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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 175
8th October 2012


I. 'Elective Affinities: Heidegger and Adorno on Nature' by Michael

II. 'An Ontological Problem with the Selfish Gene' by Michael Uhall

III. 'Possible World Machine Revisited' by Geoffrey Klempner



The first article in this issue, by Dr Michael Kilivris from Hunter
College, City University of New York, rehearses the arguments for
different approaches to environmental ethics -- the 'deep ecology' of
Arne Naess, versus the 'social ecology' of Murray Bookchin -- from the
perspective of the clash between the views on nature of Heidegger and
Adorno. In the opinion of the Board of the ISFP this is a well
researched piece, useful as a starting point for students exploring
this controversial and highly topical issue.

In his second article for Philosophy Pathways, Michael Uhall raises a
question about the identity and individuation of genes. The Quine/
Strawson slogan, 'no entity without identity' applies no less in
biology than it does in metaphysics (for example, to the identity and
individuation of the Cartesian 'soul'). The logical problem Uhall
highlights applies to any area of research where a theoretical entity
is identified from the point of view of a very specific function, as
is the case with the notion of a 'gene' in biology.

I am starting a new Pathways distribution list specifically for
students taking Introduction to Philosophy The Possible World
Machine. The aim is to provide students with further stimulus as
well as giving me the chance to write more material along the same
lines -- viz. science fiction stories designed to get you thinking.
These are short and sweet, all less than 1000 words, so there is no
danger of spoiling your philosophical appetite. We also have a book
for review, which includes one of my short stories, Doing Philosophy:
An Introduction Through Thought Experiments 5th Ed. by Lewis Schick
and Theodore Vaughn. More below!

Geoffrey Klempner



In spite of their historical, geographical, and intellectual
proximity, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Theodor Adorno
(1903-1969) never entered into dialogue with one another. Heidegger
claimed not to have read Adorno, while the latter wrote only
polemically on the former. Yet over the past thirty years, scholars
have discovered a number of affinities between the two in areas
ranging from epistemology to aesthetics.[1] To date, however, no
research has been done on the compelling similarities between
Heidegger and Adorno on the specific topic of nature.[2] This is a
loss not only for broader comparative studies of Heidegger and
Adorno, but also for contemporary environmental philosophy and ethics.

In this article I aim to redress this shortcoming by showing how an
examination of Heidegger and Adorno in connection with nature reveals
their deeper convergences and divergences, the stakes of which
continue to frame debates within contemporary ecological theory. To
this end I start by showing how each figure sees nature as
increasingly threatened by the worst aspects of modernity, which
Heidegger explains through his notion of 'enframing' and Adorno
conceives of in terms of 'domination' and exploitation. Next I
provide a comparison of the theories of enframing and domination,
locating their differences in Heidegger's and Adorno's distinctive
philosophical approaches. To conclude I offer a short section on the
appropriation of Heidegger and Adorno by the contemporary theories of
deep ecology and social ecology, respectively, emphasizing how these
schools differ for reasons similar to those distinguishing Heidegger
and Adorno.[3]

I. Modernity's Destructiveness: The Enframing and Domination of

Heidegger's Critique of the Enframing of Nature[4]

In 'The Question Concerning Technology,' Heidegger seeks to provide a
novel theory of the 'essence' of modern technology. He starts by
addressing the most prevalent account of technology, which he calls
the 'instrumental view' (not to be confused with Adorno's notion of
instrumental reason). From this perspective, technology is
fundamentally an instrument or means to some desired end, as when we
think of a smart phone as an instrument for communication. While
Heidegger concedes that this viewpoint is in a certain sense accurate
-- 'Who would ever deny that it is correct?' -- he claims that it does
not fully capture the truth of the essence of modern technology.[5]
This is not only because truth, for Heidegger, entails 'uncovering'
rather than correspondence, but also because the essence of modern
technology, he proposes, is 'not anything technological.' Thus to
properly discern the essence of modern technology, Heidegger must
uncover what exactly it is, without falling back on the conventional
wisdom about technology.

