Human Being and Nature. Part 2.

I would like to return to Roman Ingarden’s reflections on nature as a continuation of the previous post motif

Human Being in the Face of Nature

According to Ingarden, a human being has ambivalent feelings towards nature. On one side, a human can feel alienated in contact with it and deprived of its help. For this reason, one lost its trust in fate. It has put a human in opposition to nature. One does not care about the environment and natural resources anymore and treats nature as one’s enemy.

On the other side, one feels that one is something better than Nature. Nature with capital N is seen as a system of rules, in opposition to nature as the natural world – a variety of creatures. Humans want to be the most important of them and decide about the reality, but what if it is only a usurpation?

Human and Animal Nature

How can we combine human and animal nature in humans? It is the most difficult task, isn’t it? In the history of philosophy, this dilemma comes back several times. The connection between the body as an animal factor and a soul as a spiritual one appears often.

This division is present in Plato’s philosophy, in the metaphor of the chariot drawn by two horses. Black one symbolizes the body and its impulses, and the white one spirit and the human mind. Humans try to control both horses. Ingarden’s considerations are a continuation of this philosophical tradition of the West.

The bond between human beings and nature already made early ancient philosophy. It tried to connect human with elements of nature, such as Tales of Miletus who claimed that the originating principle of nature is water or Heraclitus of Ephesus who saw fire as the principal matter. According to them, humans were part of nature and believed that both lived in harmony with each other.

Feelings in Nature

Humans believe that they are purer and nobler than the environment. Therefore, one doesn’t feel any bond with Nature but at the same time, one is part of it all. A human feels like the greatest creation among others. It makes one incapable of feeling happy because awareness of being part of nature is unacceptable by one. Ingarden emphasizes: One does not believe in it in the depth of one’s heart, although science tells one that processes occurring in one’s body and even in one’s soul are no different from that in the animal bodies (Ingarden, 1987, p.14).

In Ingarden’s interpretation, although the body and feelings bring humans closer to the animal side, one can exceed these limitations by creating one’s different, alternative reality. So, human consciousness could be nothing more that an internal belief without logical explanation. 

We have evidence that many species have feelings and advanced social behaviors, for example, orcs. Screenings of their brains turned out unusual in animal world sensitivity of these whales.

Death in Nature

Death is part of the natural system and a symptom of its issues. For one, irrefutable proof of being part of the environment  is one’s death.

Ingarden shows the irrationality of one who does not believe in one’s own death. One is convinced about soul immortality, although sees the death of relatives and friends which permanently separates people from their loved ones.

It is worth adding that although there is no clear evidence that the soul exists after the death of the body, contemporary physics does not strongly deny this possibility.  

Human Culture Against Nature

The split between human beings and nature is an uncomfortable situation. It is a conflict that gives humans the feeling of loss and ruins their sense of safety. It can lead to destructive and cruel behaviors against the natural world as a way to express the accumulated frustration.

These behaviors are a manifestation of the sense of helplessness of humans who desperately want to control the forces of nature. In fact, positive changes in human life often have a negative influence on the ecosystem. human activity frequently causes degradation of many species, especially agricultural and industrial ones. 

Another human negligence in contact with nature are illegal landfills. People living in the neighborhood are in danger of health problems caused by environmental pollution. The most extreme example of human destruction in the natural world is poaching. Killing elephants for ivory or sharks for shark fin soup is pure barbarity. But it is the effect of poverty in this part of the globe.

Alternative to Nature

The way to overcome an impasse in contact with nature is by creating own environment. It is a new reality around the human and inside of them. In this way, the human creates the culture, which is supposed to be an opposition to what nature is, but in fact, it is its imitation (Ingarden, 1987). 

Ingarden emphasis: Once when they are created [the achievements of the human culture], the human being encounters them like something real in a world (Ingarden, 1987, p. 15). In this way, humans assimilate the laws of nature. It is a confirmation of a bond with nature from the human perspective.

Culture is not only a technique but also art, literature, science, philosophy, religion, and history.

The Society and Nature

The manifestations of culture are social structures, such as a family or nation. Humans have responsibilities, merits, and can feel guilty when they don’t reach certain expectations. All these efforts of civilization lead to the creation of the homeland and state. Humans establish their own rules of coexistence, which gives them a feeling of being unique creatures.

Ingarden emphasizes: One lives in the world different from Nature and almost completely forgets that Nature is underlying this new reality. Nature is indifferent to all values and insensitive to human happiness and miseries (Ingarden, p. 15-16).

It means that human nature is in fact covered with a thin layer of humanity that gives meaning to one’s life and fate. The same fragile structure is a base of autonomy and freedom for a human being. It is hard to feel comfortable in this situation. So one looks for someone who can support a human perspective.

Finally, the contrast between human rights and the laws of nature is softened by superior-one who allows human reality in the natural world. Who is this person? I have God in my mind at this moment. One runs away from dependence on nature in contact with God as someone who is greater and more perfect than the human being.

Creativity Against Nature

 One thing one cannot overcome is the dependence of human creativity. Unfortunately, one cannot give own creations an independent life. They are only a part of  culture as dependent beings, which are incapable of leading an autonomous existence. For this reason, human creations are only the shadows of reality, which Ingarden calls intentional beings (Ingarden, 1987).

Creativity has a great influence on human reality because it has the power to change its creator. We can think of it as a ridiculous idea. How the intentional being can change the real one? In practice, it is possible. There are many masterpieces that have a great influence on human consciousness, perception, and way of thinking.  For example, works of impressionists which shaped the artistic taste of many people worldwide.

 Another example could be an intellectual movement, such as psychoanalysis or phenomenology. These theories describe the world in a new way and help to find a solution to many problems that seemed to be unsolvable puzzles before. All these movements—artistic and intellectual ones show a subjective world of individuals. At the turn of the twentieth century, these theories changed the rational and objective view of academism and positivism completely.

 The Bipolarity of Human Nature

 Ingarden also shows another aspect of the perpetual drama of human fate: Human exists and lives at the edge of the world, as two different creatures. One of them is human, and another one—unfortunately, more real, comes from human animality, and conditions first one (Ingarden, 1987, p. 17). We can say that after the publication of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, it seems obvious. In everyday life, we can observe own reactions and feelings, which bring one to the animal ancestors more than to human ideals developed by many generations ineffectively. 

 What is worse, sometimes even animals are more human than people. There are many examples that animals help or even save each other, even individuals from other species, also humans. Despite this, animal behaviors were synonyms of the negative side of human nature by many centuries.

How could it happen if there was no deep knowledge of the natural world? It was only a human imagination about the environment that was nothing more than a projection in a psychoanalytic sense. It is the projection of human reactions based on the limbic system called an animal brain. The aim of many developmental and spiritual theories is to exceed these tendencies.

Out of Limits of Nature

 Hence, for spiritual growth and fulfillment, one has to overcome natural world limitations. Only in this way, one can realize inner need as a human. It is an essence of tragic human fate. Nature makes humans aware of one’s mortality, but the genius of human species pushes one to overcome the limits in spiritual immortality. 

One can identify oneself only by one’s wins and losses in the realization of the values such as Good and Beauty. These values belong to the intentional world and to the higher reality than the natural world, which emphasizes the tragic and heroic aspects of human existence.

 Human Being, Nature, Culture, Anthropology, Phenomenology, Existentialism


I have gained an MA in philosophy at UKSW University in Warsaw. Philosophy is my passion, especially existentialism. My second fascination is the Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski as a connection of the psychological knowledge with a philosophical perspective.

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