Saturday afternoon, I was editing the most difficult chapter of my ecophilosophy manuscript. It’s difficult because it was the most ambitious. It was the most ambitious because it didn’t rely on authorities and studies to makes its point, and wasn’t an account or direct adaptation of another writer’s ideas. It was an entirely conceptual argument for why an ecological philosophy must have two particular principles at its heart.
One of those principles is that everything plays some role, direct or indirect, in the generation of everything else. Right now, I’m calling this the principle of co-constitution. I derive from this the second principle, that because bodies and processes interact to generate each other only through relations, relations (not things or bodies themselves) are primary in the constitution of reality.
A few philosophers throughout the history of the tradition have touched on this idea (essentially, it reformulates and continues process philosophy, as I conceive it, an irregular and sometimes accidental tradition from Heraclitus through Spinoza, Nietzsche, Whitehead, possibly Peirce but I haven’t yet read enough of him in detail to tell, Bergson, Deleuze, and DeLanda). However, I didn’t want my ecophilosophy project to be perceived a continuation of an earlier tradition or following the path of another major figure (making my project “insert-name-here”-ian).
This is, in part, my ego again: I wanted a potentially wide audience, so didn’t want to risk being written off as irrelevant to discussions in environmental issues and philosophy that didn’t reference these figures. It also serves my goal to push philosophy to become less polarized and over-specialized: I want new works of philosophy to cut across established camps, so how better to do that than write such a book myself. There’s also career opportunism involved: If I can show that I have competent knowledge in diverse areas of research, I’ll display my abilities as a versatile teacher who can handle many different courses in a given department’s curriculum. Being too specialized in your knowledge means fewer job opportunities in the academy are open to you, and the only way your application will be successful is if you land a job with a large enough department that they’ll never ask you to teach outside your narrowly defined area. Being able to speak as many philosophical languages as possible is a great asset for a working university philosopher.
The way to get there, however, involves what is at times some very difficult editing.