mercredi 26 novembre 2014

Is the concept of speciety rationally operative ? / A. Berque

Proposed to the International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, special issue on “Sociality, culture and nature”.

Is the concept of speciety
rationally operative ?

by Augustin BERQUE

Abstract – The paper discusses the validity of the concept of shushakai put forward by the Japanese naturalist Kinji Imanishi. It proposes to translate this concept with speciety, defining it as the fact of being a species as a society, not as a mere population ; a society endowed with subjecthood, thus possessing its own specific world and evolving in relation to that world, rather than to the environment in general. The point of view is that of mesology, i.e. the study of milieu as distinct from the environment, which is the object of ecology. Mesology in that sense corresponds to Umweltlehre in Uexküll’s sense, and to fûdogaku in Watsuji’s sense.

1. Is there such a thing as society?
Charles Darwin’s candidature to the French Académie des Sciences was rejected in 1872 on the grounds that “Darwinism is a fiction, a poetical accumulation of probabilities without proofs and of seducing explanations without demonstration”.[1] The author of this lapidary judgment was an adept of Auguste Comte’s positive philosophy, Charles Robin, a physician, who apart of this feat is known as one of the founders of the Société de Biologie, at the inaugural session of which (on June 7th, 1848) he proposed the term mésologie for the study of the interactions between living organisms and their environment (CANGUILHEM 1968 : 71-72). The range of this mesology comprised also the human, including all the interactions between the individual and the society, that is, the field of that which a few years before, in 1839, Comte had proposed to call sociologie. Since then, sociology has prospered, but, after a brilliant début, mesology for its part was to be superseded by ecology (the German word Ökologie was coined by Haeckel in 1866).
            If ecology eventually ousted mesology, at least in Robin’s positive sense, it is because the latter did not possess the conceptual and methodological means to overcome the ever widening gap between sociology and biology, the social sciences and the natural sciences; whereas ecology was from the start a decidedly natural science (though the term itself was to be borrowed by sociology a few decades later, in the so-called Chicago school). For certain, mesology did try to restrict its field to positive, measurable facts. Thus it lapsed into reductionism and geographical determinism, a flourishing trend in the second half of the XIXth century, which was later to be debarred by the French school of human geography and its possibilism, meaning that the same natural conditions do not produce the same cultural traits; and in fact, do not “produce” them at all. Conditions are not causes, and only give occasions to human agency (FEBVRE 1922). Human geography, thus, undermined mesology’s last pretentions to scientifically grasp the relationship of the social with the natural.
            But after all, is such a relationship scientifically conceivable?  The natural sciences do have objects, which they can grasp and measure physically at various scales, ranging from particles to the universe. As for society, though, sensible persons, like Margaret Thatcher[2] was, can still maintain that such an object does not exist. As her famous declaration goes,  There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. This is in fact a very old question. Mrs Thatcher’s position comes under what is generally called methodological individualism. She would have been on the side of Spencer in his controversy with Durkheim, and, via the mediaeval quarrel of universals, on the side of Aristotle’s substances against Plato’s ideas. In such a tradition, society is no more than a flatus vocis.
            Without delving into this old problem for itself, I shall here question in this light the scientific relevance of the concept of shushakai 種社会, literally “species society” or “specic society”, which was put forward by Kinji Imanishi (1902-1992), particularly in correlation with his un-Darwinian theory of evolution. Is there such a thing as shushakai ?

2. From subjecthood in evolution to speciety
Imanishi is nowadays internationally recognized as having initiated a paradigm shift in primatology (DE WAAL 2003), the essence of which consists in acknowledging the animal’s subjecthood, sociality and culturalness. Though it was a revolution, this does not really question the basements of the scientific attitude toward reality. Apes, after all, are our cousins. The problem is that Imanishi went much farther in his contestation of these basements. For him (exemplarily so in IMANISHI 1980), subjecthood (shutaisei 主体性) as such is the key to evolution. This implies, first, that the living (seibutsu 生物) chooses in some way to evolve or not, in such direction or not. Second, the living, as a subject (shutai 主体), is not limited to the individual organism. Its subjecthood ranges at least from the cell to what Imanishi (e.g. IMANISHI 1948: 275) calls seibutsu zentai shakai 生物全体社会, “the whole society of the living”. At first glance, this might be equated with the biosphere, but it is in fact essentially different. For Imanishi, it is not only a system, as “Gaia”, for example, is in the eyes of Lovelock (1979); it is a society in its own, though it encompasses many other levels of socialness.
            Here lies the most controversial point: in this perspective, society is not only an objective system linking together individual subjects; it possesses its proper subjecthood on another level, which enables it to integrate itself as a society, not reducible to a mere population. It is the same logic which led Imanishi to speak of shushakai. As noted above, this concept can be rendered literally with “species society” or “specic society”. There is here an ambivalence, since we can understand this both as the socialness relating to each other the members of a given species, or as the socialness linking different species together (thus leading, in the end, to “the whole society of the living”). Having not discussed this point with Imanishi himself, I can only surmise that it is both, each in fact implying the other.
            Such an interpretation leads to considering the possibility of another translation for shushakai; that would be a new concept : speciety, implying that sociality would exist not only in terms of relations between human persons, but also in terms of relations between the members of a species as such, recognizing each other’s existence beyond mere populational determinations; that is, in terms of signification, not only of information.  

