The philosophy of the human home

Meneham (North Finistere, France)
Credit: CC Stuart Mudie - Flickr
Meneham (Finistère Nord, France)
The philosophy of the human home

We associate a very specific type of shelter with every animal species. But what about Homo sapiens? Philosophers and geographers have pondered the question, and here’s what three of them think about it.

A short history of the home

In Histoire de l’habitat idéal, de l’Orient vers l’Occident (History of the Ideal Home, from the East to the West), published in 2010, French philosopher Augustin Berque examines how our towns and villages have been assembled over the past 3,000 years. It leads to a paradoxical observation. Humans today have adopted the individual dwelling as a model, but are seeking to get closer to nature at the same time. Yet in order to build the roads and towns that support that model, they end up destroying nature.

According to him, this individualistic lifestyle, which is based on the overconsumption of resources, will not be sustainable in the long term.

36 houses

Geographer Jacques Pezeu-Massabuau also calls our lifestyle into question in his essay “Trente-six manières d’être chez soi” (Thirty-Six Ways of Being at Home), which appeared in 2014.

In it, the author first of all underscores the importance for humans of being able to designate a place as their home. A place where one takes refuge. He next demonstrates how this home, for some people, has become plural: sometimes it takes the form of an apartment, a car, a hotel room, and so on.

In his view, by building around the car and other modes of transportation, society is ensuring that we multiply the premises we live in.

A bit of poetry

This way of living based on frequent moves was not relevant in the early nineteenth century, when German poet Friedrich Hölderlin devoted fundamental ideas of his work to the question. His reflections are nonetheless highly pertinent.

Fleeing materialism, the philosopher had placed considerations other than the economic at the centre of his existence. According to him, those who attach value to the property that furnishes their environment are missing the point. True wealth, in his view, is found in the elements of beauty that nature makes available to us.

He suggested moreover that this way of assigning importance to nature would lead society to take greater interest in preserving the environment.

As the authors point out, the wealth associated with “home” has no importance in the eyes of its inhabitants, whether they live in a hut or a palace. The important thing is to have a place of one’s own. The fact remains that, according to them, this need today leads to abuses that distance humans from nature…

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