He does this mainly by examining the way in which modern technology
approaches nature. 'Everywhere,' Heidegger writes, 'everything is
ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there
just so that it may be on call for a further ordering.'[6] He uses a
number of examples to illustrate this, such as how coal is on call
for mining districts, the sun's heat is 'ordered' to create steam to
run factories, rivers are 'water power supplier[s]' for hydroelectric
plants, and forests are 'available on demand' for the lumber and
newspaper industries. Elsewhere, he states, 'Air is now set upon to
yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium...
uranium is set upon to yield atomic energy, which can be released
either for destruction or peaceful use.'[7] This relation of modern
technology to nature is unprecedented, Heidegger contends, in that it
'puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can
be extracted and stored as such.'[8] Whereas the technology of
pre-modern societies, he notes, simply sought to work with the earth
to ensure sustenance, today's technology subjects nature to a
constant 'unlocking, transforming, storing, distributing, and
switching about' with the sole intent of 'regulating and securing'

In viewing nature as a source of energy for human use, modern
technology shows itself to be above all a way of revealing, according
to Heidegger: 'Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a
way of revealing. If we give heed to this, then another whole realm
for the essence of technology will open itself up to us. It is the
realm of revealing, i.e., of truth.'[10] Seeing technology as a
revealing is an improvement upon the instrumental view, Heidegger
suggests, because only the former uncovers technology's basic role in
bringing the 'concealed' into 'unconcealment,' which he holds is
itself where truth 'happens.' Yet while the technology of previous
eras also revealed or unconcealed, Heidegger proposes that modern
technology is distinctive insofar as its revealing is also a
'challenging-forth,' 'setting-upon' and 'ordering': 'The revealing
that rules in modern technology is a challenging.'[11] In particular,
this revealing is a challenging or setting-upon of nature specifically
such that it is always thought to be on call or stand by, thus
rendering nature 'the chief storehouse of the standing energy

The challenging revealing of nature as 'standing-reserve' is what
Heidegger terms enframing. The true essence of modern technology,
enframing is the 'gathering together of that setting upon which sets
upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode
of ordering, as standing-reserve.'[13] As such, enframing is not
simply the manner in which human beings 'represent' or view nature.
In addition, Heidegger argues that such representations are the
result of enframing, which he also thinks of as a destining or
'sending' of Being itself that 'holds complete sway over man.'[14]
Thus according to Heidegger, modern humans regard nature as
standing-reserve only because enframing has already 'claimed' them to
do so. As he explains, 'when man, investigating, observing, ensnares
nature as an area of his own conceiving, he has already been claimed
by a way of revealing that challenges him to approach nature as an
object of research, until even the object disappears into the
objectlessness of standing-reserve.'[15] This of course means that
enframing comes about independently of 'human doing' and 'human
willing,' or does not 'happen exclusively in man, or decisively
through man.'[16]

But if enframing occurs in part outside of human agency, then what
can be done by humanity to alter or stop it? Heidegger regards
enframing as the 'supreme danger' and 'threat to man,' yet he holds
that there can be no 'mastering' it, as 'Human activity can never
directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never
banish it.'[17] The implication of this is that we can only wait for
a new, hopefully less antagonistic, 'destining of revealing.'
However, citing the Romantic poet Holderlin's claim that 'But where
danger is, grows/The saving power also,'[18] Heidegger suggests that
there may be some part humans can play, however limited, in
countering the dominance of enframing. This would require a
rekindling of the relationship technology once shared with art. As
Heidegger points out, for the ancient Greeks 'the bringing-forth of
the true into the beautiful was called techne. And the poi?sis of the
fine arts also was called techne.'[19] The implication here is that if
the revealing of nature by technology approximated the revealing of
nature by art, which lacks the challenging-forth of the former, then
nature could be seen for its beauty more so than its utility.

Adorno's Critique of the Domination of Nature

In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer aim to expose
the self-destructive character of enlightenment, as both a recurring
phenomenon throughout human history and a specific period within
modernity. As regards the latter, they write, 'the Enlightenment has
always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their
sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster
triumphant.'[20] Their emphasis on the earth or nature here has a
dual purpose. Not only is it meant to reference the escalation of
World War II, which threatened to destroy much of humanity and nature
(they wrote these words in the early 1940s), but also it calls
attention to the domination of nature in the more literal sense.
Enlightenment terminates in these two disasters, they argue, because
it 'disenchants' the world, stripping humans and nature of all
inherent value. Crucially, Adorno and Horkheimer do not thereby
reject enlightenment or modernity as such, but rather offer a
determinate negation of its 'entanglement in blind domination.'

Indeed in the wake of enlightenment, they assert, 'nature is broken.'
Now 'disqualified,' it amounts to nothing more than an object to be
dominated and exploited: 'Enlightenment behaves toward things as a
dictator toward men.'[21] While Adorno and Horkheimer admit that
humanity has always in some sense 'dominated' nature in order to
ensure its survival, they see the Enlightenment as unique in that it
made nature's subjugation 'the absolute purpose of life within and
without.'[22] Thus by the domination of nature they mean the
suppression not only of non-human nature, or 'external nature' (also
referred to as 'first nature'), but also of human or 'internal'
nature, which they define primarily in Freudian terms as tracking the
pleasure principle. Moreover, they see these two aspects of domination
as mutually reinforcing. On the one hand the subjection of external
nature necessary for self-preservation to some extent requires the
denial of internal nature. As an example of this Adorno and
Horkheimer discuss Odysseus' refusal to be steered off course by the
Sirens' song, illustrating how 'the adventuring self loses itself in
order to preserve itself.'[23] On the other hand this denial of
internal nature tends to lead to a forgetfulness of humanity's
dependence on external nature, thus intensifies the drive to dominate