3. From information to signification
Needless to say, the above considerations are totally discrepant with the modern classical stance of mechanicism, which considers objects, not subjects. Objects in biology have no choice, apart of the alternative between “chance and necessity” (MONOD 1970). If Descartes’ theory of the animal machine (the animal as a machine) seems today oversimplistic, not much really has changed in the fundamental attitude which is dubbed as scientific, against such fantasies as vitalism, intelligent design and so on. Not much indeed has changed in our dogmas, but yet, a potentially disruptive ferment was introduced when, against behaviorism, Jakob von Uexküll (1864-1944) brought forth in scientific, experimental ways the evidence that animals are not mere mechanisms, but, as subjects, interpret their environment in specific terms, thus creating what he called their proper Umwelt, differing from the general Umgebung (UEXKÜLL 1934). Umwelt means here “self-centered world”; it is not the objective environment (that which Uexküll calls Umgebung), but reality as it exists for the animal concerned. Below, I shall render Umgebung with “environment”, Umwelt with “milieu”, and Umweltlehre – study of the Umwelt – with “mesology”, not restricting this last term to Robin’s strictly positive conception.
            Uexküll was not only one of the fathers of what has become a full-fledged scientific domain, that of ethology. By the same token, he was a forerunner of biosemiotics with his Bedeutungslehre, i.e. “study of signification”. His mesology implies indeed the necessity to study how the facts of the environment become, or do not become, signifying traits of the concerned animal’s milieu. In other words, how the information contained in the environment becomes the signification of a milieu. 
            What this process amounts to is nothing else than the passage from the objective world to a subject-centered world; yet it is not a transmogrification. For one thing, nowadays, it can be measured to some extent, as – concerning the human milieuwitnesses for example the following excerpt (from RAICHLE 2010 : 181):

« Thus, of the unlimited information available from the environment, only about 1010 bits/sec are deposited in the retina. Because of a limited number of axons in the optic nerves (approximately 1 million axons in each) only_6x106 bits/sec leave the retina and only 104 make it to layer IV of V1. These data clearly leave the impression that visual cortex receives an impoverished representation of the world, a subject of more than passing interest to those interested in the processing of visual information. Parenthetically, it should be noted that estimates of the bandwidth of conscious awareness itself (i.e. what we ‘see’) are in the range of 100 bits/sec or less ».

            However, such measures do not really answer the question. The author quoted above remains in the realm of the quantitative, which effectively is scientific, but which tells nothing about how information (quantity) becomes signification (quality), i.e. how the environment becomes a milieu. Moreover, sticking to this method leads to confusing indefinitely the environment with the milieu. For Raichle, the process involved entails “an impoverished representation of the world”. Indeed, Uexküll himself , in his famous analysis of the tick’s milieu, wrote the following (UEXKÜLL 1956 : 29):

