Böhme (1937- ) is a
well-known contemporary German philosopher whose research interests cover classical
philosophy, philosophy of science, theory of time, natural philosophy,
philosophy of technical civilization, philosophical anthropology, ethics and
aesthetics. From 1977 to 2002 he was Professor of Philosophy at Technical
University of Darmstadt. Since 2005 he has been director of the Institute for Practical Philosophy (IPPH) in Darmstadt. Beginning in
the late 1980s, Böhme developed the
theory “ecological aesthetics of
nature” (Ökologische Naturästhetik), which has already had a wide
influence on current research
in German-speaking countries. His major
works in this area are (a) Für eine
ökologische Naturästhetik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989); (b) Atmosphäre:
Essays zur neuen Ästhetik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1995); (c) Die Natur vor uns. Naturphilosophie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Kusterdingen: SFG
(d) Leibsein als Aufgabe. Leibphilosophie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Kusterdingen: SFG
As a response to the current environmental
debate, Böhme's ecological aesthetics of nature
is based on a general theory of perception
Wahrnehmungslehre). He emphasizes the concrete human bodily experience in a special environment and
gives priority to the original coexistent relationship between human and
nature. With this theory, Böhme attempts to underline the idea that humans are a part of nature. He argues that we should abandon modern practices that tend to
control and exploit the resources of nature and instead should actively promote the
integration of human and ecological elements.
On January 28th
2014, Professor Böhme gave a presentation at the School of Arts and Design in
Kassel (Kunsthochschule Kassel). On this occasion Dr.
Zhuofei Wang interviewed him about the central ideas in his ecological aesthetics of nature. (Editorial note: Since
little of Böhme's work is available in English, Contemporary
Aesthetics encouraged Dr. Wang's proposal to interview Professor Böhme in order to provide scholars outside
German-speaking countries an overview of Böhme's ideas.)
Date: January 29th 2014
Place: Stadthotel Kassel, Germany
Interviewee: Professor Dr. Gernot Böhme, Darmstadt
University of Technology & Institute for Practice of Philosophy (IPPh), Germany
Interviewer: Dr. Zhuofei Wang,
School of Arts and Design, Kassel, Germany
Wang: Good morning, Professor Böhme. I'm honored
to be able to have this interview with you! Your aesthetic research starts with the critique of the
traditional understanding of the term 'nature.'
You have pointed out that nature in
conventional European discourse has been described as something lying beyond
human beings („etwas hinter“ dem Menschen
as something to be conquered (als
etwas Überwundenes) and as something to
be dismissed as obsolete (als
In contrast, you attempt to establish “nature before us” as a basic principle. Could you please tell us how this principle is
applied in your aesthetic practice?
thesis that nature lies beyond us can be
traced back to Jean-Jacques
Rousseau's famous motto, “Back to nature” ("Revenons à la nature"). There he
postulates that nature refers to a state that is
given, and points out that we have already left it; that is to say, we are
in the state of civilization. However,
the current situation, in my view, is quite different. In the past fifty years, nature has became an
intensively discussed topic precisely because we should give ourselves a new
direction. Now nature confronts us with
a new task to be fulfilled and we still need to investigate further our natural
being. Fundamentally we regard ourselves
as a “rational animal” (zoon logon echon), namely as a
kind of being having rationality and language. In this case, animality means something to be
overcome. We currently find ourselves in
a phase which demands us to integrate our natural being into the
self-understanding of human beings. In
this sense, natural being and rational being must first be considered as equal.
This primarily concerns external nature.
We are already living in a cultural and
civilized nature, and it is only now that we realize that what has been carried
out as the domination of nature is, in fact, a totally impossible project. On the contrary, nature muss be recognized as
our partner and we should gradually adapt to such a
the late 1980s
you have been developing the theory of an “ecological aesthetics of nature” (Ökologische Naturästhetik). Different
from the modern conception, which leads to an alienation from nature, the
ecological aesthetics of nature is based on the general theory of perception
(Allgemeine Wahrnehmungslehre) and
strives to integrate nature in itself and nature for us (Natur an sich und für uns). What does this actually mean? What older and contemporary theories have
provided inspiration for this research?
