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The Interrelation between Culture and Nature

The problem of the interaction between nature and culture is very important. It acquires special urgency and relevance for the current state of the world community, which is rightly called a technogenic civilization. Even though humanity has managed to push back the threat of nuclear self-destruction (to a certain extent) at the cost of enormous efforts, the threat of environmental and technological disasters remains constant. This threat turns into a terrible reality from time to time, and there are no grounds for hope that the probability of such events will decrease.

Reasonable interpretation and construction of natural and cultural relations became especially important when warnings about global ecological catastrophes sounded more and more insistently. The active and transformative impact of humans on our planet is being intensified, but no doubt that the estrangement of culture from nature takes place in this process. We live in an increasingly artificial world, where the increased power of man turns against him. Today, the growth of the environmental component of the culture system becomes particularly important, as well as the establishment and development of ecological culture, i.e. an ability to find a “common language” with the natural world. The optimal ratio of culture and nature is a major global problem of humanity.

Different attitudes towards nature in the history of mankind

Culture is often defined as a second nature. This understanding goes back to ancient Greece: Democritus considered culture as a second nature. One of the approaches to the problem is formulated in opposition to nature and culture, and another approach defines the interrelation of nature and culture (culture is not possible without nature; nature is a source of culture) (Greider & Garkovich, 2009).

Initially, culture was understood as something “extra natural”, different from natural, arising not “in itself”, but as a result of human activity. However, culture includes both the activity and its product. It should be noted that the activities (especially in the early stages of human development) are organically linked to the fact of what nature offers in its primordial state to a man. The direct impact of natural factors (landscape, climate, presence or absence of energy or raw materials, etc.) can be clearly traced in different directions – from instruments of labor and everyday life technology to the features of the highest manifestation of spiritual life. This suggests that cultural reality is nothing else but the natural, extended, and transformed by a human activity reality. At the same time, culture is the opposite of nature, eternally existing and evolving without human participation (Proctor, 2010).

Christian tradition has radically changed the look of humanity in their habitat. It inherited from Judaism not only a linear concept of a unique historical time but also the legend of the successive stages of creation, in particular, the creation of man himself. According to this religion, a man is like a tower over nature in the cosmic cycle of times. A spiritual man’s monopoly began to strengthen itself in the natural kingdom. The effective and practical disposition of Western Christianity has contributed to the conquest of nature (Peterson, 1995).

Holistic and comprehensive understanding of nature, as it has developed in ancient philosophy, was getting worse in the next century. At different times, there were specific versions of nature, where private interpretation turned out to be general. A huge nature’s impact on the human lifestyle (its culture) was first theoretically expressed in the concept of the so-called “geographical determinism” (J. Bodin, C. L. Montesquieu, and J. E. Reclus). Exactly environment is the determining factor of social and cultural development; the influence of nature is interpreted materialistically (living conditions) and ideologically (formation of psychological warehouse and mentality). Supporters of geographical determinism also proceed from the invariance of the environment and its impact on humans. There was the view, according to which, a man, after a long period of primitive savagery and homelessness, can claim, if not to “conquest”, then at least to subordinate nature by rapidly expanding demands of humans – the hidden engine of every culture. This view was dominating in the West for a very long time. Talking about “preserving itself against the superior power of nature” (Freud, 2012), S. Freud wrote that “it was precisely because of these dangers with which nature threatens us that we came together and created civilization, which is also, among other things, intended to make our communal life possible. For the principal task of civilization, its actual raison d’etre, is to defend us against nature” (Freud, 2012).

The above words of Freud seem to be completely fair but pertain only to a certain stage of existence on the Earth of Homo Sapiens biological species. According to the approximate data of anthropology, a man, as a living creature, appeared on our planet millions of years ago, and its first recorded and more or less comprehensible “cultural” manifestations are aged not more than half a million years. It is possible to distinguish four periods in man’s relation to nature on this huge time interval:

  1. The human immersion in nature;
  2. Isolation out of nature, the contradistinction to nature, and the fight against it;
  3. The appeal to nature for mastering it;
  4. Restoration of the connection between human and nature’s soul and the spiritual mastering of nature (Gergen, 2013).

Freud’s words, of course, can only relate to the second and third periods of this scheme, and represent the all-known history of the creation of human existence from paganism to the modern time and far from perfect civilization. From the philosophical and anthropological points of view, an artificial environment, created by labor and human thought, can be considered as a “second nature”, as well as its components: a kind of system of extra-biological mechanisms, or the so-called “cultural layer” on the surface of the Earth, in its depths, the depths of the world’s oceans, atmosphere, and now also in the near space (Greider & Garkovich, 2009).