« All the richness of the world surrounding the tick (die Zecke umgebende Welt) shrinks (schnurrt zusammen) and turns into a poor image (ein ärmliches Gebilde), essentially composed with only three perceptive signs (Merkmalen) and three operative signs (Wirkmalen) : it is its milieu (ihre Umwelt). However, the poverty (Ärmlichkeit) of the milieu conditions the certitude of activity, and certitude is more important than richness ».  
            There is here an illogical interference between the two concepts which Uexküll’s whole thesis, on the contrary, aims at distinguishing: the objective environmental datum (Umgebung) on the one hand, and on the other hand the milieu (Umwelt) proper to a certain animal. In other words, between the quantitative and the qualitative, information and signification. For certain, objectively speaking, the tick’s world is less complex, or rich, than the human Uexküll’s own world. But as a world (Welt), it is no less complete. From the point of view of the tick, one could quite as well say about it what Plato, from his own human point of view, says about “the” world (ho kosmos) – in fact, a human world – in the last few lines of the Timaeus : that it is the “biggest, best, most beautiful and most accomplished” (megistos kai aristos kallistos te kai teleôtatos). What the tick perceives (its milieu) is, as far as its own being is concerned, just as perfect as what, respectively, perceives a human brain, that is a human milieu. And precisely, the process of qualification which, from the objective environmental datum, entails it as such, relies on both cases on a tremendous loss of information (e.g. as measured by Raichle).  
            This reveals that a milieu is created through the foreclosure of what does not concern it. In other words – to imitate Uexküll’s formulation ( 1956 : 29, note 1) : « worst environment (pessimale Umgebung), best milieu (optimale Umwelt)” – : loss of information, gain of signification. This is all the difference between a humain brain and a computer, or between the living and the mechanical : the second term records everything, but understands nothing.
            By the way, let me seize this opportunity to denounce the mechanistic illusion of those who deplore that we use only (apparently) 20% of the faculties of our brain (e.g. WERBER 1993). The “unemployed” (in this machine dream) 80% are precisely busy doing what distinguishes a brain from a machine; that is, to live, and therefore to create meaning. For this task, the brain, with only 2% of our body’s weight, utilizes 20% of its energy. A computer does not do that. It needs no signification, only information, and therefore can be fully employed. What makes sense here is not the computer, it is the coupling of a computer and a human brain; that is, the creation of a human milieu. The computer alone is unable of anything, except rusting. In this relationship, it is the brain which is the focus; the computer is only an adjuvant which the brain (via the hand) endows itself with, in order to have it do some work instead of itself – which, eventually, should not fail to turn against this idle king. It is said (Science et vie, April 2011 : 20) that, since the Man of Cro Magnon, our brain has lost 15% of its volume, an evolution which one can reasonably impute to the technical and symbolical development of our milieu. We also know that Neandertalians had bigger brains than ours. Imanishi for his part (1980: 198) attributes the end of encephalization to the development of language, which socialized knowledge. 

4. Subject, object, and village ostracism
As Uexküll was a naturalist, not a philosopher, he did not think of a concept for the coupling of an animal with its milieu. On the other hand, concerning human milieux (fûdo 風土), this was done by a Japanese philosopher, Tetsurô Watsuji (1889-1960), who created for that the concept of fûdosei風土性, which he defined as “the structural moment of human existence” (ningen sonzai no kôzô keiki 人間存在の構造契機) (WATSUJI 1979: 3). I have translated this concept with mediance (médiance, BERQUE 1986: 53). This dynamic coupling (Strukturmoment in German, kôzô keiki in Japanese) animates the milieu, giving it meaning and value. Its focus is the human’s (let us add: the animal’s) subjecthood. There is indeed a homology between Uexküll’s and Watsuji’s theses, since both distinguish milieu (Umwelt, fûdo) from the environment (Umgebung, kankyô 環境), both consider subjecthood (that of the living in general, or that of the human in particular) as the condition of the existence of a milieu, and both advocate a particular discipline for studying that: Umweltlehre or fûdogaku 風土学, that is, in my sense, mesology as distinguished from ecology (which studies environments). And just as Uexküll stressed that Umweltlehre implies a Bedeutungslehre in order to grasp what its proper milieu means for the concerned animal, Watsuji stressed that fûdogaku implies a hermeneutical method in order to grasp the meaning of its milieu for a certain human society, or a certain culture.
            Imanishi for his part did not invoke mesology as such (i.e. neither Uexküll’s nor Watsuji’s formulations), but what he called shizengaku 自然学 (naturing science, as distinguished from shizen kagaku 自然科学, the natural sciences) is not far from it, since it begins with recognizing the subjecthood of the living. Starting from his very first book (IMANISHI 1941), he also used frequently a formula which practically amounts to the concept of mediance, or rather to what I call (BERQUE 1986: 166) trajection – the process of trajection is that which produces the state of mediance – : subjectification of the environment, environmentalization of the subject (kankyô no shutaika, shutai no kankyôka 環境の主体化、主体の環境化). Needless to say, a “subjectified environment” is nothing else than a milieu.
            Explicitly or not, all three visions (Umweltlehre, fûdogaku and shizengaku) owe certainly much to phenomenology. Yet, they cannot be reduced to this philosophical trend, since at least Uexküll and Imanishi were primarily and eminently natural scientists, whose findings have undoubtedly contributed to scientific progress as such. They participate in a general trend of modern science – illustrated in physics by Einsteinian cosmology and by quantum mechanics –, which, stressing relativity, has overcome the modern-classical, Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm and its absolute entities (subject, object, space, time…). A milieu is relative to a subject, and a subject is relative to its milieu. Neither one exists in itself, as the classical dualistic vision puts it. This is to say that mesology goes beyond dualism.
            Yet, whereas relativity has been definitely acknowledged in physics for about a century by now, the least one can say is that, considering biological facts, dualism lingers on. Most scientists, unconsciously though it may be, work and think within that frame. This is illustrated by Imanishi’s case. It is not only on account of a cultural bias (i.e. as a non-Western researcher), like De Waal (2003) put it, that, for a long time, his theses in primatology were not recognized in the Anglosphere; even in his own country, Japan, he was finally ostracized by the academic world because his general vision of nature, especially concerning evolution, frontally questions the paradigmatic distinction between subject and object. In a word, Imanishi’s stance has been deemed non-objective, thus unscientific. Witness a recent book, entitled Why is evolution a philosophical question (MATSUMOTO ed.: 2010), in which a team of nine philosophers of science, in nearly 300 pages, accomplish the feat of not mentioning his name even once. This is more or less as if, in Germany, a book on ontology would ignore the name “Heidegger”. My stance here is different. I do consider[3] that shizengaku, for better or worse, is a highly philosophical question, which deserves more attention than that kind of mura hachibu 村八分 (village ostracism).