The domination of external nature in particular is facilitated by
what Adorno and Horkheimer call 'instrumental reason.' The prevailing
form of rationality in the Enlightenment and arguably still today,
instrumental reason attends strictly to means, neglecting
consideration of larger ends such as autonomy and happiness, with the
obvious exception of self-preservation. In doing so it approaches
nature as a site of 'computation and utility': 'What men want to
learn from nature is how to use it in order to wholly dominate it and
other men.'[24] Thus instrumental reason has a direct connection with
disenchantment. The latter occurs through a process of abstraction,
the principal 'tool of enlightenment,' whereby nature is
'represented' in unifying concepts that not only ignore its vast
diversity, but also banish notions of nature's intrinsic worth to the
discredited realm of 'animism' or 'anthropomorphism.' The result is a
demotion of nature to the status of 'meaningless object' over against
which humanity can have its way. This 'distancing' of humanity from
nature is simultaneously the impetus for and result of instrumental
reason. Instrumental reason so disenchants nature the better to
control it, and once disenchanted, sees no problem in further
exploiting it. Tragically, instrumental reason operates in this
manner with little to no awareness, having 'lost the element of

Thus instrumental reason constitutes a representation or view of
nature for Adorno and Horkheimer, but one which ultimately derives
from a material or practical engagement with nature in the struggle
for self-preservation. As Kevin Deluca argues, instrumental reason is
at once 'epistemology and practice.'[26] In discussing the origin or
original purpose of reason, Adorno and Horkheimer contend that it
arose as a kind of survival weapon in response to fearsome aspects of
nature such as physically stronger animals. As Deborah Cook explains,
'reason played a crucial role in the evolution of our species as 'an
instrument of adaptation' to the environing world. Reason can be
compared to teeth on a bear since both serve the same purpose; reason
just serves the purpose of adaptation more effectively, turning human
beings into 'animals with more far-reaching powers'.'[27] While
humanity has since learned how to survive in nature and even 'master'
it with relative success, Adorno and Horkheimer claim that the 'mythic
fear' of nature remains. To quote Cook again, 'Even today, our
attempts to subsume nature under concepts for the purpose of
controlling, manipulating and exploiting it, reveal that nature
continues to inspire fear, dread, even terror.'[28]

As a corrective to this fear of nature, upon which rests our
domineering relation to it, Adorno and Horkheimer propose the
'remembrance of nature in the subject.'[29] In the idea of the
greatest good, on the problem of human destiny, and on the way of
realization of ultimate goals' (Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason,
(New York: Continuum, 2004), p. 4). In general this would involve a
collective reckoning with humanity's ultimate origin in and
fundamental dependence on nature, such that nature would no longer
appear as the alien and hostile Other. While Adorno maintains that
humanity and nature are 'non-identical,' he takes pains to undermine
the modern dualistic view that they are altogether different and
independent from one another. Recognizing this partial identity,
Adorno and Horkheimer suggest, could lead to a quasi-reconciliation
between humanity and nature by, as Cook describes it, initiating the
process of denaturalizing humanity and dehumanizing nature.[30] Of
course, such a transition would entail a shift not only in our view
of nature, but also in our material engagement with it, particularly
at the socioeconomic level. Thus in addition to the remembrance of
nature, or as an essential element of it, Adorno calls for a
transfiguration of social conditions, or 'second nature,' that would
relinquish 'first nature' from its status as mere means.

II. What Differentiates the Theories of Enframing and
Domination: Ontology v. Dialectics, Anti-Humanism v. Humanism

The foregoing section has highlighted several of the main insights of
Heidegger's and Adorno's respective accounts of modernity's
destructive relation to nature. In doing so it has also pointed to
possible affinities between them. The most obvious similarity lies in
the very observation of each that modernity marks a new and
problematic relationship between humanity and nature. Additionally,
they seem to theorize this relation in parallel ways; Heidegger in
terms of modern technology's enframing of nature as always on
standby, and Adorno in terms of humanity's instrumental view of
nature as an object to be dominated and exploited. These resemblances
have not gone unnoticed, admittedly. As Espen Hammer notes, both
Heidegger and Adorno show how in 'enlightened modernity... nature
becomes a resource to be exploited by humans; thus nothing -- no
animal, no environment, no eco-system -- counts as intrinsically
valuable or worthy of protection.'[31] Upon closer examination,
however, the apparent connections between Heidegger and Adorno
vis-a-vis nature are complicated by deeper, perhaps irreconcilable,
differences. In this section I identify some of the key sources of
these differences by looking to Heidegger's and Adorno's larger
philosophical commitments: ontology and anti-humanism in the case of
Heidegger, and dialectics and humanism in that of Adorno.

