Meillassoux suggests that Kant’s Copernican revolution was not actually Copernican at all. Kant (and so many post-Kantians) improperly inverted Copernicus, returning to a pre-Copernican anthropocentrism (see “Ptolemy’s Revenge” in After Finitude). Kant is obviously anthropocentric, but is that really an inversion of the Copernican turn? Or…might we be able to speak about the birth of the Copernican revolution out of the spirit of anthropocentrism? If Meillassoux wants to get past Kantian idealism, he might need Ptolemy more than he knows.
Tag Archives: ethics
Bruno Latour articulates a wonderful idea in An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence, where he argues that morality is in the world, not just in humans. For anything to exist it must persist in its being: everything emits “must,” like a musty smell. To be is to emit value, to evaluate. It is value all the way down. Here’s what Latour has to say:
We have to go down long lines of Bifurcators before reaching Kant, who expects humans deprived of world to “add” values to beings “deprived of ought-to-be.” Before him, and in the rest of the world, there hadn’t been a single existent that had failed to exclaim: “It must,” “It mustn’t,” measuring the difference between being and nonbeing by this hesitation. Everything in the world evaluates, from von Uexküll’s tick to Pope Benedict XVI—and even Magritte’s pipe. Instead of opposing “is” to “ought to be,” count instead how many beings an existent needs to pass through and how many alterations it must learn to adapt to in order to continue to exist. On this point Nietzsche is right, the word “value” has no antonym—and especially not the word “fact.”
Just as a geologist can hear the clicks of radioactivity, but only if he is equipped with a Geiger counter, we can register the presence of morality in the world provided that we concentrate on that particular emission. And just as no one, once the instrument has been calibrated, would think of asking the geologist if radioactivity is “all in his head,” “in his heart,” or “in the rocks,” no one will doubt any longer that the world emits morality toward anyone who possesses an instrument sensitive enough to register it. (pp. 453, 456)
This means that the task of ethics is aesthetic—becoming sensitive to the ethical emissions of things, cultivating something like Humean sympathies for the values of different modes of existence. However, Latour expands on Hume by making ethics cosmological in scope. Everything has value, everything matters. This is similar to something Karen Barad says in Meeting the Universe Halfway. “A delicate tissue of ethicality runs through the marrow of being. There is no getting away from ethics—mattering is an integral part of the ontology of the world in its dynamic presencing. Not even a moment exists on its own. […] We need to meet the universe halfway, to take responsibility for the role that we play in the world’s differential becoming” (p. 396).
It’s worth remembering the following passage from Walter Benjamin’s classic essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
“Fiat ars—pereat mundus” says fascism, expecting from war, as Marinetti admits, the artistic gratification of sense perception altered by technology. This is evidently the consummation of l’art pour l’art. Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own alienation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art. (p. 122)
Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 3, 1935-1938. (Edmund Jephcott and Howard Eiland, Trans.). Harvard University Press, 2002.
The moral of the story is that the simple implosion of politics and aesthetics is equivocal. Smooshing them together isn’t inherently beneficial. The distinction between aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics is crucial. The same holds true for the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, a relationship that just about everybody has thought of in terms of the portmanteau, “aesthethics.” On that note, I’m interested to see how the implosion of the aesthetic and the ethical is figured in the new anthology, Aesth/Ethics in Environmental Change: Hiking through the arts, ecology, religion and ethics of the environment, edited by Sigurd Bergmann, Irmgard Blindow, and Konrad Ott (LIT Verlag 2013).
To find oneself in love is to find oneself not free but captivated.