5. The trajective chain of evolution and history
Objectivity in science fundamentally implies that the scientist’s existence is abstracted from her/his judgments on reality, like in the following: “S is P”. S represents here the logician’s subject (i.e. what the question is about), which is the scientist’s object; and the predicate P is what the scientist judges S to be; e.g. in the following statement: “water (S) is H2O (P)”. The possibility of such statements necessarily relies on the capacity to express them linguistically, which is the case in Indo-European languages like English of French. This capacity is extended to any kind of statement. We can say “Mary is sad” just as well as we can say “water is H2O”. Now, there are languages in which it is not the case. In Japanese, you can say “water is H2O” (mizu wa H2O de aru), but you cannot say “Mary is sad” (Mari wa kanashii); you must say “Mary looks sad” (Mari wa kanashisô da). This is because, confronting a human subject (Mary), you cannot pretend to be strictly objective; all you can do is to relativize your judgment on account of your own subjectiveness. In such a case, you cannot say “S is P”, you must say “S is P for I” (in which “I” represents an interpreter of the situation, e.g. myself, I). Here, you do not have a binary structure (S-P), but a ternary one (S-I-P).
            This corresponds, in fact, to the reality of a concrete situation, in which a statement about S cannot be made in abstraction of the being who interprets S as P. Yet, English or French function as if we could. They function as if external entities (as distinguished from the internal entity “I” or Descartes’ cogito) could be objectified into a purely dual structure, S-P. This is indeed one of the ingredients of dualism. If the world around us can thus be objectified, i.e. treated as an objective environment (an Umgebung), it is, among other reasons, because we “naturally” (in fact, culturally) can make such binary statements about it. On the other hand, a language like Japanese, which is prone to ternary statements (S-I-P), will just as “naturally” (in fact, culturally) make statements in which the dyad of the subjective and the objective is blurred in a triad, since the existence of the speaker (i.e. I) cannot be abstracted from the situation in which S is judged to be P.
            This is not only a linguistic and anthropological consideration, coming under the classical Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It questions the very concept of objectivity, and, accordingly, also science’s most basic assumption; that is, if the statement “S is P” is true, S is really P. This logically amounts to the identity of S and P; that is, to the tautology “A is A”. Now, at least at quantum level, physics has shown that the very fact of observing S (e.g a particle), depending on the device used in the experiment, can lead to interpret S as either P (e.g. as a wave) or P’ (e.g. as a corpuscle). This is to say that, depending on the situation, A can be either A or non-A. It also amounts to admitting a ternary structure S-I-P, in which the device, though purely objective, is an interpreter (I), just like in the case of “Mary looks sad”, where I is a subjective human person.
            This ternarity is the concretely singular logic of any milieu, as distinguished from the abstractly universal logic of the environment. Concreteness here means that the interpreter I is not abstracted from the judgment “S is P”, thus acknowledging that, in a real situation, this judgment can only be “S is P for I”. “I” may be explicitly mentioned (e.g. if I say “I think that Mary is sad”), but, in Japanese, it is generally only implied in the statement itself; that is, the statement lacks an explicit subject in the grammatical sense, i.e. here the person (e.g. myself) who would say “I think that Mary is sad”. The sentence Mari wa kanashisô da only implies my existence. This does not mean at all that this judgment does not emanate from any subject (both grammatical and existential); on the contrary, it means that the subject’s subjecthood is immanent in the very scene (bamen 場面) which the statement is made about. This scene cannot be a purely objective environment (Umgebung); it is, structurally, a milieu (Umwelt), which is neither purely objective (since it implies a subject’s existence) nor purely subjective (since it exists materially outside of the speaker’s mind);  yet at the same time, it is somewhat  both objective and subjective. In a word, it is trajective.