Heidegger and Adorno indeed converge in regarding modernity as
characterized by a unique and worrying view of nature as
standing-reserve and means, respectively. Yet for Heidegger enframing
is to be explained ontologically as a misunderstanding of Being in
general and nature in particular, while Adorno sees the instrumental
view of nature dialectically, as both the cause and effect of
humanity's domination of nature. Though in some ways overlapping,
these perspectives bring into relief Heidegger's and Adorno's more
foundational positions, which are otherwise at odds. In keeping with
his basic project of 'fundamental ontology,' concerned with the
meaning of Being as such, Heidegger critiques the enframing of nature
primarily on the grounds that its way of revealing 'blocks' nature and
Being, both of which he describes in terms of the ancient Greek term
physis, meaning 'self-presencing.' For Heidegger, by viewing nature
as standing reserve for human usage we wrongly challenge nature forth
rather than, as he elsewhere states, letting nature be.[32] By
contrast Adorno takes a dialectical approach to the instrumental view
of nature, holding that though it is indeed an erroneous
representation of nature, it arises not out of a misconception of
Being but from humanity's material struggle for self-preservation. In
keeping with his overall position that nature 'preponderates,' or has
historical and ontological primacy over humans and their
representations, Adorno sees the problem of the domination of nature
as ultimately grounded in our material relationship with it.

Adorno's prioritizing of nature underscores as well his materialism,
which marks another major difference between Heidegger's ontological
perspective and Adorno's dialectical view. Adorno concedes that an
'ontological moment is needed' in philosophy, however he sees
Heidegger's fundamental ontology as pseudo-concrete, that is, as
nominally concerned with Being, but in actuality far removed from
some of the main aspects of existence, namely social conditions and
their impact on individuals and nature.[33] For Adorno, an ontology
worthy of the name would have to attend to the dialectical interplay
between society and nature in way that Heidegger's thought neglects.
Hence as Cook explains, Adorno adheres to 'two types of materialism'
or ontology: 'a social type, which focuses on society and its
preponderance over individuals, and a scientific one, which focuses
on the preponderance of nature.'[34] The latter type is what allows
Adorno to regard the instrumental view of nature as, unlike
Heidegger, principally based in the drive for self-preservation,
while the former type accounts for why he, also unlike Heidegger,
calls for a social transformation that would displace instrumental

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between Heidegger and Adorno
on the topic of nature and otherwise, however, involves Heidegger's
anti-humanism and Adorno's commitment to Enlightenment values of
which humanism was central. As seen above, Heidegger argues that
enframing is not simply the view of nature taken by human beings, but
one that ultimately comes from Being itself. Thus according to
Heidegger, humans are only partially responsible for the enframing of
nature, and therefore have insufficient power to overcome it. This
position reflects Heidegger's larger stance against humanism, which
he considers to be a problematic residue of metaphysics that fails to
appreciate the truth about Being and human being, namely that the
latter takes precedence over the former.[35] While Heidegger does not
thereby dismiss the 'dignity of man,' and while Adorno is no less
suspicious of the metaphysics of modern subjectivity, in the case of
the domination of nature Adorno holds that it comes from nowhere but
humanity itself. Though he sees nature and humanity as dialectically
intertwined, with nature having priority, instrumental reason emerges
in and by humans and can only be assuaged if humanity both remembers
the nature within and works to develop social conditions less
antagonistic to humans and nature. To do so would be to realize the
full potential of the Enlightenment, for Adorno, of which humanism is
one of the crowning achievements.

III. Conclusion: Heidegger, Adorno, and Contemporary Ecological

Thus the affinities between Heidegger's and Adorno's critiques of
modernity's destructive relation to nature finally give way to
fundamental, perhaps unbridgeable differences. These divergences can
be attributed to underlying philosophical positions that are all but
antithetical: ontology and anti-humanism in the case of Heidegger,
and dialectics and humanism in that of Adorno. Interestingly, the
differences that separate Heidegger and Adorno in connection with
nature also divide two of the major schools of contemporary
ecological theory, deep ecology and social ecology, each of which has
drawn on the thought of Heidegger and Adorno, respectively.