Böhme: In my opinion, what really counts is that in our
period we should rediscover our identity as natural beings and develop the
consciousness that body is the nature that we
(Der Leib ist die
Natur, die wir selbst sind). I view this as a crucial aspect. We have found ourselves involved in
environmental degradation, that is, that our own nature is being affected. This concerns not
only the problem of food but also of breathing. External pollution, for example the
polluted atmosphere, is threatening our own existence. Moreover, we tend to suffer from cancer caused
by the absorption of toxic substances.
important point is that the destruction of external nature has become a problem
for us only when it has affected us and has been sensed with our own bodies. If this were not the case, one could say that
it really does not matter what happens to external nature. What is a product of human behavior towards
nature would not change nature as such because, for example, a desert or fallow
land as well as the remains of an industrial zone belong to nature, too. In this sense, nature as such is
indestructible. But what
has been destroyed is nature
for us (Natur
für uns). This actually concerns nature as a living space of human
this respect, I hold the view that we should be aware of our own nature
in order to tackle environment problems. In this way we may be able
to recognize that what we have done to external nature could eventually conflict
with our inner nature. The environment where we live is not an issue only related to nature itself. Instead, our human surroundings should be transformed into a human space, and nature as a living
space made worthy of preservation.
3. Wang: In
your work Für eine ökologische Naturästhetik (Toward an
Ecological Aesthetics of Nature) published in 1989,
the topic of Being-located in environments (Sichbefinden in Umwelten) is defined as a core theme of aesthetics.
Could you please clarify this finding and its consequences?
Böhme: This deals with the issue that the science of ecology
needs some adjustments. First, what
interests us in nature is not important for nature as such but for ourselves. We realize that what we are interested in is
not nature itself but nature defined by human limits, e.g. as do political
borders or property boundaries. Secondly, what nature should be is not
dependent on the norms of nature but on the standards established by human
beings. For example, although a forest
or a field is a part of nature, its situation is determined by various human
uses and interests. In this sense, the
values we desire to achieve are specified not in the field of nature but of
is why we have claimed in Darmstadt that ecology should be a social science (soziale
Naturwissenschaft), namely that social norms and social value limits
should be introduced into the basic categories of ecology.
A specific point in this connection is the
aesthetic aspect. Nature, which is
interesting for us and desirable as a human environment, should also be
observed from an aesthetic point of view. Aesthetic viewpoints (ästhetische Gesichtspunkte) do not pay attention only to the issue of whether
nature is beautiful or offers us beautiful scenery but also to the fact that
nature influences our own feeling of being there (Befinden)
through our sensibility. With the help
of our own bodily feeling (Befinden), we can feel the environment in which we are
located. So there exists a relation
between external conditions and our own body state (Befindlichkeit.) I call this
relation an aesthetic aspect under which our own environment needs to be
considered. And it is atmosphere
that brings the human situation (Befinden) and
the quality of environment together. In
this view, we can affirm that external nature has a certain atmosphere in which
we live. At the same time, this
atmosphere makes us feel good or not.
4. Wang: In terms of the classical theories, 'environment'
mainly concerns non-human nature consisting of organic and inorganic elements. On the contrary, Professor Arnold Berleant,
who is an important contributor to environmental aesthetics, points out that
environment refers to a dynamic natural process in which all things
participate. In this sense human beings
are in a continuous symbiotic relationship with their surroundings. Berleant emphasizes that humans cannot be
separated from the natural environment and that there exists a single, complex
situation, the human environment. Do you
share this opinion?
