Deakin University
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Feeling in the flesh: approaching an ecological ethic through Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-01-01, 00:00 authored by Andrew Kirkpatrick
The flesh remains one of the most environmentally promising concepts in Merleau-Pontian scholarship. However, debate surrounds its viability as a conceptual grounding for an environmental ethic. This paper will examine the flesh as understood by Abram, Toadvine, Barbaras and Bannon, before presenting Whitehead’s process philosophy of organism as the means through which we can unify and elaborate these interpretations into an ecological ethic. It is argued that Whitehead’s philosophy provides the metaphysical grounding for the kind of relational, affective ontology that Bannon seeks, while preserving the perceptual emphasis of the flesh found in Abram, Toadvine and Barbaras. Taking up Bannon’s relational interpretation of the flesh, I argue that a Whiteheadian approach to the flesh can lead to the development of an optimistic ecological ethic based on notions of creativity and possibility within nature, expressed through the cultivation of intentional potentiality. Importantly, the cautiousness of this claim reflects the provisional and ambiguous nature of intentional potentiality itself, which rejects the prospect of absolute control over nature while also emphasising the enormous responsibility that human beings have for nature.



Parrhesia: a journal of critical philosophy




176 - 196


Open Humanities Press


Parkville, Vic.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2017, Andrew Kirkpatrick