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Dialectical naturalism is a term coined by American philosopher Murray Bookchin to describe the philosophical underpinnings of the political program of social ecology. Dialectical naturalism explores the complex interrelationship between social problems, and the direct consequences they have on the ecological impact of human society. Bookchin offered dialectical naturalism as a contrast to what he saw as the "empyrean, basically antinaturalistic dialectical idealism" of Hegel, and "the wooden, often scientistic dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxists".
The roots of dialectical naturalism are found in Hegel's own writings on dialectical methodology, which lent itself to an organic, even ecological interpretation. Bookchin interpreted the dialectical method's strength as its unity of "developmental causality" with ontology. "Dialectic," he notes, "is simultaneously a way of reasoning and an account of the objective world, with a developmental ontology."
However, in contrast with its forebears in Hegel and Marx, dialectical naturalism "does not terminate in a Hegelian Absolute at the end of a cosmic development path, but rather advances the vision of an ever increasing wholeness, fullness and richness of differentiation and subjectivity". Thus, in the dialectical naturalist framework, there is no "end of history", only the advancement of a continued march of human social and individual self-understanding.
As a philosophy, dialectical naturalism stresses the incorporation and advancement of scientific understanding as an integral part of the development of an ecological human understanding. Bookchin rejected "the revival of 'pre-scientific' archaisms", and stressed the importance of incorporating a broad scientific understanding from the literature of multiple disciplines. As such, the project of social ecology is a holistic one, dealing with communities and ecosystems in their totalities not just as the sum of their parts, but as the fullness of the interdependence of the many diverse and special parts make, as the saying goes, the whole become more than the sum of its parts. The dialectical unfolding of evolution, both biological and cultural, leads to greater complexity and thus greater subjectivity. Humans, the product of nature made self-aware, cannot be conceived as the pinnacle of a food chain, but only one result of the biological process. A process, which is so fundamentally dependent on diversity among organic lifeforms and biospheres, requiring a "prudent rescaling of man's hubris".
- Bookchin, Murray. The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism. Black Rose Books, 1996, p. 15.
- Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom. Oakland: AK Press, 2005. p. 96-7.
- Bookchin, Murray. The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 17.
- Bookchin, Murray. The Philosophy of Social Ecology, p. 20.
- White, Damian F. Bookchin: a critical appraisal. Pluto Press, 2008, p. 111.
- Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom, p. 87.
- Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom, p. 89.