Böhme: I view Ernst Bloch's concept of alliance-technique (Allianztechnik)
as a guiding principle in this respect. Bloch
coined this term in his book, The
Principle of Hope (Das Prinzip
Hoffnung). As regards his claim, he
postulated that mankind was expected to develop such a technique, that is, such
a relationship with nature that, in today's sense, it would be sustainable. However, it should be mentioned that a
catastrophic divergence has destroyed what could be a symbiotic human-nature
coexistence. The integration of human
activity and natural development is being constantly threatened and is getting
out of control. We call these
environmental disasters, which are not only threatening us but are already at
hand. We define these as environmental
catastrophes because external nature has been altered through human activities,
namely through production and consumption, so that it will eventually hardly
any longer be a human living space.
we should demand here what was achieved in traditional agriculture. A peasant arranged his field in such a way
that in the course of the year the field could return to the state from which
it came, so that the next cycle could start again. This tells us that a wonderful symbiotic
relationship in fact existed in traditional agricultural society. Today, on the contrary, in the industrial
agriculture that we have, such a sustainable human-nature relationship must
first be established. Now the problem is
that we have to develop patterns of production and consumption that understand
nature as a partner in an interdependent sense. In other words, this means that we always
co-produce nature in our own production processes. Namely, we must transfer nature again to a
status, generally its initial status, in which further production is possible,
and we must see ourselves as a part of the reproductive processes of external
5. Wang: The ecological aesthetics
of nature reflects the human-nature interaction against the background of technological
civilization. In your opinion, nature in
our technological era means “not a counterpart to the culture of technology” but
primarily in relation to the design of a human environment. How would you respond to the criticism that
such a concept oriented towards subjective aesthetic needs represents a retrograde
step toward the traditional subject-centered theory?
Norwegian ecologist Arne Næss (1912-2009) was of the opinion that we should overcome human-centered thinking. Thinkers like him are so radical because they
try to reverse the relationship that has existed for hundreds of years and
demand that we should take care of nature, as such. The welfare of nature itself is of importance and we, as
humankind, have to put ourselves aside. This is completely absurd! The fact is that what in Europe is esteemed
and protected as nature is not nature in itself. We have no wilderness. In traditional American stories we can find
descriptions of wilderness because what immigrants met as nature was in fact wilderness.
Therefore in the US, it can be argued
that nature as wilderness should be protected. In Europe, by contrast, what people find good
about nature is always cultivated nature. This is actually the old culturally affected nature that we know and
find good here; in other words, this concerns what is considered as landscape,
this is not nature in itself. In this
respect I would say there is a requirement, first from a historical and second
from a practical standpoint, that we have a cultural environment, namely a
human environment around us and not just wilderness. What is the point of not allowing anyone to
enter a preserve? And for what reason? This actually cannot be the goal! Such considerations are not really related to environmental issues and politics. What counts is rather a
balanced relationship, as mentioned above under the concept of "alliance-technique" (Allianztechnik).
this, cultivated nature is the type of nature that should be taken seriously. Nature should be accepted and at the same time
valued as an independent partner. The
reason for this is that people have overloaded themselves with the project of
dominating nature. However, total
management of nature cannot be realized at all, for we should be fully
conscious of the spontaneity and self-reproduction forces of nature.
6. Wang: Under
the influence of cultural relativism, quite a
number of aestheticians are now of the opinion that the aesthetic contemplation
of nature actually does not follow a universal pattern but is influenced by the
cultural tradition of interpretation that is permeated with particular
historical, social, and psychological elements. What do you think of this viewpoint? Wouldn't it be easy to come to the conclusion
that nature-related experience should only be evaluated in terms of the
associated cultural understanding and could be considered as inadequate or
inaccurate if it is judged from other cultural perspectives?
should be answered from two aspects.
There seems to be a kind of relativism if one pleads for a cultural
nature. Seen from a historical
perspective, such cultivated nature is connected with a given culture from
Europe, Asia, or America, etc., and could be considered acceptable. At the same time, this also means that the
nature in which we are interested is usually regional, that is to say, it
doesn't concern the whole world but regions and landscapes. However, from an ecological point of view, the
world should obviously be regarded as a whole, as well. In this sense, wholeness is indispensable. Thus there is an ecological dimension that is
related to the entirety of the world. Take,
for example, the ozone layer at the two poles: One is fighting against its disappearance,
with the help of the enforcement of a worldwide ban or reduction of the FCKW
gas emission, so that it could regenerate.
