Many of us take for granted a clear divide between the animate and inanimate. For instance: I am alive, but the chair I sit in is not. My dog is probably alive, as is the oak tree just outside my window. I am somewhat less certain about grass. Or viruses.
What does this distinction between the living and nonliving mean to us? Why do we care so deeply about finding a firm line between the two? What might we discover about our world, our own assumptions, and our own ethical action if we are willing to question these categories? Many cultures and peoples throughout the world have never bothered to make such clean distinctions, and even in our contemporary western culture, a movement of philosophers has been challenging this divide from within.
In this virtual workshop, we will explore the philosophy of animism – an orientation toward the world where everything is encountered as meaningfully alive – from three angles.
The first will be perceptual: what is it like to see and feel into an animistic space? Think of this like trying on a new pair of glasses. You don’t need to buy them to try them on, and you don’t need to philosophically accept the vitality of everything around you in order to experiment with a new way of seeing. We will look at some of the ways the human body tends toward animism, and at how the very act of perception itself has some unavoidably animistic qualities.
Next, we will move into a theoretical discussion. How do the philosophical claims of animism, as a description of the world, hold up under scrutiny? What is it in our Western philosophical history that has led us away from the animistic mode and into a dualistic mode, where mind and matter are seen as two incommensurable substances? We will look here to a variety of ancient and modern philosophers, to see how they might answer these questions.
Finally, we will discuss the ethical implications of an animistic orientation. If we encounter all things around us as alive, speaking, and full with meaning, how would this change the way we behave toward those things? How might it change the way we ourselves feel? Or how about our definition of meaning – of what matters?
You will leave this workshop with:
The tools to inhabit novel and mysterious ways of seeing, without the need for philosophical justification
A broad-stroke understanding of the contemporary discussion surrounding new materialism, vibrant materialism, panpsychism, and animism
Insight into a potentially healing (both for the human psyche and the more-than-human earth) orientation toward the world
Workshop Leaders: David Nowakowski and Henry Kramer. No background in philosophy is required to participate in this gathering. All ages welcome.
Our philosophy workshops are FREE. That said, for those who still have the steady income to do so in these trying times, we could really use your financial support right now. Donations help to cover workshop leader honorariums, implementation, and resource archiving, as well as community workshop scholarships for those in need. You can make a donation by clicking here. For those facing more challenging financial circumstances, we ask that you please try to “pay it forward” with acts of kindness for your neighbors and community.