1. Meanings of “cultivate”: etymology and sense

In English language the verb “to cultivate” derives, as we know, from Medieval Latin cultivatus, past participle of cultivare, from Late Latin cultivus, which refers to Classical Latin cultus. The word cultus has a surprising range of meanings, embracing several aspects of life, from the more material to the more spiritual. Cultus can mean tilling fields or growing plants and practicing literature or philosophy and, eminently, religion. Cultus means also care of people and things and education of human character. Furthermore it means high veneration and respect for something or somebody (nowadays we say that something or somebody is “a cult” when they have a large and widespread consideration). In a general meaning cultus indicates habits of life and, definitively, the culture of a population. Moreover, we have to reflect upon the derivation of  cultivare and cultus from the verb colere, which means too dwelling an home or a territory and creating a relationship of friendship by care and attention to a person whom we hold dear. Besides, Latin substantive cultor means not only tiller of the land, but also dweller and lover (for instance of right laws and gods). We can add that Latin colere probably evoked the act of pushing the plow and so it could join the root of the Sanskrit word c’al-ayami (to push forward). In a complementary meaning colere can refer to the root c’ar, at the basis of the verb c’ar-âmi, meaning to live (to dwell).1 So, colere indicates a moving forward within a space of living. No doubt that colere and cultivare mean a movement of driving something or somebody to reach a fruitful realization. Therefore, this terms are near the meaning of  Latin agere and of Ancient Greek prattein (= to act).  

In Ancient Greek we find, for “to cultivate”, mainly two verbs: aróo and ergázomai. In a figurate sense aróo means to fertilize and its passive form áromai means to be generated. The most important ergázomai refers to érgon, which means something that is actual, so an activity and the result of this activity, also the result of a completed work. Telling land it is named érgon and not pónos (which refers to pain), because this kind of work allows the whole connection of tools and aims and it is not like the performance purely instrumental of the slave. The connection between tools and goals is a feature of the manufacturing referring to the artisan. So, with reference to the work of a craftsman, ergázomai also means a kind of production in which some materials are put together to an end or aim, that a maker knows thanks to a cultivation, regarding the knowledge of materials and the form to give them according to their own nature, such expertise being previous to the mechanic performance of a mere production. In this way, production is oriented by things themselves, which suggest the form to shape. 

It would be interesting to know how the idea of cultivating is present in linguistic families beyond Indo-European frame, but such a comparison has to be put off for the moment. To go into the matter, cultivating means a dynamic process of keeping and caring people and things, so that they can improve their condition, starting from what they already are. For this reason cultivating evokes the meaning of education, from Latin both educare = to feed and e-ducere = to bring out what is inside, and the meaning of Greek paidéia, from paidéuein = to feed for a correct growth. Thus, cultivating is, to let become what does not depend, at first,  from an arbitrary exercise of our power. Better said, power is already into the reality that we keep in our power to develop. Our power coincides with the responsibility to make grow and manifest itself, or get more and more evident, what is originally inside the reality we are facing, either within us or outside us. We could say that cultivating is a process thanks to which a fact stops to remain a mere fact and becomes a phenomenon, that is a reality which reveals itself and can pursue its own flourishing. From this point of view, phenomenology, and especially phenomenology as eco-phenomenology, does not mean an already full evidence, but it is the process to give evidence to something which does not appear yet. Briefly: to let manifest, to let appear,standing from a being which is appealing its disclosure. So, we assume being in a dynamic perspective of beingness, trough that being can reach its richness and so realize itself as a “true” being. That appealing to disclosure of being is possible if we, in a first time, set us in a position of reception and we let get passive in face of that is done. Then, answering this reception leads us to move from a passive to an active attitude. We get in charge of the completeness – the best possible completeness – of the “virtuality” relating, so to say it with Husserl, to the “Sache selbst” (thing itself).  

2. Cultivating and producing

We can name, this attention and caring, the process of revelation of being as a process of production, in the sense – as Martin Heidegger said in the famous Frage nach der Technik – of “her-vor-bringen” (to bring out and to bring in front of us). Pro-ducere, in this way, can be the task of a humankind who cannot expect to have already, at his or her disposal, the whole reality, but has to accept the partiality of his or her condition and to use adequate means in the effort of disclosing what does not appear yet. We have at same time to declare that the production can have a right place if, in the path in which we are walking, it is not separated from the vision of a world to cultivate, that is taking the world as a place of intrinsic and inherent possibilities, so without reducing it to a mere deposit of materials, only serving human needs of an absolute manipulation and consumption. 

