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“Folding Nature Back Upon Itself: Aristotle and the Rebirth of Physis,” confronts us with nature’s receding presence and proposes to think through a rebirth of physis. Following Aristotle’s concept of physis, this paper locates two axes along which such a rethinking of physis can take place. The first axis is vertical, and turns around the fundamental tension that each natural being faces in seeking to overcome its own matter in order to reach transcendence. The second axis is horizontal, and follows Aristotle’s ideas that physis cannot unfold unless aided, stimulated, nurtured and enforced by external factors such as one’s environment, food, art, technology, and politics. This paper argues that vertical transcendence needs to be rethought to accommodate earthy, individual natural flourishing. Horizontal transcendence (e.g. rethinking the collaboration between different species and the collaboration between art and nature) may allow physis the kind of vertical transcendence that leads to its rebirth. This has important implications for both restoration projects and de-extinction projects: we need to acknowledge the role of human design for restoration and conservation projects, and envision humans no longer as external and superior to eco-systems, but as part of them. Only within newly conceptualized social-ecological systems can such a new vision of physis take flight.


In Ontologies of Nature: Continental Perspectives and Environmental Reorientations, eds. Gerard Kuperus and Marjolein Oele (2017), Dordrecht: Springer.

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