As opposed to the 'shallow' ecology of mainstream environmentalism,
deep ecology aims to offer more penetrating diagnoses of as well as
solutions to our environmental ills. In doing so it takes issue
primarily with humanity's views of nature, for example
anthropocentrism or speciesism, the position that humans are the
superior life-form on earth. Thus several deep ecologists, including
its founder Arne Naess, have appropriated parts of Heidegger's
philosophy, particularly its ontological perspective, anti-dualism,
and anti-humanism. Along with a number of other philosophers and
religious thinkers, Naess has cited Heidegger as a possible source of
inspiration for deep ecology's 'platform principles.'[36] For example,
Heidegger's claim that 'Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the
shepherd of Being,'[37] can be called upon to support the principle
of 'biospherical egalitarianism,' which Naess formulated as a foil to
anthropocentrism and speciesism.[38]

Like deep ecology, social ecology seeks to go beyond mainstream
environmentalism. However, in doing so it pays close attention to the
societal, specifically economic, underpinnings of our environmental
crises. This makes it a rival of deep ecology, which tends to focus
on the 'spiritual' sources of the destruction of nature (i.e.,
anthropocentrism, speciesism), according to social ecology's
originator Murray Bookchin. In addition Bookchin also opposes the
anti-humanism of deep ecology's principle of biospherical
egalitarianism, which he refers to as a 'Malthusian doctrine.'[39]
Hence Bookchin has referenced the Frankfurt School in general, and
Adorno in particular as among his influences.[40] Specifically,
Adorno's emphasis on the precedence of nature and society and his
commitment to humanism are the foremost aspects of his thought that
lend themselves to social ecology. Interestingly, Bookchin also cites
Adorno's critique of positivism as crucial in challenging the
Heideggerian 'mysticism' found in deep ecology.[41]

Thus, deep ecology and social ecology differ for reasons similar to
those dividing Heidegger and Adorno on the topic of nature. Though
deep ecology and social ecology both oppose the destruction of
nature, just as Heidegger and Adorno both critique the enframing and
domination of nature, deep ecology, like Heidegger, focuses on our
representations of nature and takes an anti-humanist perspective,
whereas social ecology, as does Adorno, attends to the material basis
of these representations and remains loyal to humanism. While these
positions appear to set up a Kierkegaardian either/or when it comes
to choosing which to adopt, perhaps there is a way take the best of
both worlds, as it were, since each side has its merits. Such a
stance would see the destruction of nature as stemming from both a
representation problem and a societal problem, and thus would correct
the worst aspects of humanity so as to promote the well-being of all


1. See Hermann Morchen, Adorno und Heidegger: Untersuchung einer
philosophischen Kommunikationsverweigerung (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta,
1981); Fred Dallmayr, Between Freiburg and Frankfurt: Toward a
Critical Ontology (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991);
Adorno and Heidegger: Philosophical Questions, ed. Iain Macdonald and
Krzysztof Ziarek (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).

2. A possible exception is Ute Guzzoni's essay, 'Were speculations
about the state of things permissible...': Reflections on the
Relation Between Human Beings and Things in Adorno and Heidegger,' in
Adorno and Heidegger: Philosophical Questions, pp. 124-137. However,
as the title indicates, Guzzoni is concerned with things in general,
not natural things in particular.

3. I leave aside in this discussion the question of Heidegger's and
Adorno's concepts of nature itself, as this would require its own
article. Instead I take their uses of the term 'nature' for granted
as meaning non-human nature conventionally understood.

4. Adorno claims that critique 'has no place in Heidegger's
philosophy' (Theodor W. Adorno, Ontologie und Dialektik, ed. Rolf
Tiedmann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2002), p. 117). While
Adorno is mostly correct that Heidegger has no explicit social
critique, here I follow Krzysztof Ziarek's suggestion that Heidegger
can be read as 'critical otherwise' (Ziarek, 'Beyond Critique? Art
and Power, in Adorno and Heidegger: Philosophical Questions, p. 112).
The alternative critique offered by Heidegger's thinking is
ontological, concerned with our understanding and oft times
misunderstanding of Being.

5. Martin Heidegger, 'The Question Concerning Technology,' in The
Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 5.

6. Ibid., p. 17.

7. Ibid., p. 15.

8. Ibid., p. 14.

9. Ibid., p. 16.

10. Ibid., p. 12.

11. Ibid., p. 14.

12. Ibid., p. 21.

13. Ibid., p. 20.

14. Ibid., p. 25.

15. Ibid., p. 19.

16. Ibid., p. 24.

17. Ibid., p. 33.

18. Interestingly, Adorno and Horkheimer quote this exact line in
Dialectic of Enlightenment, when discussing how Odysseus 'loses
himself in order to find himself' (Max Horkheimer and Theodor W.
Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York:
Continuum, 1989), pp. 47-48). Their point is that the adventures to
which Odysseus surrenders himself serve to 'strengthen' his

19. Heidegger, 'The Question Concerning Technology,' p. 34.

20. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 3.