On the contrary, producing and consuming, in our civilization, have been separated from cultivating. We usually produce and consume without cultivating. The main habits or life styles of the present civilization are characterized by jumping from the urgency of production to the frenzy of consumption. This is one of the reasons for the lack of a culture of care and upkeep, which is evident either in the private use of goods or – and more – in the public use of them. Thus, production drifts towards what we can name “productivism”, that is a production which looks exclusively at itself and at a one-way development, becoming an absolute imperative, whose rules dominate every dimension and subordinate every people and everything to its increase, by stressing human and natural resources (we know that ecological and environmental footprint is become unsustainable and that, going on the present standard of producing and consuming, we would need three times the size of our planet). 

In the structure of cultivating there is a logic that is not reducible exclusively to an absolute production. For instance, cultivating implies some suspension or work stoppage to let the seed grow in itself, so in a relationship of autonomy in comparison to our power of producing. We cannot dominate the whole process of cultivating, because in this process are acting forces and energies which are other than our own forces and energies. Cultivating also means  the respect of spaces and of times which are not of a complete availability for us. We have not to step on the land we sown (for instance wheat) and we cannot accelerate beyond a certain measure times of maturation (that is true also as to industrialized agriculture).

3. Production and generation

For a correct image of production, we would like to express the idea that production is certainly a standing dimension of the realization of humankind along the course of its history and that, at the same time, the attitude to produce has to be linked to the acts of generation. Cultivating is really a composition of production and generation, where the generation can be made easier and completed by production, on condition that production itself does not arrive to an absolute denial of generation. About this point, we can formulate a radical question: can we nowadays distinguish or – more properly – continue to distinguish production from generation? Even in an age where the possibilities to produce are increasingly widespread to every field of our existence, dominating not only the dimension of things or the objects which are outside us, but also the region of our life, at the biological level and as to the upper processes that concern psychological and mental levels? 

At this point, we have to deal  with the question concerning technology, in a time where technologies have already modified the traditional relationship with nature, up to the point where – to use terms of the old Greek philosophers – téchne gets to produce phýsis or nature (as Günther Anders remarked in Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen). So, we have a paradoxical naturans technology. Thanks to this turn, technologies can produce parts of our body, so that we cannot longer distinguish something we used to name a natural equipment from an artificial endowment;  but this is not the last possible frontier, because we could go beyond the present situation, where the technologies are producing elements that in the past were relevant to nature. The next future step heralds a model of technology not only generating nature, but even without nature, that is without natural support and without any return or reference to nature. We could have a technology absolutely self-referring, that is a technological dominion which reproduces itself far from any consideration and even any memory of a previous natural condition. Certainly, it would be a paradoxical exit, because it would mean the death of the technology together with the death of nature. Indeed, the sense of technology is to be a tool available to humankind, which is able to indicate ends for the use of technology. For this reason, an absolutely detached technology from phýsis (from nature) and especially from human nature would become an absolute non sense.

This question needs to be investigated, beyond superficial statements and words meant to impress.  Without any doubt, we cannot nowadays uphold the point of view of the fixedness of nature. Nature outside us is not fixed and not rarely subject to sudden changes. Nature of non-human animals shows signs of learning from past experiences and is subject to the processes of adaptation to the environment. Nature inside us is a result of a very long chain of variations; but not only, it is a result of a ceaseless relationship with animals and things too (this latter concerning  also things built by humans themselves), starting from stone age until the era of more and more sophisticated technologies. Human being, as we actually know it, is the output of manifold connections which have not waited for the advent of the Internet to be realized.  As Roberto Marchesini is stressing in his works, human being is certainly an ontological hybridization.2 Supporters of “post-human” can rightly root their reasons in what human itself has become, besides coming from a history of disclosure from non-human. Nevertheless, despite this derivation, human is the only being that has cultivated the category of permanence and has not only considered the process of becoming , but has also asked about persisting in his being and of his being. 

That is the reason which pushed classical philosophers not only to describe the field of human existence, but also to put the question about the “éidos” or the  essence, without which existence risks to remain un-understandable and to fall into a non-sense. This means that onto-logy regarding humans cannot be reduced to an onto-genesis and the latter cannot be reduced  to a phylo-genesis.3 Human being does not accept to be only a genealogical effect, but it is always expecting to manage to be a genealogical persistence, that is to continue in his genealogy. On this ground Aristotle named the essence to ti ēn éinai: a being referring to its previous genesis which has to continue itself in a future generation. So considered, the essence indicates both, a movement in a permanence and a permanence in a movement. 

4. Could post-human be against human?

This duality, or interweaving, of movement and permanence is very important in facing the present transition of human to a post-human, which means an effective enhancement of humanity and not his end or his denial. So understood, post-human would mean a more conscious relationship of the human being with the new possibilities which are afforded by technologies, that are, at present, already operating without a sufficient control and beyond an average ability of knowledge. An updated skill, enclosing a better knowledge and an adequate responsibility, should concern the practice of a fair measure between the respect of natural endowment, in its basic feature and in its further development, and the opportunities offered by technological devices, especially in the case of their steady appliances to human body. 

Of course, there is no problem in applying artificial devices to restore, or reactivate, human capabilities which are insufficient in comparison to the so called normal functions (or “functionings”). Problems arise when a total displacement of boundaries between nature, as basis and as development, and technological artifice, or a complete substitution of natural endowment with artificial devices, can arrive to a radical crossing out of the nature, in favor of an artificial mechanism. This problem arises even if technological devices were a perfect replication of human functions, also in a seeming generation of new devices. Actually, we could have not precisely a generation, which is a single and un-repeatable action, but a production of tools by mean of tools. 

The feature of a serial production, instead of the generation of a peculiar being, couldn’t be avoided with the attribution of intelligent operations to the tools, because this operations would be run by a computation of a causal chain (a chain of causes and corresponding effects), computation which is only a part of the human mind. There are trials of providing the artificial intelligence with the ability of choosing based on varying algorithms, but who puts into an artificial intelligence such algorithms and their possible variations? Until today, a human intelligence which is outside the so called AI. So algorithms don’t have, until now, their beginning or their origin inside; but, if we forecast a world where algorithms will depend on other algorithms in an unlimited series, who could interrupt or vary their sequence? Presumably, human choices will aggregate to the cart of an un-controlled sequence; otherwise, if based on themselves, they will become meaningless. 

Consequently, it would open the field of totally produced choices, which with difficulty and hardly we could continue at calling “human”, because a human action is an action which has its origin or, better said,  its last point of reference in itself. To conclude, human being has been constantly connoted by two essential features, which are apparently opposite and, at same time, strictly linked: the feature of the individuality and the feature of the universality. Human being is an individual being who is always in relationship with universality or, if you prefer, human being is an individual-generic being, and so always in a conscious-emotional relationship with other subjects. As such, each human being (or each person) is responsible for the peculiar ways of explication of that relationship and, therefore, is a generating being, either in a material sense or in a spiritual sense. 

5. A production serving generation

The priority of generation allows to embed or to put the field of production at the service of the field of generation, escaping from the opposite effect. In this perspective, production can enhance generation, because generation is the ground of  production. The priority of generation does not prevent the need and satisfaction of production, and is actually a good drive for a good production. On the contrary, production dis-embedded from generation, and getting self-ended, can destroy itself together with its inspiring ground. The major challenge – today and in the next future – is to defeat the empowerment of the unlimited production, which flows in an unlimited consumption, and to search a fair measure in favor of a generative power, which cannot be a mere ring of a productive chain. 

The philosophical anthropology (especially Arnold Gehlen) has with sharpness observed, within the humankind, the power of suspending the appliance to the production, broadly speaking, and to consumption too. That power of suspending can be interpreted as a power of freedom and so has to be applied in our experience. We can add that cultivating is on line with a vision setting production to the service of generation, searching a fair balance between nature and artifice. 

6. Phenomenology as bringing being itself  to happen for us

In this way, phenomenology cannot limit itself to the opening to an increasingly wide manifestation of being as a process of beingness, but has to care the relationship between the manifestation  and ithe éidos, or essence, which is appealed to give a direction to the manifestation itself. If we renounced the comparison of the existing world to a possible world starting from its shell, how could we read a masterwork like Edmund Husserl’s Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften? This work remains indeed a milestone of the phenomenological research in an effort aiming at discovering the sense within the world of life and leading it towards a better revelation, that is towards a telos or an aim which is able to improve the meaningfulness of existence. 

All this is even more fitting about Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka’s phenomenology as ontopoiesis, because  – as we know – in the frame of ontopoiesis, and even more in the frame of ontopoiesis as metaphysics, the major categories like “intentionality” and  “truth” do not have a simple cognitive significance, but a wider incidence at an existential and vital level. On this ground phenomenology, especially as eco-phenomenology, is either revealing or building, and, in a certain measure, creating, if we think that creation is a power of  the so called imaginatio creatrix  (anthropological turning point of Tymieniecka’s ontology). Thanks to this power of revealing-building-creating, we can improve the manifestation of being. Better said, thanks to our ability to reveal-build-create, being itself – or unconditioned and unlimited being – is brought to happen for us – inside the boundaries of our limited condition.4 

Being as happening is both something already done and something which depends on us, unless we want to listen to the supporters of the deterministic stream of neurosciences, who unduly read the relation of sequence between a nerve impulse, which is the object of the brain imaging, and an observable behavior as a causal relation, so missing the complexity of the dynamic act that correlates impulse and behavior. 

Within  this furrow, takes its place the task of cultivating. Indeed, for the part in which happening of being depends on us, we become responsible of constructing being or, on the contrary, destroying it. Cultivating is, precisely, to be available to construct the world falling within our experience and depending on our action. So, the task for humankind, in the context of the entire of being, is referring to being that has to be or has to be brought to its manifestation. Phenomenology has to care the manifestation of being, so that it happens.

7.   A question: is every being worth of care?

Is every being worth of care? At what conditions is phenomenology able to answer this question? First: to answer a question such this, we have to recognize the dimension of conflict among beings. Conflict regards either history or natural world. In the field of history even the search of peace not infrequently needs  fighting  for peace, against injustice, unfairness and inequality. In the world of nature there is a struggle which sets animal species against each other and within a same species too. Plants also fight for their own life and development against other plants, and to protect themselves against animals. Events like earthquakes show a lack of balance within the mineral kingdom and this imbalance can damage both humans and human buildings. How could we consider all that as positive and in a relationship of harmony? At the top of this sequence there are inter-human struggles and  psychological or interior conflicts within every person, and not only due to pathological reasons. 

To face conflicts and struggles and to be able to have an orientation concerning an issue like that, we have to enter into a logic of understanding and wisdom, that is a logic which allows us to select the quality of being which we are involved in. Thus, what is being which deserves to be cared and improved and what is being which does not deserve it? Moreover, which being we must even contrast and leave out? Of course, expressing a judgment or discernment about that does not mean discrimination and exclusion. The opposite is true. No doubt that we have to include every being in a full positivity. How? In the first instance, holding each being in high regard and setting great store by its present features; furthermore, welcoming the “virtualities” or the potential improvement of each being, beyond the lack it can suffer at present. This is the reason why we can aim at increasing or enhancing the value of every being starting from its own traits. For the same reason, we cannot force the natural world to be only in service of needs and desires of the humankind (as Francis Bacon is supposed to have thought, though in his opinion, expressed in the work Novum Organon,it would be necessary to obey previously the nature: «natura enim non nisi parendo vincitur»). 

In any case, the path we have to explore is not easy.  A radical turn – that is a cultivating turn by which to put together both generation and production in a harmonious relationship – is in view, but our horizon is largely cloudy and we cannot  solve all the problems which are connected with the perspective of that turn. Our tendency to the harmony of every being, and especially to the Unity-of-Everything-There-Is-Alive, does not let us stop from fighting bacteria and viruses which are a threat to the human health. We know that followers of Jainism, in observance of the tenet of non-violence and of the love towards all living beings, usually cover their mouth not to kill inadvertently microbes spread in the air. Practices like that are a good anticipation of the ideal situation where harmony will prevail over splits and contradictions, of the era where, as Isaiah (11,6) said, «the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them». We have to spare no efforts towards this final target, but we cannot abstain from taking part to the imperfect and faulty events along the hard course of history. 

8. Harmony through disharmony

Also mineral world is often in striking contrast with human life, as it is shown by the sudden and unforeseeable movements of the hearth. Therefore, could we accept the lack of harmony between nature and human world? This is a big question from a point of view of an eco-phenomenology. The question regards the realistic consideration that men, for a long period of their history, have had an antagonistic relationship with nature, which is still present in our daily mindset and in our current world of life.  Protecting themselves from the rain and from the cold in winter, or protecting themselves from the sun and from the hot weather in summer, it means to have a defensive relationship with nature outside us. A not irenic feeling towards nature is evident, for instance, in an important Italian poet such as Giacomo Leopardi, who considered nature as “cruel mother” (in his poetry La ginestra, o fiore del deserto – «Madre è di parto e di voler matrigna»)  and,  as to Latin literature,  Lucretius, who complained about the serious guilt committed by nature against humankind (in his poem De rerum natura, V, vv. 4-5 – «nequaquam nobis divinitus esse paratam naturam rerum: tanta stat praedita culpa»), unless we look it with indifferent epicurean eyes. 