            This “neither… nor” which at the same time is “both” is what logic traditionally forbids as the excluded middle. In the Timaeus, it is the reason why Plato eventually renounces to think the milieu (χώρα) of relative being (γένεσις), since it is, contradictorily, both its imprint and its matrix (BERQUE 2012). Yet, this is perfectly thinkable according to the tetralemmas of Mahayana Buddhism, in which it corresponds to the third (neither A nor non-A) and fourth (both A and non-A) lemmas (YAMAUCHI 1974); and since physics has experimentally proven that this does exist in nature, we cannot dismiss this reality as, say, New Age fantasies. We have to admit rationally the trajectiveness of milieu. 
            Mesology is that branch of knowledge which not only acknowledges the trajectiveness (and correlatively the mediance) of all human milieux on Earth, but which also considers that the trajection which has entailed human mediance at our own ontological level was already at work at all the phylogenetic stages and ontological levels of life since the very first living being appeared in that which, from a mere planet, was to become a biosphere, and later an ecumene (the combination of all human milieux). Such a primitive being was necessarily an entity able in some way to distinguish itself from its environment, thus possessing its own selfhood or subjecthood. In other words, able to make, in its own primitive terms, the logical judgment “this is me, that is not me” (i.e.“S is P, or non-P”).
            By the same token, that was also the birth of mediance, since, in real situations, the predicate P is necessarily fraught with the interpreter’s subjectiveness, be it about what is objectively outside of that interpreter (“not me”), or inside of it (“me”). That could not be a pure dyad (S as P), it was necessarily a triad (S as P for I). That is, the reality S/P (i.e. S assumed as P) which it produced for the being in question was necessarily fraught with a certain mediance. Outside of the interpreter, it was its milieu, not a mere environment. Inside of it, it was its concrete subjecthood, not reducible to the cogito’s abstraction, i.e. pure subjectivity confronting pure objects (pure S) out there in the environment.
            When did this trajective process begin? We can only suppose that it started to work at some stage of some physical autopoiesis, giving rise to some kind of life, about 3.8 billion years ago. Mesology cannot go further back than S/P, to attain a pure S (which, since Plato, is the ideal of science), or a pure P (which is advocated by mysticism, notably that of religion). The very fact of attaining S would establish a relation with it. Life necessarily couples, trajectively and in a certain mediance, some kind of subject with some kind of milieu. That is, among other realities, what biology calls metabolism. And this coupling (mediance) develops along time into trajective chains, in which, indefinitely, what is S/P (reality) at a certain stage becomes then the ground (ποκειμένον, subjectum: S) of a further interpretation as a further P by a further I. These trajective chains can be represented in the following way :  (((S/P)/P’)/P’’)/P’’’… and so on (including I is graphically difficult here; let us say that it is implicit).
            This formula shows that S/P is, indefinitely, put in the position of S (S’, S’’, S’’…) relatively to P (P’, P’’, P’’’…). In other words, in a trajective chain, S is indefinitely assumed as P, hence S/P, and S/P is indefinitely hypostasized (substantialized) as S’. Human history shows plenty of such processes: the immaterial (e.g. the Arcadian myth) becomes materially art (e.g. landscape painting) which becomes architecture (e.g. villas and their gardens) which becomes prevailing forms of settlement (e.g. urban sprawl) and ways of life which, in the end, can modify the climatic homoeostasis of a whole planet (BERQUE 2010). This is not all. Since the structural moment of mediance is at work from the very beginning of life on Earth, trajective chains amount not only to human history, but also to natural history; that is, to what we call the evolution of species.

