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The Ecological Person

Luk Bouckaert’s book entitled “The Ecological Person. Disclosing Nature as Thou” was  published by Yunus Publishing in June 2023.

Laszlo Zsolnai wrote a Preface for Bouckaert’s book. Zsolnai emphasized that Bouckaert makes a compelling case for renewing Personalist philosophy in the context of the current ecological, social, and ethical crisis. He suggests that the classical form of personalism represented by Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier and others does not work in era of the Anthropocene characterized by climate change, biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, welfare malaises, and global inequalities. The ecological extension and reinterpretation of the concept of the person requires new answers to the question “What it means to be human?”. The central problem of Luk Bouckaert’s book is how to reconcile ecological thinking and personalism.

Bouckaert argues that we must change our relationship with our planet and this requires the restoration of the spiritual bond with nature. The book develops a philosophical position that takes the personal responsibility towards the other seriously and does justice to nature as a source for creation of meaning. Bouckaert suggests that we must experience our relationship with nature in face-to-face, personalized forms, something as the “I-Thou” relationship described by Martin Buber. In this way our encounter with plants, animals and other things of nature can be deeply personal and meaningful interactions.

As a basis for his eco-personalism Bouckaert uses Albert Schweitzer’s eco-philosophical principle of reverence for life (“Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben”). Although Schweitzer was a Christian theologian, his principle of reverence for life is compatible with Hindu philosophy. The famous formulation of his principle “I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live” can be a quote from a Vedantic text too. Modern biological research also supports Schweitzer eco-philosophy. The so-called Santiago theory developed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela discovered that living organisms are self-making (“autopoietic”) systems which follow their own “telos” in creating and maintaining themselves in interaction with their environment. So the concept of wellbeing or flourishing is applicable not only for human beings but also for non-human beings.

Eco-personalism presents a new hope for integrating humanism and ecology on the ground of spirituality. Luk Bouckaert’s book is a welcome contribution to philosophy which can induce progressive changes in social practices in many fields of life.