“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Ethopoiesis and Eternity

Following up on my post and Sam’s and Adam’s comments on Monday and Tuesday (6/13-15), Adam sent me a one word text message:


I have a few thoughts on this neologism I’d like to share.
This word carries a complex philosophical cargo, part cultural/artistic and part natural/machinic. Ethopoiesis carries the semantic weight of both Ethics (the science of behavior) and Poetry (the art of soul-making). It symbolizes the social no more or less than the individual, the whole no more or less than the part. It integrates these, or as Sam would say, leaves both society and individuality untouched. 

Ethos is habit, inhabitance, and inheritance of mind. Poiesis is mental novelty, the invention of new shapes of mind. An ethopoietic study of the kosmos is a study of behaving minds, which in space-time find incarnation as organized and evolving physical bodies (organisms). These bodies relate to one another ecologically, which is to say that they exist within a co-constituting network of physical, chemical, biological, and cultural signs. Non-ecological bodies, which do not relate ethically and which do not create themselves, are mere abstractions, signs without significance to anyone or anything. Physical reality can only be said to “behave” if its movements are habitual; that is, if physical bodies act together in conformance to past successes. If matter finds itself in motion only as a result of eternal laws externally imposed, then matter does not behave habitually in conformance with the past and in expectation of the future, but obeys necessarily what is eternal and unchanging. There is no evolution, no creativity, in this case. There is no habit or novelty, no ethos or poiesis, in a mechanical universe such as this.

So I think under one term, ethopoiesis, we can bring ecology, speculative ontology, participatory epistemology, ethics, poetics, psychology, and physics into a coherent conceptual envisagement of the polycrisis in which we find ourselves. Physics may seem an odd addition to this list, but I think physics must be read as co-constitutive of the real with ethics. Not that ethics trumps mathematico-empirical study of nature, but that our own ethical habits and inclinations cannot be separated from the natural behaviors responsible for having produced us. Somehow body and soul, physics and ethics, have to be depicted as the outer and inner aspects of a single process of realization. Ethopoiesis seems to me a good designator for such a mode of discourse, which in some sense is the result of a sustained reflection upon the implications of the Anthropic Principle.






3 responses to “Ethopoiesis and Eternity”

  1. Sam Mickey Avatar
    Sam Mickey

    I like your riff on ethopoiesis, Matt. It’s not exactly a neologism. I think Foucault does something with the word or with one of its variants (e.g., ethopoietic), and it is a term in classical rhetoric. I’m not sure how much that rhetorical baggage would weigh down your comprehensive aim of bringing “ecology, speculative ontology, participatory epistemology, ethics, poetics, psychology, and physics into a coherent conceptual envisagement of the polycrisis in which we find ourselves.” Rhizomatics brings those together, too, as do Integral theory, OOO, process-relational philosophy, and maybe even neoplatonism. In short, ethopoiesis doesn’t sound any better to my ears than eco-ontology. Both suffer from some baggage and from the awkwardness (and pedantic pretention) that comes from using classical Greek jargon.

    I don’t mean to come here with only negative things to say. I genuinely like all of what’s being said. I’m just concerned about the efficacy of terms like eco-ontology or ethopoiesis as names in book titles, class titles, academic or social movements, etc. In a Leonardo Boff kind of mood, I like the words “participatory” and “liberation” for their connotations with democracy and their applicability to religion and ecology.

    Participatory Philosophy: Integral Liberation for the Earth Community (Forthcoming from Sam-Likes-Boff press)

  2. Jeff Avatar

    may i recommend tina amorok’s ciis dissertation ‘The Eco-Trauma and Eco-Recovery of Being’ which she completed not long ago.

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