Understanding the Plurality of Nature: A Neo-Spinozist Response to the
Critical Naturalism Manifesto
Kerstin Andermann
Krisis 2023, 43 (1): 148-151.
Abstract
The prior issue of Krisis (42:1) published Critical Naturalism: A Manifesto, with the aim to
instigate a debate of the issues raised in this manifesto the necessary re-thinking of the role
(and the concept) of nature in critical theory in relation to questions of ecology, health, and
inequality. Since Krisis considers itself a place for philosophical debates that take contempo-
rary struggles as starting point, it issued an open call and solicited responses to the manifesto.
This is one of the sixteen selected responses, which augment, specify, or question the assump-
tions and arguments of the manifesto.
Keywords
Critical naturalism, Nature, Plurality, Metaphysics, Spinoza, Deleuze
DOI
https://doi.org/10.21827/krisis.43.1.40932
Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2023 The author(s).
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
148
Understanding the Plurality of Nature. A Neo-Spinozist Response to the
Critical Naturalism Manifesto
Kerstin Andermann
I. Naturalizing the Social and the Political
Critical theories set themselves apart from essentialist and determinist conceptions of nature
for good emancipatory reasons, but this sceptical character of critique has also led to a deep
rejection of nature, and a forgetfulness of nature that we can no longer afford. Rather, we
should better understand the extent to which we are part of nature, and the extent to which
nature forms the irreducible frame of the plural modes of existence. This is the task facing
critical theories today, and in order not to get lost in various normative constrictions, they have
to keep looking at the whole of nature and to engage in metaphysical work on concepts of
nature. Even if most critical theories have a difficult relationship with ontology and metaphys-
ics, every form of critical theory is subject to ontological presumptions which range from the
individual as the first unit of society, to different forms of connections, and the idea of a foun-
dational whole nature around it.
Critical theories try to avoid any reference to nature because nature seems to be a determinative
source of normativity. Yet, even if norms emerge in the societal context, there is a general
precondition of norms that has to do with orders established in nature, i.e. with nature as an
order that forms the authoritative precondition in the background of norms (Daston 2018). To
challenge this normative invocation of nature, we need to be clear that normative orders are
orders of human reason, and that nature itself is not a fixed order but a dynamic and transitive
system which can exhibit a multiplicity of phenomena beyond norms.
Today we distinctly see that the social and the political are not to be understood by regional
ontologies, but stand in a relationship of entanglement with all of nature. Not only in Marx,
but already in Locke, Hobbes, Smith, and also in Rousseau, it can be seen clearly that the
developments of capitalism, liberalism, and bourgeois society go along with making nature
available. Especially in political philosophy and the history of political ideas, we are dealing
with multiple forms of the naturalization of man and the humanization of nature. Marx even
points out that the human aspect of nature only becomes clear in society, which is a metabolism
of human beings with nature, and that nature is the bond that ties people together (Saito 2022).
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
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Human freedom can therefore not be achieved against nature, but only within nature, and that’s
why we have to see nature in metaphysical models of the plurality of human life. Therefore,
we must start from a nature that is not presupposed as a transcendent ground, but rather which
is understood as an immanent whole of constant modification and plural individuation. In this
direction I would like to refer to Spinoza’s Ethica of 1677, and his metaphysical model of
immanence, that allows us to recognize nature as the infinite and unconditional framework of
the unity and multiplicity of human life forms (Andermann 2020).
II. Critical Naturalism with Spinoza and Deleuze
Spinoza presents a metaphysical model of whole nature and explains individuation from its
immanent relations. This approach is useful for critical naturalism because it presents a prin-
ciple of immanent causality by which the contingent constitution of individuals in nature can
be described. Spinoza commences with the elementary dimensions of reality and a definition
of an essence (essentia) that is the cause and condition of itself and involves its own existence
(existentia). Starting with the principle of causa sui, he places an immanent self-cause, i.e. a
self-generating distinction, at the forefront for building the emergence of his system. Against
the background of this conception of immanence, Spinoza can interpret the entire existence as
constituted by its own conditions and as a form of immanent causality (causa immanens). His
assumption of a fundamental unity of a single substance is important in order to understand
nature in its immanence, and to derive the individuation of singular things from it. For Spinoza,
nature is a power in the sense of potentia, i.e. an immanent power that is inherent in natural
things and through which they arrive at their own respective form of expression. It is creating
nature (natura naturans), while the modes expressed through it are created nature (natura
naturata). With the distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata, Spinoza marks
his conception of a dynamic world that is changeable in different forms. He reveals a concept
of nature as naturare, which shows the active and dynamic character of a nature in which
individuals unfold in dependence upon external influences.
Gilles Deleuze outlines this contingent individuation in nature and says that the expression of
nature in manifold modes does not mean that they are only appearances (of God or of ideas).
It is rather that this expression shows the participation of these modes in nature, they are not
appearances in the sense of representations of a superior idea, but expressions of the substance
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
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that they themselves are. Individuals are thus expressions of the substance and thus of nature,
and nature shows itself to be a multiplicity of manifold expressions down to its deepest levels
(Deleuze 1990). In his ontological model of substance, attributes, and modes, the modes con-
stitute a point of transition from the substance of the whole nature to individual things. Modes
are described by Spinoza as affections of substance, and defining every single entity in this
way, he emphasizes the ontological power of affections. Only by affections can modes come
to be individuated as singular things within the whole nature. The derivations of the verb affi-
cio play a crucial role here, and Spinoza makes full use of the broad semantic field of the
concept of affects. Affections are not only ontological forces but also important in the episte-
mological context, since they constitute the conditions of the movement and rest of bodies,
whose affection gives rise to the ideas of the intellect. What we see is a heteronomy that de-
termines every individual body and mind, and the multiplicity of external affections, of affect-
ing and being affected, is a necessary principle of the individual’s self-preservation in nature.
The differential concatenation of affections transcends individuals and connects them in the
transindividual context of society and in the whole of nature. Defining individuals as multiple
affections of substance (or nature) allows opening up possibilities of individuation against a
unification in essential determinations. In this immanent interpretation, nature is a plurality of
expressions which implies that different individuals are not seen as right or wrong, but as
gradual capacities to affect and be affected. This conception of nature is a resource for critical
naturalism, and if it is true that nature has returned to our present, we must understand our-
selves as a dynamic part of it and adapt to it without losing our freedom.
References
Andermann, Kerstin. 2020. Die Macht der Affekte. Spinozas Theorie immanenter Individuation. Hamburg: Mei-
ner.
Daston, Lorraine. 2019. Against Nature. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1988. Spinoza. Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Light Books.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. New York: Zone Books.
Saito, Kohei. 2022. Marx in the Anthropocene. Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism. Cambridge: CUP.
Spinoza, Baruch de. 1994. The Ethics and other Works. (Edited and Translated by Edwin Curley.) Princeton:
PUP.
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Biography
Kerstin Andermann works as a lecturer in philosophy at Leipzig University in Germany. Historically, her re-
search focuses on the early modern period (esp. Spinoza) and the philosophy of the 19th to 21st century. Sys-
tematically, her focus is on questions of social philosophy, political philosophy, cultural philosophy and ethics
in connection with metaphysical (ontological) foundations. She has published a book on Spinoza "Die Macht der
Affekte. Spinozas Theorie immanenter Individuation" in 2020 and most recently different papers in context of
Spinoza, Foucault and Deleuze on affects, power, transindividuality, immanent ethics, philosophy of difference
as well as philosophical anthropology.