21. Ibid., p. 9.

22. Ibid., p. 32.

23. Ibid., p. 49.

24. Ibid., p. 4.

25. Ibid., p. 37.

26. Kevin DeLuca, 'Rethinking Critical Theory: Instrumental Reason,
Judgment, and the Environmental Crisis,' Environmental Ethics 23
(2001): pp. 307-326.

27. Deborah Cook, Adorno on Nature (Durham: Acumen, 2011), p. 65.

28. Ibid., p. 45.

29. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 40.
Elsewhere Horkheimer himself suggests an 'objective reason,' which
does 'not focus on the co-ordination of behavior and aim, but on
concepts... on

30. More precisely, Cook argues that 'Adorno's goal is to encourage
the partial transcendence of nature by human beings, and of human
beings by nature. Even as we come to terms with our affinity with
nature, this affinity should not blind us to the non-identity of
nature and human history' (Cook, Adorno on Nature, 23).

31. Espen Hammer, Adorno and the Political (New York: Routledge,
2005), p. 172.

32. See Martin Heidegger, 'Letter on Humanism,' in Martin Heidegger:
Basic Writings, ed. David Krell (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993).

33. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum,
1973), pp. 185.

34. Cook, Adorno on Nature, pp. 13-14.

35. See Heidegger, 'Letter on Humanism,' which is partly a critique
of Sartre's notion of existential freedom.

36. 'The sources of philosophic inspirations are many: the works of
Aristotle, Spinoza, Bergson, Heidegger, Whitehead, to name a few'
(Arne Naess 'Spinoza and the Deep Ecology Movement,' in The Ecology
of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess, (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008), p.

37. Martin Heidegger, 'Letter on Humanism,' p. 245.

38. Arne Naess, 'The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology
Movement: A Summary, in The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory
Anthology, ed. Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue (Berkeley: North
Atlantic Books, 1995), 3. Alarmingly, some deep ecologists have taken
anti-anthropocentrism to the extreme, inviting criticisms of
neo-Malthusianism and even eco-fascism. Of course, that Heidegger was
involved with National Socialism calls into question his anti-humanism
and those who endorse it. For a key discussion on this topic, see
Michael E. Zimmerman, 'Martin Heidegger: Antinaturalistic Critic of
Technological Modernity,' in Minding Nature: The Philosophers of
Ecology, ed. David Macauley (New York: The Guilford Press, 1996), pp.

39. Murray Bookchin, 'Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge
for the Ecology Movement,' Left Green Perspectives, 4-5 (1987).

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.

(c) Michael Kilivris 2012

E-mail: mrkilivris@gmail.com



In the following essay, I will detail the selfish gene thesis, and
then I will examine three specific arguments given in support of it.
While examining these arguments, I will discuss the impact that the
thesis would have upon various evolutionary occurrences and
processes, if it were the case. After providing these arguments, I
will discuss what appears to be a deeper problem with the selfish
gene thesis. Then I will provide two possible alternative
understandings of evolutionary processes -- group selectionism and
multi-level selectionism. Finally, I will conclude that the selfish
gene thesis can, in fact, be successfully challenged -- with the
caveat that it is a potentially progressive research program that
could fit into a multi-level selection model.

The selfish gene thesis is, in short, the thesis that evolution
consists of two processes -- interaction and replication -- and that
it is the role of interactors to carry on replicators into future
generations. The first process -- interaction -- exists 'between
organisms and their environment... [and it] biases the copying
process and causes differential copying from one generation to the
next' (Sterelny and Griffiths, 55). The second process -- replication
-- is 'the process of copying from generation to generation, ensuring
that successive generations are similar enough for selection to be
cumulative' (55). As such, there are two types of entities, according
to the selfish gene thesis. There are interactors, which 'exist in
each generation of a copying cycle and interact... with the
environment,' and there are replicators, which 'are copied into the
next generation,' forming 'lineages of things with the same
structure' (55). As such, it is only the replicator -- the 'selfish
gene'[1] -- that is heritable; and, therefore, it is the gene that is
the fundamental unit of selection in evolution.

There are three specific arguments for the selfish gene thesis that I
want to examine, the argument from preservation in selection, the
argument against the problem of taking the individual as a natural
kind, and the bookkeeping argument. In the bookkeeping argument, I
want to pay special attention to the explanation of altruism that the
selfish gene thesis provides, but first, let me explain the argument
from preservation in selection.