6. From speciety to finalism
Such a hypothesis is of course unthinkable if we stick to mechanicism, and still consider (e.g. PROCHIANTZ 2012: 132) that animals (and a fortiori other living beings) are not subjects. As stated above, for mesology, subjecthood, and correlatively mediance and milieu, begin with life. “Begin” means that, at this stage, all this is merely inchoative, undeveloped. There is a long way ahead (3.8 billion years of evolution) to the cogito’s consciousness. Yet, since this inchoation, the triadic terms (S, I, P) of trajection have been at work. What does it mean at such a stage (and, indeed, all the way long until the speaking animal becomes able to express verbally that S is P)? That the process was performed in biological terms. In such terms, the assumption of S as P (hence S/P, reality) and the hypostasis of S/P as S’ come to the process of metabolism, e.g. that in which grass (S) is assumed to be food (P), and this predicate, through metabolism, becomes the substantial flesh (S’) of a cow; or, in the process of perception, that in which a wavelength of 700 nm (S) becomes the colour “red” (P) for a human eye, but not for a cow’s eye (Bos taurus does not perceive that colour). This is because the interpretation of S as a certain P always depends on the subjecthood of I, which here is at the ontological level of a certain species. It is as a species (Homo sapiens) that we interpret the said wavelength as red. Here, red is a predicate; but on a further ontological level (and in a further historical stage), that of human cultures, it is hypostasized into a logical subject when, for example, a red light (S) comes to signify “stop!” (P). This is the case for an average car driver today; but for a red guard during Mao’s cultural revolution, the same red light (S) could mean, on the contrary, “forward!” (P’).
            This is to say that the relation of P to S, at all levels, is contingent; and it is so because, at all levels, it supposes I’s subjective interpretation. In concrete situations, P cannot be directly S. This entails that, rationally, mechanicism as regards evolution (e.g. in Monod’s alternative between chance and necessity), like determinism as regards human history, is an untenable position. Machines work according to the principle of identity (A is A), i.e. that the same causes produce the same effects. They stall when, by chance, A becomes non-A. That is, they cannot accept tetralemmas, in which A can also be non-A, a colour a non-colour, bacteria either aerobic or anaerobic, and particles both waves and corpuscles. Belonging ourselves to the realm of life, not to that of machines, and correlatively to the realm of reality as S/P, not S, we are rationally compelled to go beyond dualism and mechanicism in such matters. Concerning especially evolution, we have to admit that biology becomes here an historical science (which is in fact what Robin blamed Darwin for); that is, a theory of evolution, whichever it may be, can never be more than a contingent P about a past S, which it cannot rationally assimilate itself to. In such matters par excellence, science itself can never transcend S/P, that is, the trajectiveness of reality. A good example of this contingency is given by one of the most eminent biologists of our time, Edward O. Wilson, who, after having advocated kin selection for about thirty years, demonstrated that it was false and shifted to multilevel selection (WILSON 2012).
            From the same point of view, trajection entails that species, not only organisms, have their own form of subjecthood. The trajective chain from S to S’, S’’, S’’’ etc., which represents the substantial evolution of concrete beings, necessarily implies that S’ bears the influence of I’s subjectiveness, S’’ that of I’, and so on. That is, the subjectiveness of these influences progresses along time, together with evolution. Now, what evolves here is not only the constitution and morphology of individual organisms, it is also that of the whole species. Although, at the ontological level of an individual human, seeing a wavelength of 700 nm as red is an objective natural determination, at the ontological level of the species (as contrasted with the qualia of other species), it is a contingent and subjective choice. But of course, human cultures, and furthermore human individuals, basing on the specic ground that λ = 700 nm = red, can interpret that colour even more subjectively into various symbols.
            These considerations about the ontological and phylogenetic scalarity of subjecthood lead us back to the question: was Imanishi unscientific when he put forward the concept of speciety (shushakai), against the prevailing neo-Darwinian assumption that evolution proceeds mainly through the selection of individual organisms, and their statistical combination into populations, not societies? Imanishi, as said above, did not advocate mesology as such, and so much the less did he consider trajective chains. Yet he spoke of the respective « worlds » (sekai 世界) of the different species. This idea already underlies the title of his first book, Seibutsu no sekai (The world of the living, 1941). He accentuated this perspective along time, while stressing the link between speciety and his most famous concept (already present in his first book too), that of sumiwake 棲み分け. This word has been generally translated, including by Imanishi himself (e.g. IMANISHI 1994: 90), as “habitat segregation”, but such a translation does not render the richness of the concept. In the Japanese word, wake (separation) does not mean only the segregation of sumi (dwelling, inhabiting); it also connotes the process of speciation, which in Imanishi’s mind concretely correlates speciety (the fact of being a species as a society) and sumiwake. This is why I prefer to translate this word with ecospecy (écospécie), or even ecospeciation. In this light, for Imanishi, evolution could be defined as « the densification of the ecospecy of specieties » (shushakai no sumiwake no mitsudoka 種社会の棲み分けの密度化) (IMANISHI 1980: 115).
            Though, as said above, Imanishi does not refer to Watsuji’s concepts, I believe that there is something common between mediance and ecospecy; that is, the structural moment (the dynamic coupling) of an existence and a milieu, entailing in the latter case the evolution of a species, and supposing in both cases the subjecthood of the concerned existence. Be it as it may, Imanishi, against the neo-Darwinian dogma, came to stress more and more the subjecthood of the species, so as to write in the end the following (IMANISHI 1980: 175): 
“In the long run the species, by itself (mizukara 自ら) and spontaneously (onozukara 自ずから), transforms itself into another species. Consequently, the origin of species is in the species, not in the individuals.”

