Original Research

Humanism and nature – some reflections on a complex relationship

Jörn Rüsen
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 2, No 2 | a278 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v2i2.278 | © 2006 Jörn Rüsen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 March 2016 | Published: 11 April 2006

About the author(s)

Jörn Rüsen, Institute for Advancved studies in the Humanities (KWI), Germany; North-West University, Vaal Triangle Campus, South Africa

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The paper starts with a systematical analysis of the interrelationship of humanism and nature. It proceeds to a historical reconstruction of this relationship in the development of Western humanism from ancient Rome via Renaissance till the Enlightenment of the 18th century. In both respects the result of the analysis is the same: The Western tradition of humanism is characterised by a gap between an emphasis on the cultural quality of human life on the one hand and nature on the other one. Men are entitled to dominate and govern nature and use it for their purpose. This fits into an idea of a progressing destructive relationship between man and nature in the West. On the other the tradition of humanism has put the gap between man and nature into a harmonising cosmological or theological context. In this context a simple destructive relationship between man and nature is not possible. The humanism of today has to pick up the challenge of the ecological crisis and to refer to its tradition where man and nature are mediated into a meaningful and sense-bearing interrelationship. Instead of simply referring to the traditional cosmology a convincing idea of this mediation or even synthesis can only be made plausible by referring to the already pre-given synthesis between nature and culture, the human body.


Humanism; nature; humanity; Kant; Herder; subjugating nature; human dignity; Bildung; culture; aesthetisation of nature; renaturalisation of human culture; transcultural universalism


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