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HSS - Cours - HSS_0F002_EP : Nature: Current Problems in Philosophy

Domaine > Humanités et sciences sociales.


Is nature dead? In at least three different ways, it may be the case. 1/ First, the diversity of living creatures and ecosystems, as well as the vast majority of natural areas on the surface of our planet, have been affected or destroyed by human activity. As a result, nature itself – whether we're referring to wildlife or wilderness – is either dead or dying. 2/ Second, virtually everything in our daily lives is unnatural: not only is it our environment, but also our bodies, our actions, our language and thoughts that are shaped by technology, artificial constructs or cultural meaning. This means that if nature is opposed to culture, technology and artificiality, there is no place left for nature in our lives. 3/ Third, at this point in history, not only are the ideas of nature and “natural boundaries” constantly challenged by technological progress and cultural revolutions, but they actually seem to loose any relevance regarding what we should hope for the future. If we are to determine by ourselves what our future should be, it seems that if nature has had any normative power, it is now lost for good.

This course aims to investigate what is left of nature. This concept will appear at the center of essential questions of our time regarding ecology, politics, epistemology and metaphysics. While the current ecological crises have brought attention to nature, prominent contemporary thinkers have distanced themselves from this concept, accusing it of shaping modernity and its destructive power. With or without the concept of “nature,” it may be time to explore new relations to animals, wildlife and ecosystems, but also to reinvent politics in the Anthropocene. It is actually our very metaphysical conception of man facing nature and dominating it that should be questioned. But paradoxically, this very call to go “back to nature,” looking for a more “natural” way of life, is paralleled by a fierce criticism of any “naturalism” regarding individual choices and social issues. When it comes to bodies, gender, race or disabilities, but also inequalities and violence, any reference to nature looks suspicious. It is tempting to view nature as normative – that is, as a guide for how we should live our lives and a justification for social norms. After all, are there no laws of nature? Isn’t there a nature of things? Sure – but does nature leave us with any freedom? Or is freedom against nature?

Ultimately, preserving nature appears as a both revolutionary and conservative ambition. If the concept of nature is so embarrassing, it’s all the more reason to examine it more closely. In confronting paradoxical views of nature, we will explore the role it may play in our future.

effectifs minimal / maximal:


Diplôme(s) concerné(s)

domaines Saclay

ODD 9 Industrie, Innovation et Infrastructure, ODD13 Mesures relatives à la lutte contre les changements climatiques, ODD 15 Vie terrestre.

Format des notes

Numérique sur 20

Littérale/grade américain

Pour les étudiants du diplôme Bachelor of Science de l'Ecole polytechnique

Vos modalités d'acquisition :

1 mid-semester homework (40%)

1 final exam (40%)

1 field trip report (20%)

Le rattrapage est autorisé (Note de rattrapage conservée écrêtée à une note seuil de 10)
    L'UE est acquise si Note finale >= 10
    • Crédits ECTS acquis : 2 ECTS

    La note obtenue rentre dans le calcul de votre GPA.

    Support pédagogique multimédia


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