Introduction. The Social Construction of the Anthropocene: Theoretical and Ethical Perspectives
From Firenze University Press Journal: Rivista Italiana di Filosofia Politica
Jorge Eduardo Douglas Price, Universidad Nacional del Comahue
Gianpasquale Preite, Università del Salento
I. Modernity has resulted in a radical change in the paradigm of the relationship between humans and nature. From a political, philosophical, legal, and socio-anthropological perspective, a critical phase seems to have been reached. Human beings have crossed the threshold that will make the Earth unhabitable, as the biological system is no longer able to maintain homeostasis, having lost the capability to correct the effects of human action in the ecosystem. The ancient one-to-one relationship with the bio-logical life cycle has gradually deteriorated due to the world undergoing a metamorphic process1 involving pollution, deforestation, intensive farm-ing, loss of animal and plant species, overexploitation of common goods, and erosion of resources. Such a metamorphosis has affected ecological harmony, in terms of it being both an approach to studying the relation-ships between living beings and the environment, and a branch of knowledge protecting and promoting ecological balance.One of the crucial aspects of such a phenomenon is the need to rethink and redefine the concept of life in an era that has been described as the “Anthropocene”. Being more than just a unit of the geologic time scale, the Anthropocene is the era in which human action has become the main factor influencing nature and life on Earth. Ultimately, this means no longer considering life as (only) defined by the Greek term “bíos”, referring to an individual’s unique life that is the source of free-dom and human dignity, but also as defined by the Greek word “zoé”, which identifies the life that individuals share with the whole world in the biological life cycle.
In ancient times, nature was regarded as the vital principle and the end towards which all things tended. This concept was interpreted in terms of a necessary and immutable order that human reason had to recognise so as to adapt to it. It was only in the Renaissance that a shift from Theocentrism to Anthropocentrism occurred, resulting in a paradigmatic turning point that led to a new concept of nature. The latter started to be seen as an objective unit, causally structured by relationships regulated by laws that human beings needed to explain scientifically if they wanted to manipulate the world to their own advantage. In order to understand the origins of such a change in perspective, it is necessary to observe the phenomena and dynamics that led to the development of experimental science. In the wake of the materialistic and mechanistic approach first adopted by Descartes and later investigated by Galileo and Bacon, a new concept of reality was promoted, together with a new way of interpreting and studying nature. Previously considered to be a vital principle, nature was reduced to a mere expression of the spirit, which became external, incidental, mechanistic, with its original features being degraded. Human beings perceived themselves as part of the natural world and established in it, while simultaneously claiming their privileged position, to the point that they started to consider the world their own kingdom, an area under their control. This new methodological approach aimed at building philosophy on solid and rational foundations, providing a scientific basis for the relationship between the human and natural worlds.
The modernity inherited from the 17th century became evident in the following century, through a meta-scientific dimension that depend-ed on the calculability of things, and hence their phenomenal nature, as they revealed themselves to rational experience. However, such a reality also involved non-quantitative, “manufactured uncertainties”, imposed by progress, rapid technological innovation and fast social reactions. These shaped a new area of global risk where individuals were constantly trying to identify stable objective references. Over the past three centuries, the main Western political, ethical and philosophical doctrines have seen the environment as part of a relationship in which mankind has become the active subject in the investigation and nature has played the role of a passive object. Such a situation unambiguously describes mankind’s dominion over nature, with progress being measured by the products of civilisation and the achievements that distinguish humans from the other living beings and natural things. This instrumental interpretation sees nature as a stock of renewable natural resources, thus contributing to reducing the issue of its management to the maximisation of economic benefits and industrial growth.
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