The argument from preservation in selection maintains that the
selfish gene thesis clarifies precisely what is the unit of
selection, something that has long been and continues to be a
contentious issue in evolutionary biology. On the selfish gene
account, what get selected are genes and only genes. In other words,
genes are the only elements that pass from one generation to another.
As such, they form lineages that terminate or become increasingly
bushy, and this provides an account of evolutionary processes. This
relates directly to the second argument, which eliminates problems
with defining the individual as a 'natural kind.' Since there is no
standardized definition of what an 'individual' is (are bacteria
colonies, clonal populations, or slime molds collectives or
individuals?), using the individual as the unit of selection makes
the selection process strikingly fuzzy. According to the selfish gene
thesis, individuals are mere interactors which serve as a sort of
epiphenomena for the genes that they contain. In other words,
individuals, on this account, are reduced to 'vehicles' (more
precisely, vehicular manifestations) for the true units of selection,
i.e., the genes themselves. The question 'What is an individual?'
becomes irrelevant to questions about natural selection.

Finally, there is the bookkeeping argument, which holds that the
selfish gene thesis 'gives us a common currency for representing,
comparing, and explaining evolutionary changes' (66). In other words,
since evolution is a process that solely acts on genes, evolutionary
processes can be explained using the same terminology, and problems
that need explanation are reduced to the same level of explanation.
If all 'selection is selection for genes by virtue of their
phenotypic powers,' then all questions about evolution can be
answered in terms of genes and their phenotypic 'powers' (66). So,
for example, genes on this account allow speciation to be described
as the barriers to gene flow and evolution itself to be described
merely as the change of gene frequency in a population. The
explanation for altruism is more specific. According to the selfish
gene thesis, altruism is a self-sacrificial behavior that is extended
to those with whom the altruist shares genes -- in other words, it
results from the sharing of genes between two vehicles and from the
preference given to like-gened vehicles.

There appears, however, to be an ontological problem with the selfish
gene thesis. This problem concerns the identity of the gene itself.
Usually, 'a gene is thought of as a functional unit of some kind'
(78). According to the selfish gene thesis, however, genes are
redefined as 'any reasonably short sequence of DNA on a chromosome'
(78). This is problematic, though, because if the gene is defined as
such, 'then most of them will have no more systematic relation to the
phenotype than an arbitrary string of letters has to the meaning of a
book' (79). As defined, this 'evolutionary gene' would become
'invisible' to selection much like any arbitrarily grouped sequence
of letters in this paper would become 'invisible.' But the
aforementioned ontological problem concerns the idea that there is
such a thing as a single, unchanging entity -- which we call the gene
-- that passes from generation to generation. Certain findings in
molecular genetics seem to challenge this idea.

Instead of being discrete entities, genes seem to be functional
packages that change the role they play depending on their
positioning. For example, where in an embryo a gene is activated will
determine what characteristics of the embryo will emerge as it is
exposed to environmental influences. So it becomes apparent that the
'same' gene can show completely different functions based on its
sequencing. Yet there also seem to be instances where genes that are
identical sequentially can fulfill different functions. This leads to
the conclusion that, as an entity, the gene is not well-defined. Due
to the apparently high volume of counter-examples to simplistic
definitions of the gene, I would conclude that the gene, rather than
being an ontologically discrete entity, is instead a family of
concepts. As such, it is the context of discussion that will
determine what aspect of the gene-concept is being discussed when the
topic arises.

There are alternative understandings of evolutionary processes, two
of which will be discussed briefly below -- group selectionism and
multi-level selectionism. Group selectionism is the thesis that
allelic frequencies will vary due to the advantages or disadvantages
that the alleles confer on the group to which the allele's carrier
belongs -- regardless of the effect that the alleles have upon the
fitness of the carrier. According to this understanding, something
like altruism is explained as a group property; if a group's
survivability increases with the number of altruists it contains,
then groups with more altruists will have a higher collective
fitness. Group selectionism has, however, been traditionally
controversial. There is another model, championed by David Sloan
Wilson and Elliot Sober, which they call multi-level selection. In
this model, there are multiple levels on which natural selection can
act. So, potentially, on this account, natural selection could act at
the level of the cell, the individual, or the group. It is even
possible that genes can be units of selection, since according to the
multi-level selection model, there need not be one single unit of
selection. As such, it seems possible that the selfish gene thesis
could be a progressive research program, especially if it is so
modified as to be successfully installed in a wider program of
multi-level selection research.


1. Andrew Brown, in an article about The Selfish Gene for Salon,
wrote, ''Selfish', when applied to genes, doesn't mean 'selfish' at
all. It means, instead, an extremely important quality for which
there is no good word in the English language: 'the quality of being
copied by a Darwinian selection process.''

Works Cited

Griffiths, Paul and Sterelny, Kim. Sex and Death: An Introduction to
the Philosophy of Biology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,

Rosenberg, Alex and McShea, Daniel. Philosophy of Biology: A
Contemporary Introduction. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.