Today we have other problems, such as climate
change and slowly rising temperature, as well. All of these are deemed to be global issues,
namely, they do not refer to a matter of the cultural imprints of landscapes
but to the cosmos as
a whole. An ecosystem that encompasses
the whole earth should be guided into stability and preserved to make human
life possible. As to the slow heating of atmosphere,
we realize that this is not true. The
melting of polar ice has been leading to higher water levels, so that the
entire landscapes and countries around the Pacific region are being threatened.
These environmental problems have
affected large parts of mankind and must be overcome.
is preferable is a world climate that allows human
life and well being, at least in large areas of the earth. Thus people would like to contribute to the
maintenance of this climate. That means
they will have to defend against those environmental problems that are
attributed to their own activities. For our lives, we need a environment that is favorable
for us. This actually is an
international environmental problem.
7. Wang: Nowadays, the sphere of art has already gone beyond its
traditional limits and occurs in new manifestations, such as urban design,
advertisement, new media and micro-techniques.
As far as the development of an aesthetics of nature is concerned, it is
increasingly difficult to differentiate between natural and artistic forms in
cases like urban design, architecture, and bio-artifacts. How can we understand the contemporary
relationship between artistic and natural aesthetic values? To what extent would an aesthetic analysis
benefit from such an artistic extension?
speaking, it is clear that art is obviously something quite independent of
other human activities and of human nature. This is called the
autonomy of art. But today we are dealing with arts that are
environmentally relevant and devote themselves to environmental problems. This mainly refers to art
forms manifesting natural processes themselves. I call this "ephemeral art" (ephemere Kunst), for
example, those works that deliberately expose themselves
to nature and thereby let nature contribute to the creation of the art. Take Fridhelm Klein as an example. He lets his paintings be flooded by waves. Here a
natural process has been imposed on the form of the
artwork itself and it shows the effect of nature being employed in a specific realm of art. To take another example, there is a type of art showing natural processes by
introducing natural objects like plants, trees, etc. into the work. Of course there are also other kinds of art
that draw attention to the destruction of nature.
My last example is the great project, “Soundscape,” which records acoustic
landscapes. For one thing, such
recordings preserve for us the natural environment in the form of acoustic
another, they remind us that we ourselves live in a natural acoustic environment that may even
be the basis of our feeling at
home. Yet another
result of the “Soundscape” project is to create an awareness of this aspect of
environment. Of course, this also concerns
life in the city and actually relates to the issue of urban ecology. Environment here is not just mother nature
but also urban environment. With the
help of the “Soundscape” and acoustic installations, people are once again
being made aware of the fact that they live in an audible environment and begin
to develop an interest in it. And
in the urban design the following question must be posed: How
should the environment be further developed?
Böhme, many thanks for
this interview and all the best for the future!
(Introduction and translation by Zhuofei Wang.)
Zhuofei Wang is an academic assistant at the School of Art and Design in
Kassel, Germany. Dr. Wang successfully
created a partnership between the School of Art and Design in Kassel, Germany
and the School of Arts of Peking University in China. She is currently working on the topic of Öko-Ästhetik: Eine Alternative zur
gegenwärtigen Ästhetik (Green Aesthetics: an Alternative to the Current Aesthetics)
at the School of Art and Design in Kassel.
on December 17, 2014.
 Gernot Böhme: Die
Natur vor uns: Naturphilosophie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Kusterdingen:
SFG Servicecenter, 2002), pp. 9.
Böhme: Für eine ökologische Naturästhetik (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989), p.
Böhme mit E. Schramm als hrsg.: Soziale Naturwissenschaft. Wege zur
Erweiterung der Ökologie (Frankfurt am Main:
Böhme: Für eine ökologische Naturästhetik (Frankfurt am
Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989), p.
Böhme: Die sanfte Kunst des Ephemeren (Essen: Verlag
der fadbk, 2008). Also
in Mira Fliescher, Fabian
Goppelsröder, Dieter Mersch (hrsg.): Sichtbarkeiten I.
Erscheinen. Zur Praxis des Präsentiven (Berlin:
diaphanes 2013), pp.87-108.