The man-nature opposition

Image: William Doll II


The Cartesian view objectifies nature, ignores complexity and attacks homeopathy

The Cartesian view of science's attack on complexity and, in the case of medicine, on homeopathy, is nothing new. It has deep roots in the Western tradition which, since its origins, has placed nature at the disposal of human beings so that they can subjugate it. With rare exceptions, this is how it appears in the Bible, Koran, in medieval philosophers and rationalist thinkers of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. And this occurs in both theocentric and anthropocentric conceptions. It is in the societies founded with the industrial revolution, however, that the man-nature antagonism deepens and is defined.

It wasn't always like this. For Greek mythology, the gods and human beings have the same origin. What differentiates them is not their origin, but their destiny: the gods are immortal. However, the gods are formed in the image and likeness of men, with feelings and passions, human qualities and defects. The Greek gods are not supernatural entities, as they are understood as an integral part of nature (Bornheim, Gerd. In: The Pre-Socratic Philosophers).

Thus, there was not, as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, an uncreated God who created the Universe and all things. Gods and humans coexist in nature. In the very terminology of the Greek language, the word physical it means nature and human beings with their actions and thoughts. Other examples certainly exist throughout history, but the one that prevailed in the Western tradition is a conception of nature submitted to human beings so that they could dominate it.

It was mainly with the Judeo-Christian influence that the man-nature, spirit-matter opposition acquired greater expression. This conception found its maximum formulation and best justification in the philosopher René Descartes. The Cartesian conception placed man as a subject and nature as an object: man became the lord and master of nature. The Cartesian conception will profoundly influence the way of thinking about the world that is at the base of the scientific and technological revolution that prevailed in the West and that finds its maximum expression in the Industrial Revolution. Following the path opened by Descartes, the thinker Francis Bacon, some time later, affirms that man must tame nature as one dominates a woman. In his conception, nature is feminine, while domination over nature is the masculine element. Thus, patriarchy is a by-product of the scientific revolution that inaugurates Modernity after the Middle Ages.

Anthropocentrism, the pragmatic-utilitarian sense of Cartesian thought and the opposition of the subject in relation to the object, to nature, will mark modernity. Nature, no longer populated by gods, can be quartered. This deep-rooted anthropocentrism breaks any possibility of integration between human beings and nature, in a cosmic vision as parts of the Universe. Thus, the patriarchal social organization and the predatory economic systems that prevailed in the last centuries went hand in hand with Cartesian rationalism.

Nature is defined, in our society, by what is opposed to culture. Culture is taken as something superior that managed to control and dominate nature. With agriculture, man domesticates nature and becomes sedentary, considering nomads primitive. To dominate nature is to dominate inconstancy, instinct, drives and passions. Furthermore, the expression dominating nature only makes sense based on the premise that human beings are non-nature. But, as he is also nature, to speak of dominating nature is also to speak of dominating human beings.

Capitalism takes this tendency to its ultimate consequences. The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution are the expression and foundation of these ideas. Science and technology acquire, in the XNUMXth century, a central meaning in human life. The human sciences emerge entirely separate from the natural sciences. The idea of ​​an objective and external nature to the human being considered as non-natural and outside of nature, crystallized with the Industrial Revolution and became dominant in Western thought.

Thus, it is within this framework of the rupture of human-nature solidarity that the ecological crisis is posed today as a great challenge for humanity. And classical reason, based on rest and order, on the divorce of nature and society, is powerless to deal with this great challenge. But the theory of relativity and quantum physics in the XNUMXth century showed that science no longer produces certainties, but only probabilities. The West has become more sensitive to the holistic conceptions that prevail in Eastern philosophies, based on a non-dualistic view of reality, seeking to transcend the division between mind and matter, subject and object.

It is about promoting a deeper understanding of life and consciousness, recognizing the interconnection and interdependence of all things, such as the connection between science and spirituality, seeking to integrate scientific knowledge with wisdom from consciousness and spirit. This requires a holistic view of interpenetration between body, mind and nature, rejecting the Cartesian idea that man is the subject, and nature, the object at the service of man. It is based on this integrative vision that the current ecological perspective combats the predatory vision of capitalism that destroys natural resources, leading to the loss of biodiversity, and causes the current climate crisis due to the emission of greenhouse gases, threatening the survival of humanity on the planet. .

But examples are everywhere. In the second half of the last century, a vision of psychosomatic medicine was established that advanced, although ignored by some. I am a layman in medical matters, but I think the current attack on homeopathy from a dualistic view that separates the body from the mind is very precarious. Traditional medicine has a Cartesian influence that separates the body into parts, and takes care of each part without integrating them into a whole. The realization that many physical illnesses, in body organs, have a psychological or emotional origin, seemed a fait accompli, but many doctors today seem to ignore this.

I am not even referring to the large number of doctors (would it be 50%?) who prescribed chloroquine for COVID, motivated by more ideological than scientific reasons. These are charlatans who prescribe magic potions. I am referring to scientists who, in the name of science – as they understand science – attack complex systems and methods that treat the patient as an inseparable whole, body and spirit.

The curious thing is that the general principle that guides homeopathy is similar to the principle behind the vaccine: “like cures like” (Similia Similibus Curantur). In the case of the vaccine, a tiny dose of the disease is injected into the body so that it acquires antibodies. In the case of homeopathy, there is no material substance that disappears during manipulations of the substance, but the energy of that substance originating from evil remains. As energy is invisible, it is not accepted by traditional medicine. Incidentally, homeopathy does not exclude other types of therapeutic approach, as clarified by the CREMERJ Declaration repudiating the recent attack on homeopathy coming not from doctors, but from a biologist.

I'm not defending any thesis, I'm just finding it strange that non-material elements are a priori rejected and considered as superstitions. Saying that changing the observer changes the thing observed was an absurd heretical statement before quantum physics and its post-Einstein theorists, such as Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, among others. And today we know that there are no more certainties in mathematics, previously considered an exact science. Kurt Gödel demonstrated that, in basic arithmetic, there are true statements that cannot be proved and that the consistency of a system cannot be proved within the same system. Science evolves and relativizes its certainties. But many scientists still cling to the Cartesian certainties of the past and ignore the complex relationships of reality, biological or social, and their interdependencies.

The drastic ontological separation between subject and object, human being and nature, body and mind, energy and matter, parts and whole, although overcome by contemporary philosophy and science, continues to excite hearts and minds influenced by the traditional Cartesian view of the world.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond).

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank