Ecological Finitude as Ontological Finitude: Radical Hope in the Anthropocene

In Richard Polt & Jon Wittrock (eds.), The Task of Philosophy in the Anthropocene: Axial Echoes in Global Space. New York: Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 175-192 (2018)
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Abstract

The proposal that the earth has entered a new epoch called “the Anthropocene” has touched a nerve . One unsettling part of having our ecological finitude thrust upon us with the term “Anthropocene” is that, as Nietzsche said of the death of God, we ourselves are supposed to be the collective doer responsible here, yet this is a deed which no one individual meant to do and whose implications no one fully comprehends. For the pessimists about humanity, the implications seem rather straightforward: humanity will die. Yet, as we will explore in this paper, the death that we may be facing cannot be assumed to be simply biological death or extinction. Indeed, even if we are not running headlong into a mass extinction and biological demise, we do seem to be facing an ontological death. Our ecological finitude is the harbinger of our ontological finitude. The vulnerability we confront in the Anthropocene is what Jonathan Lear, in a different context, called ontological vulnerability. Worlds die too; the ways of life they sustain can become impossible, ceasing to make sense and matter. The constitutive susceptibility of all human worlds to their eventual collapse is what we mean by ontological finitude. This is what we face as presumed denizens in a dawning Anthropocene.

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B. Scot Rousse
University of California, Berkeley

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