from the Latin root med-, which is equivalent to the Greekmeso-; hence “mesology”.
[13] E.g. p. 90 in IMANISHI 1994 (1948).
[14] Quoted by CANGUILHEM 2009 (1965) : 195.
[15] Hervé Zwirn, for one, did the following calculation in La Recherche, 365 (June 2003), p. 104: “The molecules responsible for nearly all biological functions, enzymes, are proteins, i.e. chains of at least one hundred amino acids placed end to end. Natural proteins utilize about a score of amino acids. There are at least 10130  possibilities of different proteins. Let us suppose that each atom of the observable Universe (numbering about 1080) is a computer, each one enumerating one thousand billions combinations per second (…). It would need 1021 times the age of the Universe to terminate the task of enumeration”.
[16] P. 1721 in the French translation of GOULD 2002, La structure de la théorie de l’évolution, Paris: Gallimard, 2006.
[17] This argument is developed in BERQUE 2014a and b.