Saturday, 19 March 2016

“Darwin und die englische Moral”: The Moral Consequences of Uexküll’s Umwelt Theory

This is a short review of  J. von Uexkull's Umwelt theory as contrasted to Darwin's theory of evolution by J. Beever and M.Tonnessen. J. von Uexkull wrote an essay on 'Darwin und die englishe Moral presenting the relation between German and English morality and the differences between them. Uexkull also talked about Darwin and his theory and how his own theory though similar to C. Darwin's, in a way, differed from it. All the essay was highly influenced by the political situation of the time, which all focused around the World War 1 and the relationship between Germany and England.
The background and cultural context of J.von Uexkull's essay in a way was a response to the growing interest in nature and scop of nonhuman animal experience. In its time it led to newly developing fields like zoosemiotics and biosemiotics.His work greatly helped investigating both the scope and the nature of signs in the living world surrounding us. Uexkull differentiated between the so called Umwelt, which presented the outer world constrained by individual organism's physical make up, neural functioning and perception. Innenwelt, on the contrast, is subjective to its 'what it is like' experience, something like the qualia of the cognitive science. They are both inaccessible to others but are abled to be estimated or modeled.
Uexkull's biological approach was greatly influenced by Kant's works. He followed his metaphysical depiction of nature and importance of subjecthood. Uexkull yet pushed Kant's basic model of subjecthood and applied it to the non human living world. He offered methodology for a wider study of ecological and ethological relationships. He presented each and every Umwelt as being unique and limited only by the capacities and abilities of every individual organism, be it a higher rank animal like monkeys or dogs or simple organisms like worms or tics, except for plants or fungi.
Uexkull's theoretical part had important ethical implications. A number of scholars took his approach and started studying the scope and nature of moral value in the living world. A theorist in their point of view should not be taking sides and instead present an egalitarian point of view.
Uexkull in his essay, however does the contrary himself and talks about the present political situation by taking sides and presenting the English and the German not as two equal sides but as German being righter than the English. He critiques English morality and compares them to a tiger and German to a Newfoundland dog and ends up with a vision of dog breaking the 'backbone of the tiger'. Therefore it is easy to see how he takes sides yet he critiques C. Darwin for presenting some species as higher than the others. According to Uexkull, Darwin's theory is faulty as it both misses something about the nature of human individuals and leads to political oppression and violence.
Uexkull presents not only England but France and USA with the same negative colours. He treats human culture as a natural extension of natural biology without offering evidence that such extension is consistent with his biological theory. He clearly does that representing the political situation on 1917.
Full text and a more detailed presentation of Jacob von Uexkull's work on Darwin and the English Moral is available on this address .

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