            Needless to say, for most biologists, such a view could not be considered as scientific. Accordingly, though he kept many enthusiastic followers, Imanishi was progressively ostracized by the Academia. This led him to accentuate his own positions, falling clearly in the end into finalism; e.g., concerning the bipedalism of our ancestors (IMANISHI 1980: 202 & 204):   

“As well as ‘if the baby stood up, it is because he had to stand up (tatsu beku shite tatta 立つべくして立った)’, (…) evolution evolved because it had to (kawaru beku shite kawatta 変わるべくして変わった). (…) Saying that it changes because it has to change is to see evolution no more from a mechanistic point of view, but as a course (kôsu コース).”

7. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as speciety
The said ‘course’ is clearly teleological, and therefore unscientific. It differs essentially with mesology’s trajective chains, which can only be defined retrospectively (historically), and, on account of the very subjecthood of I in the triad S-I-P, never transcend the contingency of S/P, whereas the word beku implies necessity. Yet, Imanishi’s finalism in his latter years should not lead to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let us here consider the concept of speciety as the baby. This concept was born from the combination of the idea of society with that of subjecthood, both extended to the notion of species. It bears nothing in common with what the standard neo-Darwinian theory of evolution understands with the term “population”. It is not a matter of statistics, but of hermeneutics: trying to understand, from the inside, what can link together the members of a certain species, in their own terms. How do they appear to each other?
            Here, we should remember the origin of our word “species”.  It derives from the latin species, the first meaning of which is “view, look” (from the Indo-European root SPEK, expressing the idea of seeing, looking at, which can also be found e.g. in spectacle or inspector); hence the meanings of aspect, appearance, nice look, etc. This shows that “species” and “aspect” are linked together. In this regard, speciety becomes in some way the fact of appearing which is proper to a certain being, here the proper being of a certain species. This is what makes the members of that species exist and matter for each other, and in that way, can determine their behaviour. It is, for example, on account of our own speciety that we are generally ashamed to appear in the nude in front of other humans, but not in front of a dog, and with more reason in front of a fly or a fish. Now, there is no rational way to deny that speciety to other species.
            In such a light, speciety becomes in fact the very object of an ethology extended to biohermeneutics and to biohistory. That is not all, though. In the sense which I give it here, the term speciety must be linked with that of cosmophany (how a world appears to those who belong to that world), and especially with the cosmophany of a certain Umwelt, or milieu. The question relates with the very principle of the institution of reality; that is, not as an ideal S, but as a concrete S/P, in a trajective chain (((S/P)/P’)/P’’)/P’’’… and so on.
            To be sure, since the discrepancy of Platonism and Aristotelianism concerning substances and ideas, and since the mediaeval quarrel of the universals, history has proven that it will always be possible to pretend, like Mrs Thatcher, that such a thing as society does not exist. For more reason, the substantialism of the Western way of thinking (especially that of the methodological individualism prevailing in the Anglosphere) still makes people more readily consider the selfishness of a gene than the speciety of a species. Be it as it may, from a mesological point of view, there are in a human world both individuals and societies, and in a living world both the individuality of organisms and the speciety of species.