The revolutionary role in clarifying the inextricable link between culture and nature belongs to the famous Russian naturalist and thinker Vladimir Vernadsky (father of American-Russian historian George Vernadsky). He has organically connected in his extensive works the natural sciences and humanitarian vision of the world and earth sciences with the sciences of man and society, contributing to the transformation of cultural science into a comprehensive doctrine of the future, examining the fate of mankind in an indissoluble unity with nature and universe (the so-called “anthropocosmism”) (Peterson, 1995). His doctrine of the noosphere has a determining value for contemporary cultural studies. Considering the noosphere (the sphere of reason) as the continuation of the highest form of the biosphere, he talked about the global spiritual and material culture, which originated from the flora and fauna, and has become a geological factor that modifies and spiritualizes the face of our planet and the nearest space for many millions of years of human existence. Vernadsky hypothesized that a new type of energy began operating with the advent of man upon the earth. It operates along with other forms of energy and biochemical energy of living matter and is associated with mental activity and mind, which became an important force in shaping the new face of the planet (Soper, 1988).

In the early 21st century, the question of the relationship between man and nature should be raised in the following way: to what extent the “metabolism” between the biosphere and the noosphere (or rather – technosphere, as it is threatens humanity more) is fruitful? Moreover, another question is whether a man created by his civilization would ruin the biosphere or even the entire planet.

The decisive factor in the development of a new concept of nature is environmental issues. Exactly it rigidly dictates the rules of further methodological “game” in the relationship between man and nature and further scientific and philosophical rethinking of the relationship (Peterson, 1995).

Alienation from nature

Inculcation of the Baconian viewpoint on nature into the mass consciousness had far-reaching consequences. This viewpoint emanated from the fact that scientific knowledge is nothing else, but technical authority over nature. This concept has become the norm of human activity and turned out to be the greatest historical event in the life of mankind and in the life of the entire planet since the invention of agriculture. Not accidentally, the slow accumulation of environmental change was replaced by sharp shifts exactly in the early modern period, when Europe and North America implemented the union between science and technology. The commonality between theoretical and empirical approaches towards the natural environment was formed in Western culture (Greider & Garkovich, 2009).

When artificial, technical component dominates the natural-organic – it is a symptom of the degeneration of culture. Meanwhile, the man began losing his natural roots when creating an extra-natural world. Nature turned out to be torn to pieces. A man suddenly discovered his striking syndrome of destructiveness. Realizing that nature is the last man’s heart, he at the same time began to burn, incinerate, cleave, and blow it up (Proctor, 2010).

Modern culture demonstrates an alienation from nature. Culture starts to mediate the relationship of man to nature in a more complex and deeper way. As a consequence – the degree of alienation between man and nature increases. A man gradually loses the natural roots of his being, as well as the natural determination of its existence, while creating an extra natural reality. The culture of the century showed this clearly and brought up to a maximum the alienation that spawned forms of “tech-infected” human existence, and also environmental problems. The growth and development of culture have accompanied what disappears and decreases the organic unity of man and nature. Nature is the environment of instinctive human habitat, and human is not able to exist as a species outside of this (Greider & Garkovich, 2009). However, along with this, the culture creates a system of over-instinctive behavior, conscious behavior, which is not less necessary. This system is not less significant and represents the real human environment (Soper, 1988).

Currently, ecological human activities and ecological culture are of critical importance. The dramatic situation is experienced by modern society, largely due to the catastrophic changes in the natural world as a result of human activity. Ecological culture contains new values ​​and ways of industrial, political, and other activities aimed at the preservation of the earth as a unique ecosystem (Proctor, 2010). Its mission is to raise a new level of appreciation of nature and human relations and introduce knowledge about these relationships in cultural values. This will require a reorientation of all kinds of human activity, its mentality, goals, and ideals, i.e. outlook. Nature in this outlook should be regarded as a value in itself, and its transformation must be sanctioned by the highest spiritual sense, rather than technocratic indicators, as it is often done in modern culture (Bird, 2010). Such an assessment of nature should be immanent to human consciousness, not just to culture. Nature should be valued by man as a source of aesthetic, moral, and other ideals. Humanism, in this approach, must necessarily include the values ​​and ideals of ecological character, i.e. must go beyond the anthropocentric values ​​and ideals. Perhaps, it will be a biosphericentrical mentality and outlook, where the main task of human cultural and creative activity should be limited to the development and establishment of environmental self-sufficiency of humanity.

Spheres of the interaction of culture and nature

  1. Culture is formed under the influence of the cultural environment, i.e. nature. Human culture in a certain way reflects and refracts the environment. A man is forced to adapt to the conditions of his existence; therefore, generates the appropriate means. These include not only the tools, as well as any material artifacts, but also the way, by which a man gives explanations for what scares or admires him (Demeritt, 2012);
  2. There is no clear distinction between animals and humans. Many scientists from the different areas of human activity believe that the differences between man and animals (at least the higher animals) have not qualitative, but quantitative nature. The question, therefore, is not about who has the language, culture, and norms, and who does not. It is more correct to ask to what extent this species has developed all these phenomena, and how complex they are. For example, ants also have numerous regulatives that turn an anthill into a kind of state. However, the laws exist only in human society and they have a complex structure, i.e. there are many different kinds of human actions and their aspects, anchored in writing, and that is strictly necessary for any member of society;
  3. It is believed that culture and society are a continuation of nature, the next stage of its evolution. If we consider evolution as a gradual complication of the organization of living and nonliving matter, then culture and society will be the highest forms of nature. Culture and society, which are understood as a particular stage of evolution, are a form of an organism’s adaptation to the external environment. Differences between culture and society, and other forms of adaptation, can be seen from this very point of view (Demeritt, 2012). Plants are adapting to the external environment, changing their morphology, i.e. form (e.g. cactus, growing in arid areas, begins to accumulate water, that it cannot receive from the environment in sufficient quantity; or plant gradually becomes more and more bright color to attract the attention of insects). The animal adaptation process is associated not only with a change in form (it also takes place) but also with changes in behaviors that are transmitted genetically. Human adaptation occurs not by changing the shape and not even by behavioral change; it occurs by complications of forms of activity and technologies (Proctor, 2010).

Abstract (distracted) thinking, language, through which passed experience, social norms, allowing to coordinate (harmonize) the actions of many people, the ability to reflect (detached observation of oneself) – all of these are the very same tools that are generated by a person to adapt to the external environment.

Hostility or harmony?

One cannot exclude a human in determining culture. Culture, for example, cannot be reduced to the people’s converted nature, because the man himself is overlooked in such an interpretation. Traditional cultural science postulated that culture is built over the natural beginning and is opposed to it. The relationship between culture and nature, therefore, serves mainly as hostile and irreconcilable, because culture binds the natural potencies of humans (Dake, 2009).

Anthropologically oriented philosophers view the relationship between nature and culture in its essence as non-hostile available harmonization. However, many other thinkers interpret the relationship between nature and culture as a kind of still escalating conflict. They believe that culture is initially hostile to man and nature. Philosophers, therefore, should not overlook the tragic consequences that follow this antagonism.

While social relationships between people were patriarchal, transparent, and readily controllable, the discord between nature and culture could not be detected and was not realized. Gradually, however, with the complexity of social relations, strengthening the dictate of cultural norms over individual behavior, and irreconcilability between nature and culture are found with increasing clarity. The instinctual human sphere cannot withstand the increasing pressures. Confrontation of nature and culture gave rise to those nightmares, which are written by cultural experts. They see ecological crisis, nuclear madness, and paranoia of human behavior as a result of an escalating collision between nature and culture (Demeritt, 2012).

In this regard, the philosophy of culture discusses how it happened that the history of mankind “scheduled” a turn to the alienation of man from nature. Some researchers believe that the source of our environmental problems is the Judeo-Christian belief in the human vocation, aimed at the domination of nature. However, the question is whether this concept correctly interprets biblical faith in the rule of man, or, on the contrary, whether the Old and New Testaments have actually expressed a more enlightened and nobler attitude to nature.

According to the American culture expert L. White, the historical roots of our ecological crisis date back to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the Creation. In a more specific sense, these roots are associated with the belief that man was created in the image and likeness of God, and another belief that man was involved in transcendence in relation to nature, and the whole order of the world’s natural being was created for the sake of humanity. In less distant history, the roots of the crisis are found in the merger of science and technology, which finally happened in the 19th century. However, the beliefs, which were established as early as in the Book of Genesis, or rather, in its activist Western interpretation, are the basis of science and technology, exactly created in the West (Gerber, 2010).

According to L. White, the victory of Christianity over paganism was the greatest revolution in the history of consciousness of our culture. We all still live in a post-Christian era. So, one may wonder what Christianity told people about their relationship to nature and to the living environment. Many of the myths of the world give a description of the creation story. Greco-Roman mythology, in this regard, is quite different. Thinkers of the ancient West denied, like Aristotle, that the visible world once had a beginning. It is not possible to introduce the concept of the origins in their scheme of cyclic understanding of time (Gergen, 2013).

