A New Image of Humanity? A Transcendental in the Making

From Firenze University Press Journal: Aisthesis

Stefano Velotti, Sapienza Università di Roma

The forces and aspirations that find expression in our affluent societies today are manifold, not to mention those that else-where find no space to make themselves heard, because they are far removed from the interests that occupy the global political-economic establishment. Some of these forces — emotions, frustrations, longings, desires, worldviews — find access even in academic research, received and articulated in philosophical, anthropological, sociological discourses. In the background of the many crises we are experiencing — ecological, economic, moral, political — I believe there is a greater struggle, whose stake is the very image of humanity. If it is true that «at the core of the “Enlightenment project” was an attempt to discover a new definition of nothing less than human nature itself», (Pagden [2013]: 21–22], there is no doubt that for a long time, and today more than ever, there is a similar urgency to find a different vision of humanity, since the prevailing one — heir of the Enlightenment — is perceived from many sides as inadequate, partial, unsuccessful, in need of a profound revision: all the “post-something” (not only the now worn out postmodern, but the postsecular, the posthuman, the postcolonial, the postcritical) that abound in academic discourse or public conversation are signs of this travail.

These “post conditions” are all aimed at modify-ing, revising, or even rejecting the Enlightenment legacy that is integral to our concept of modernity. Leaving aside the more reactionary and conservative critiques of the Enlightenment, which have accompanied it since its beginnings (cf. Pagden [2013]: 373–417), and so also its current triumphalist apologies (e.g. Pinker [2018]), it nevertheless seems that “the age of critique” has lost its appeal for many, (Latour [2004]), and thus the very recourse to judgment is viewed with impatience, in favor of other practices (cf. Deleuze [1983]), sometimes even within a practice that is defined by the very exercise of judgment such as art criticism (Elkins [2003]).Apart from the fact that modernity, and the Enlightenment itself, are not at all as monolithic and uniform as some would like to present them, it might also be true that «we have never been modern» (Latour [1991]), — if we mean on the one hand that the so-called modernity is imbued with archaic elements, and, on the other, that its most triumphalist proclamations do not find correspondence in its actual practices –, but then we should also affirm the inverse, namely that «we have never been non-modern», in the sense that every culture, even the cultures that we like to see as more «enchanted» and «tribal», are not at all compact and sealed in «the other of reason», and host within them critical reflections, skepticism, questions, pluralisms, non-uniform forms of life. The European Enlightenment itself is unthinkable without taking into account the encounter/clash with different cultures.

Often, even in those most inclined to see modernity unilaterally as a single block of totalizing, scientistic, Eurocentric, colonial, capitalist, patriarchal thought, blind and violent towards the richness of the pluralism of possible forms of life and alternatives to «ours» — at times the thought emerges that this same critique of modernity inherited from the Enlightenment is inevitably its heir. These efforts to overcome the «totalizing» perspective of modernity are addressed to the recognition of an epistemologi-cal and ontological pluralism2, in an attempt to depower, limit or at least reformulate the «autonomy» of the modern subject-individual and his world. On the more strictly philosophical side, even more daring attempts are multiplying, aiming at unhinging the very «correlation» of human subjects with reality, in order to ensure its autonomy, trying to bypass any human footprint. As if the just (and belated) concern for the traces left on the world by the richest part of humanity — including those at the origin of the climate and ecological crisis we are witnessing — should be translated into metaphysical terms, exalting the autonomy of the non-human reality, its literal absoluteness.

One could hypothesize that this fascination for objects, for absolute contingency, for what does not depend in any way on us — as if it had never been recognized by anyone in the past — is motivated by a sort of compensation, sub specie aeternitatis, for our cumbersome presence. A sort of homeopathic cure: curing the anguish of disappearing from the earth’s crust by erasing our traces in the skies of speculation. The threat (for our species) of a world without us, is anticipated — in a way not devoid of contradictions — in exercises of thought that would like to free the real, of which they speak and with which they relate, from any correlation with human subjects, including themselves.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36253/Aisthesis-13204

Read Full Text: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/aisthesis/article/view/13204



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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy