The proposed research is an investigation into the problem of the concept of “nature” in the Western philosophical tradition. It returns to the question concerning the status of the idea of “natural purpose” [Naturzweck] in Kant’s critical philosophy and addresses the persistence of this question’s relevance to any attempted ecological orientation – in philosophy and elsewhere.
To begin with, this question will be pursued in terms of its relation to the concept of “improvement” and the role the latter plays in the (initially) specifically English history of individual land ownership. If “improvement” provides the common law justification for land enclosure then it does so under the auspices of the divine faculty of creativity which it somewhat sacrilegiously mimes. This very resonance provides the theological justification for the seventeenth century Puritan settler-colonials who will export the concept of individual land ownership to America in the name of divine agricultural technique. Improvement so conceived goes on to achieve philosophical expression in John Locke’s labour theory of property, floating free of its robustly terrestrial determinations it thereby proceeds, like some light dove, to know no limits in terms of its sphere of influence. Nevertheless, we will be attending specifically to the manner in which this conceptual history influences the co-emergent categories of the human and the subject (initially and respectively as investment within and legislation of nature) in Kant’s critical philosophy, with a certain retrospective priority given to the Critique of the Power of Judgement.
Ultimately, this research is an attempt to constructively approach the (otherwise unbearably poly-significant) concept of “nature” through the historico-philosophical lens of land ownership. It suggests that there is a specific riddle constitutive of the conceptual structure of the commodity “land”, and that only through engaging this riddle and its implications can we begin the process of re-negotiating the status of the subject in relation to the natural, and vice versa.