Eroticism is suspect to the ethical mind. Orgasm is pleasure in the breakdown of laws, action, responsibility, conscientiousness, and consciousness. Sensuality is transgressive. In the bodies denuded, sexual excitement surges in the meltdown of built-up structures. As our bodies become orgasmic, the posture collapses, the manipulative diagrams of the limbs soften, legs and thighs roll about, fingers and hands move in aimless, unendingly repetitive caresses, allowing themselves to be stroked and crushed. Our lips loosen, soften, glisten with saliva, lose the train of sentences; our throats issue babble, giggling, moans, and sighs. Our sense of ourselves, our self-respect shaped in fulfilling a function in the machinic and social environment, our dignity maintained in multiple confrontations, collaborations, and demands dissolve; the ego loses its focus as center of evaluations, decisions, and initiatives. The psychic structures with which we screen, filter out, and channel the superabundance of outside stimuli that flood our senses at all times are shattered and the stimuli flood us pell-mell. The structures by which we fix an inner ego identity and censor out a whole underworld of unconscious drives and cravings buckle and crack; in sexual excitement the gates of the lower dungeons are opened and feral drives and cravings bound up and overwhelm our conscious intentions and purposes. Our impulses, our passions, are returned to animal irresponsibility. The pleasure and torment in contact with the nonprehensile surfaces of our bodies, our cheeks, our bellies, our thighs, irradiate across the substance of our sensitive and vulnerable nakedness.
Alphonso Lingis, “The Immoralist,” in The Ethical, ed. Edith Wyschogrod and Gerald P. McKenny (Blackwell Publishing, 2003), pp. 205, 211-212.
The Posthumanities book series at the University of Minnesota Press keeps releasing terrific books. I finally got around to reading Mick Smith’s book, Against Ecological Sovereignty: Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World (2011). Making important contributions to political ecology, environmental ethics, and continental philosophy, Smith presents an approach to radical ecology grounded in a thorough critique of the concept of sovereignty.
Smith focuses extensively on Agamben’s analysis of biopolitics and the reduction of humans to “bare life,” which Smith relates to Heidegger’s analysis of the reduction of nature to Bestand (“standing reserve” or “resource”). Arendt, Bataille, Benjamin, Latour, Levinas, and Nancy also make frequent appearances, as Smith draws on their works to support his critique of sovereignty and his ethicopolitical vision of an open, diverse, and posthumanist “intimate ecology of responsibility” (167). Furthermore, in a refreshing tone, he does not propose a solution to the environmental crisis.
In any case, unlike the majority of people writing on the environment, I do not have a recipe for saving the natural world, a set of rules to follow, a list of guiding principles, or a favorite ideology or institutional form to promote as a solution. For before all this, we need to ask what “saving the natural world” might mean. And this requires, as I have argued, sustaining ethics, and politics, and ecology over and against sovereign power—the exercise of which reduces people to bare life and the more-than-human world to standing reserve. […] What we need are plural ways to imagine a world without sovereign power, without human dominion. (220)
Saving nature, saving the planet, saving Earth. These are usually just more exercises of sovereignty. To the extent that we should “save” some beings in the natural world (e.g., save the whales!), saving must take on a meaning that is not encumbered by sovereign power.
To save the whales is to free them from all claims of human sovereignty, to release them into their singularity, their being such as it is—whatever it is—quodlibet ens, and into flows of evolutionary time, of natural history, just as they release themselves into the flows of the world’s oceans. This “saving” is an ethicopolitical action. (103)
Although Smith is focusing primarily on criticizing human sovereignty over nature, he is clear that this does not mean replacing human sovereignty with the sovereignty of nature.
It is not a call to recognize the sovereignty of nature over all human activities, including ethics and politics. […] It is a political and ecological critique of sovereignty per se, both natural and political. The breadth and depth of this critique is why radical ecology is potentially the most radical form of politics, why it offers the most fundamental challenge to the established order of things. (107)
One highlight of the book is that Smith brings together multiple philosophers without ignoring their differences, incompatibilities, and contradictions. His use of Agamben is a good example: Smith continually draws on Agamben’s concepts and analyses while simultaneously criticizing Agamben’s anthropocentric or “hyperhumanist” tendencies (116). Another example: Smith offers a critique of Latour that ends up bringing Latour and Levinas together in a productive way.
In short, there are a lot of gems in Smith’s book. It’s inspired me to look deeper into Arendt’s work, which I haven’t spent much time with in quite a while. Overall, Against Ecological Sovereignty makes me like radical ecology more than I did before I read it. Continental philosophy and radical ecology are good for one another.