We cannot expect to solve all the disharmonies within the natural domain, that continues to hide many secrets for us, averting human predictions and forecasts. The unity of logos might embrace also the geophysical world. Thus, like Voltaire confronted with devastating Lisbon’s earthquake and despite the apparently obvious consideration that an event as an earthquake is negative only from an anthropic point of view, we cannot read such a phenomenon as congruent with an idea of full rationality, referring together to men and to the environment where men live and have built their home. The manifold aspects of Logos show us processes and occasions that are, once again, conflicting and colliding. The «new Enlightenment» proposed by Tymieniecka, where logos is unfolding in all the richness of its manifestation and God rises at its highest fullness, has to take account of worrying shadows covering that target.5 Actually, we suffer a distance from that fullness, which nevertheless is pushing us no to stop the march, even when our experience is signed by tragic contradictions.

From our side, we have to ask ourselves: how can we control the injures to the normal and relatively constant  course of nature, injures that not only damage nature but have repercussions on and affect negatively men? I think we have above all to recognize the otherness of nature towards us. It does not mean that nature is something of alien to us. All the contrary: nature is certainly our mother and we have to appreciate its parenthood. We are children of nature, but a mature relationship between children and parents needs a fair recognition of a difference and detachment. In few words, we cannot identify with nature and consider it a mere prosthesis of men. Only if we look at nature as a distinguished reality in comparison to our identity, we can renounce an attitude of  exploiting and spoiling towards it, and change this negative attitude in a behavior of preserving and safeguarding. So we can change the appropriative attitude towards nature in a loving one. We could say: a loving intentionality instead an exploiting one. Cultivating, as we saw, refers to “cultus”, which just means respect and loving dedication.  

To this aim is required, together with a cultivating turn, an anthropological turn, that goes beyond the present one-sidedness of a man who, as Hannah Arendt outlined in The Human Condition, represents himself only as a worker, and, we could add, as a worker-producer-consumer. For an anthropological turn it is important, to integrate the ability to work with the ability to act and to contemplate. Referring nature to human acting, and not only to narrow needs of work and production, can give origin to good actions to preserve and safeguard nature and environment, beyond demanding to reduce them to an exploitable matter. Furthermore, good actions towards nature and environments are possible if we contemplate them as a gift that is given to us, before any claim to use them for producing and consuming. At this conditions we can trust in a turn towards cultivating as a paradigm of life, that is more and more necessary for the harmony of  human with earth and cosmos.

1. The Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine of Ernout-Meillet points out the derivation of colo from a previous form kwelō (whose root kwel «indiquait l’idée de “circuler autour”») and marks especially the meanings “to live” (= to dwell) and “to cultivate”; it refers as well to skr. cárati. The relationship between Latin colere and Sanskrit root car is also cued by Rendich, Franco. Dizionario etimologico comparato delle lingue classiche indoeuropee. Roma: Palombi Editori 2010, p. 83. Print. The Author is an exponent of a largely controversial phono-semantic – and not arbitrary – theory of language, according to which sounds correspond to things. In any case, in my opinion, etymologies are not to be used in a naïve way, because they can help certainly understand the meaning of words, but do not give a complete account of it.

2. About human and post-human, see: Marchesini, Roberto. Post-human: Verso nuovi modelli di esistenza. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri. 2002. Print.

3. About this topic is still useful the important book of Lorenz, Konrad. Die Rückseite des Spiegels: Versuch einer Naturgeschichte menschlichen Erkennens. München: Piper verlag, 1973. Print. Within the naturalistic frame of his “hypothetic realism“ (suggested by Donald Campbell), he recognizes as “unique” both the characteristics and performances of man. Michael Tomasello highlights the uniqueness of human being in coordinating both actions and thoughts within a context of phylogenesis wich supports the individual ontogenesis (see: Natural History of Human Morality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. Print; Natural History of Human Thinking. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014. Print). According to me, human intentionality of permanence would deserve to be stressed as an original outcome of phylogenesis, adding that such an intentionality transcends phylogenesis, and ontogenesis too.

4. About the relationship between “being in itself” and “being for us”, that is between unconditioned being and conditioned being, see: Totaro, Francesco. Assoluto e relativo: L’essere e il suo accadere per noi. Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2013. Print.

5. About the “New Enlightenment”, see: Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa. The Fullness of the Logos in the Key of Life. Book I: The case of God in the New Enlightenment. Analecta Husserliana C. Dordrecht: Springer, 2009. Print.


Francesco Totaro

Professor of Moral Philosophy

University of Macerata – Italy


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