Palaiseau, September 19th, 2013.


BERQUE, Augustin (1986)  Le sauvage et l’artifice. Les Japonais devant la nature. (transl. as Japan. Nature, Artifice and Japanese Culture. Yelvertoft Manor : Pilkington, 1997). Paris : Gallimard.
            –  (2000) Écoumène. Introduction à l’étude des milieux humains (Ecumene. Introduction to the study of human milieux). Paris : Belin.
            –  (2010) Histoire de l’habitat idéal, de l’Orient vers l’Occident (History of the ideal abode, from East to West). Paris : Le Félin.
            –  (2012) La chôra chez Platon (The chora in Plato), p. 13-27 in Thierry PAQUOT et Chris YOUNÈS (eds.) Espace et lieu dans la pensée occidentale (Space and place in Western thought). Paris : La Découverte.
            –  (2013) Thinking through landscape. Abingdon : Routledge.
           –  (forthcoming) Poétique de la Terre. Histoire naturelle et histoire humaine, essai de mésologie (Poetics of Earth. Natural history and human history, a mesological essay). Paris : Belin.  

CANGUILHEM, Georges (1968) Études d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences concernant les vivants et la vie (Studies in the history and philosophy of sciences concerning the living and life). Paris : Vrin.

DE WAAL, Frans (2003) Silent invasion : Imanishi’s primatology and cultural bias in science, Animal Cognition, Dec. 6 (4) : 293-9.

FEBVRE, Lucien (1922) La terre et l’évolution humaine, introduction géographique à l’histoire (Earth and human evolution. A geographical introduction to history). Paris : Albin Michel.

IMANISHI, Kinji (2002 (1941)) Seibutsu no sekai (The world of the living). Tokyo: Kôdansha.
            –  (1994 (1948)) Seibutsu shakai no ronri (Logic of the societies of living beings). Tokyo: Heibonsha.
            –  (1980) Shutaisei no shinkaron (Subjecthood in evolution). Tokyo: Chûôkôron.

LOVELOCK, James (1979) Gaia: a New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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MONOD, Jacques (1970) Le hasard et la nécessité. Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne (Chance and necessity. An essay on the natural philosophy of modern biology). Paris: Seuil.

PLATON (1925) Timée (Timaeus). Paris : Les Belles Lettres.

PROCHIANTZ, Alain (2012) Qu’est-ce que le vivant ?(What is the living ?). Paris : Seuil.

RAICHLE, Marcus E. (2010) Two views of brain function, Trends in cognitive sciences, XIV , 4, 180-90.

UEXKÜLL, Jakob von (1956 (1934)) Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen. Bedeutungslehre (Raids in the ambient worlds of animals and humans. Study of signification). Hamburg: Rowohlt.

WERBER, Bernard (1993) Le livre des fourmis. Encyclopédie du savoir relatif et absolu (The book of ants. Encyclopaedia of relative and absolute knowledge). Paris : Albin Michel.

WILSON, Edward O. (2012) The social conquest of Earth. New York: Liveright.

YAMAUCHI, Tokuryû (1974) Rogosu to renma (Logos and lemma). Tokyo: Iwanami.

The author. Born in 1942, a geographer, orientalist and philosopher, Augustin Berque is director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris), where he teaches mesology, defined as the study of the relationship of human beings with nature, or more broadly as that of the Umwelten (milieux, or ambient worlds) of the living in general. A member of the Academia europaea, he was in 2009 the first Westerner to receive the Fukuoka Grand Prize for Asian cultures. Contact:

[1] « Le darwinisme est une fiction, une accumulation poétique de probabilités sans preuves et d’explications séduisantes sans démonstration ». Quoted in Alain PROCHIANTZ, Qu’est-ce que le vivant ?, Paris, Seuil, 2012, p. 114. Darwin was finally elected in 1878, four years before his death.
[2] Interviewed by Douglas Keay, Women’s own, 31 October 1987, p. 8-10 (the interview took place on September 23d, 1987).
[3] What follows below (sections 5 to 7) summarizes some points which I have argued and referenced at length in books like BERQUE 1986, 2000, 2013 and (most systematically) forthcoming.