Christianity, which inherited from Judaism the concept of time as linear and non-repeating, contributes the sharp contrast to this view. Almighty and loving God step by step created darkness and light, the heavenly bodies, the earth, and all its plants, animals, birds, and fish. Then a man appeared. He gave names to all the animals and set the dominance over them in such a way. God had foreseen and planned all of this solely for the use of man and in order to rule the world: every natural thing has no other purpose than to serve the purposes of humans (Dake, 2009).

Man’s relationship to nature in Christianity is determined largely by the fact that he, just as God, is transcendental to the world. Completely and irreconcilably opposed to the ancient paganism and Asian religions, except perhaps Zoroastrianism, Christianity has not only postulated a dualism of man and nature but also justified the idea that God’s will is such that a man needs to exploit nature for the sake of his goals (Gerber, 2010).

White emphasizes that in antiquity, every tree, every stream, every water stream, every hill had its own spirit-defender. These spirits were available to man, although did not look like him – centaurs, fauns, sirens, naiads – all of them had a dual appearance. Before one cut down a tree, dug a pit, or blocked the river, it was important to locate in its favor the spirit that possessed a certain situation and make sure that one will not be deprived of its grace in the future. Destroying pagan animism, Christianity has opened the psychological opportunity to exploit nature infinitely (Dake, 2009).

However, the question of whether Christianity is guilty of the historical roots of the ecological crisis or not remains unanswered. Some Western scholars come into direct controversy with White. Robin Attfield notes that this concept has logical inconsistencies. It is strange, for example, to discover that the same approach reveals itself not only in post-Christian times but in such societies as Japan, which has never been truly Christian. According to R. Attfield, the relationship between science and the teaching of creation is very close. Belief in the creation of the world means the ability of natural science, and the belief in the domination of man over nature implies that dominance itself is a humanitarian imperative (Gergen, 2013).

There is no eternal and ever-escalating conflict between nature and culture. Discarding pastoral, idyllic abstract notions of original harmony of nature and culture, it is important to develop today the concept of the salvation of the organic and civilized heritage of mankind, to humanize the culture. Attitude to nature is interpreted today through existential prerequisites (Dake, 2009).

All these philosophical interpretations reflect different versions of the relations of nature and culture. Today it is a question about how to create a new environmental ethic. It is emphasized in modern discussions that the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, carries many of the necessary ingredients for the development of a new world based on the concern about the safety of all living things.

The principles of active citizenship in the current issue

The problem of active life and civil position in our country, and its role in the whole system of life, including the interrelation of culture and nature, is becoming increasingly important. After all, we know very well that the moral and ethical condition of the person is the measure of the level of development and culture of the society. It is known that in a modern, rapidly developing world, a world of globalization, only those human principles and morals, that are rooted in the national consciousness, will survive.

The aspect of culture and nature causes a sense of irony in a part of the population. It has some explanation. The world itself is changing fundamentally. The geopolitical, economic, and cultural situation is changing. The world has become unipolar. A single democratic, single economic, single social attitudes and management systems are mainly dominated around the world. The world has become more consumerist than spiritual.

Today it is impossible to walk towards tomorrow without creating high moral and ethical belief systems in the society concerning ecological culture. One cannot build a new society without taking a pre-stable active life and civil position. Unfortunately, there is a very weak active civil position concerning ecological culture. Society needs further investigation on the problem of ecological culture, the study of the mechanism of this complex process, its measures and methods.


A man acts as the connecting link of the two types of evolution – natural and cultural, or, as some say, creative evolution. Man has the inside belonging to nature and culture, internal belonging to natural and creative evolution. In the end, the culture is a nature recreated by humans. A man, while re-creating nature, is, thereby, approving himself as the subject of culture, as its creator, and, therefore, as a Man.

Culture has a more complex and more deeply mediated relationship between man to nature. As a consequence, the degree of alienation of man and nature increases. The culture of the 20th and 21st centuries has shown this clearly and brought up to a maximum the alienation, which gave rise to the forms of tech-infected human existence and after that – environmental problems. The growth and development of culture have accompanied what disappears and decreases the organic unity of man and nature. Nature is the environment of instinctive human habitat, and man is not able to exist as a species outside of this.

However, along with this, the culture creates a system of over-instinctive behavior, conscious behavior, which is not less necessary. Culture gradually makes a relationship to nature as its object, i.e. there is a culture of environmental activity, or, more likely to say, ecological culture. Its mission is to raise a new level of assessment of nature and human relations and introduce knowledge about these relationships in cultural values. This will require a reorientation of all kinds of human activity, as well as its mentality, goals, and ideals.