Anthony Paul Smith’s A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature: Ecologies of Thought is the voice of one remarkable intellect crying in what often seems an increasingly hostile environment for interdisciplinary work. Smith’s original work, like his translations of Laruelle, reminds us that heresy is a form of devotion—and perhaps a supreme form. This work is audacious, heretic, and, indeed, a labor of love. While some may be put off by the religious aspects of Smith’s ecological ethic, it is abundantly clear that Religious Studies as a discipline is, at the very least, an Archimedean axis point on which Smith leverages both Philosophy and Science to discover his theory of nature.
Most environmental ethics apply a given ethical position to new-found environmental problems. Smith, conversely, derives an ethic from an earnest and non-hierarchical engagement with theology, philosophy, and ecology. And though disciples of one or another discipline might resent his straddling philosophy and theology with such impunity—and with a firm grasp of ecology—the work is clear evidence that Smith’s (“perverse”) thought could not have emerged from any narrow disposition.
A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature is ultimately more secular than most secular philosophy, including any given “ism” of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, I find Smith’s engagement of ethics within a theological context scholarly, sincere, and most satisfying. Perhaps what I respect most in Smith’s work is its historical consciousness, and command of “philo-fictions” from various cultures. His references to Islamic thought, for example, read not as a concession to late twentieth-century identity politics, but as a reminder of the mesmerizing appeal of Neo-Platonism in various regions and historical moments.
Delineating a broad cultural perspective, Smith’s work also reminds us that the secular position has become normative in Western academic circles for many indefensible reasons. Contiguous to this is my impulse to categorically defend Smith’s engagement with Laruelle and non-philosophy as an epistemological techne. Smith seems a Laruelle scholar here and not an acolyte. In any case, the work at hand is powerfully persuasive, provocative, and thus productive
Of course Environmental Critique has a track record of reviewing books we like. And while we reserve the right to change this trend in the future, there can be no doubt that this work is a credit to DePaul and that Smith’s colleagues are elated.