Against Nature

The Concept of Nature in Critical Theory

By Steven Vogel

Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy, Environmental Studies
Series: SUNY series in Social and Political Thought
Paperback : 9780791430460, 225 pages, July 1996
Hardcover : 9780791430453, 225 pages, July 1996

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Chapter 1  The Problem of Nature in Lukács

1. The Problem

2. Marxism and the Dialectics of Nature

3. Reification and Self-Recognition

4. The Problem Restated

Chapter 2  Nature and Reification

1. The Critique of Nature

2. Ambiguities

3. Science and Reification

Chapter 3  Horkheimer, Adorno, and the Dialectics of Enlightenment

1. Enlightenment and the Domination of Nature

2. Three Dialectics of Enlightenment

3. Nature's Return

Chapter 4  Adorno and Nature as the Nonidentical

1. Nonidentity and the Primacy of the Object

2. Reification and the Nonidentical

3. Nature and Nonidentity

4. The Paradoxes of Art

5. The Road Not Taken

Chapter 5  Marcuse, Habermas, and the Retreat to Nature

1. Marcuse and the New Science

2. Habermas on Knowledge and Interest

3. Two Problems

4. Interests and "Interests"

5. Science, Discourse, and Dualism

6. Science and Self-Reflection

Chapter 6  Towards a Communicative Theory of Nature

1. Ethics and Communication

2. The Problem of Nature in a Discourse Ethics

3. "Can They Talk?": Language and Anthropocentrism

4. An Ethics of the Built World

5. Concluding Remarks


Works Cited


Argues that the tradition of critical theory has had significant problems dealing with the concept of nature and that their solutions require taking seriously the idea of nature as socially constructed.


Against Nature examines the history of the concept of nature in the tradition of Critical Theory, with chapters on Lukacs, Horkheimer and Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas. It argues that the tradition has been marked by significant difficulties with respect to that concept; that these problems are relevant to contemporary environmental philosophy as well; and that a solution to them requires taking seriously--and literally--the idea of nature as socially constructed.

Steven Vogel is Professor of Philosophy at Denison University.


"Vogel's book lies at the intersection of three important fields: Marxist Critical Theory, postempiricist philosophy and sociology of science, and environmental ethics. It is truly excellent. The argument is original and convincing. The project of relating the Western Marxist tradition to contemporary trends in philosophy of science and environmental ethics enriches all three fields. "—Andrew Feenberg, San Diego State University

"This is a stunningly good piece of work on a crucial problem within an influential tradition in twentieth-century philosophy. Vogel's book promises to be the definitive scholarly assessment of the problems and opportunities facing a Critical Theory of nature and science. Vogel sorts out the issues clearly and persuasively, showing how a fundamental, debilitating dilemma recurs throughout the tradition, yet also sympathetically displaying the strengths and accomplishments of each of the major figures, and suggesting a persuasive approach to avoiding the dilemma without abandoning the tradition's most basic commitments. All of the Critical Theorists are notoriously difficult writers, yet Vogel's own prose is a model of how to write philosophy accessibly. "—Joseph Rouse, Wesleyan University

"Vogel's book will immediately become the center of productive debate, since he uses such forceful arguments to slay a number of sacred cows. It will make him a major figure in his field. "—Michael Zimmerman, Tulane University

"In this reader's opinion, this book meets the highest standards of scholarly excellence, argumentative rigor, interpretive originality, and literary accomplishment. "—David Ingram, Loyola University of Chicago