Sloan, David Wilson and Sober, Elliott. Unto Others: The Evolution
and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Cambridge, MA: University of
Harvard Press, 1998.

(c) Michael Uhall 2011

E-mail: michael.uhall@gmail.com



Earlier this year in March, out of the blue, I heard that McGraw-Hill
Ryerson had selected one of my short science fiction stories for the
5th edition of their text book Doing Philosophy: An introduction
through thought experiments by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn.[1]

The selected story, 'The Black Box' was one of fifteen science
fiction short stories written for Pathways Program A. Introduction to
Philosophy 'The Possible World Machine'.[2] The story is a cautionary
tale about a man who is given a 'black box' that predicts the future
by a mysterious hooded stranger. What would become of our free will
if everything that was going to happen could be predicted in advance?
Is that even possible? If not, why not?

The story dates back to 1990-1, long before the idea of Pathways was
conceived. Originally, there were just ten stories which I read to a
Workers Educational Association philosophy evening class in
Sheffield. As I describe in my 1999 talk 'Can Philosophy Be Taught?',

     ... how do you present the problems so that people will be
     gripped by them? The standard text books didn't do a very
     good job, I felt. So I had the idea of writing science
     fiction stories. I called them 'thought experiments'. (The
     idea had been tried before, in a book by Miller and Smith
     called Thought Probes Prentice Hall, which used the work of
     famous science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke,
     Robert Heinlein, Roger Zelazny and Frederik Pohl.) The
     stories were fun to write, and provided a perfect launch
     pad for the discussion of the problems of philosophy. My
     audience was soon hooked.[3]

A further five stories were written after the launch of the Pathways
to Philosophy distance learning program, during 1995-6.

The fifteen short stories from 'Possible World Machine', together
with introductions are available for free download from the Pathways
web site.[4] The PDF text represents about 40 per cent of the
complete Pathways Introduction to Philosophy program.

Apart from McGraw-Hill, the only other publisher to take an interest
in my interest in science fiction was Benbella, who in asked me to
write the Afterword to the new edition of David Gerrold's classic
sci-fi time travel novel, 'The Man Who Folded Himself'.[5][6]

Over the last 15 years or so, I have been too busy running the
Pathways School of Philosophy to consider writing fiction, let alone
science fiction. However, the unexpected news from McGraw-Hill
started a train of thought. What if... ? There are two possible
worlds: the possible world in which I just carried on as I have been
doing, or the possible world where I tried something new...

... Why not?

You never really know until you try. 

So at the beginning of September, after lengthy (too lengthy)
deliberation, I decided to have a go. I've written ten stories to

     1. A Better Ray Gun
     2. I Love Your Waspish Waist
     3. A Million Dark Years
     4. The Last... What?
     5. Alien Baby
     6. Perfect Day
     7. Hare and Hounds
     8. Hold That Sucker Down
     9. Go Deep
     10. That Feeling When

All the new stories are less than 1000 words, a genre which is termed
'flash fiction'. Because these are intended for publication, they will
not be available online. Instead, I am starting a limited email
distribution list.

Anyone who has taken or is in the process of taking Pathways Program
A. Introduction to Philosophy 'The Possible World Machine' is invited
to join the Pathways sci-fi list.

Apart from the need to make the stories gripping -- which applies to
all fiction -- with science fiction it is the ideas that are the most
important thing. There is philosophy in here, but not in the up front,
didactic way of the original stories from Possible World Machine. The
reactions I have received so far encourage me that I am not wasting
my time on some vain pursuit. 

If would like to join the new Pathways sci-fi list, please email
klempner@fastmail.net. The stories are delivered as individual email
messages. So the first mail out will consist of a compendium of all
the stories penned to date. After that, stories will go out at
irregular intervals when I can find the time to write or when the
inspiration takes me.

I look forward to hearing from you!

One more thing:

I have a copy of Doing Philosophy: An introduction to philosophy
through thought experiments available for review. It is long. The 647
pages are jam packed with philosophical ideas, designed to provoke
active engagement with the text. Very much a book to work through
rather than just read in the comfort of an arm chair. I am looking
for a sufficiently energetic and knowledgeable reviewer to write a
full review for a future issue of Philosophy Pathways.

-- Any takers?


1. Doing Philosophy: An introduction through thought experiments 5th
edition 2013

Featured at: 

2. Pathways to Philosophy: The six Pathways


3. 'Can Philosophy Be Taught? (3)'


4. Pathways downloads page


5. The Man Who Folded Himself (ppbk edition 2003)


6. 'Afterword to The Man Who Folded Himself'


(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2012

E-mail: klempner@fastmail.net

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