The Ultimate Crisis of Civilization: Why Turn to Philosophy?, #1–Introduction.

By Arran Gare






The Crisis of Philosophy and the Humanities

The Two Cultures and the Triumph of Scientism

Continuing the Struggle Against Nihilism

Castoriadis and the Challenge of the Radical Enlightenment

Reconfiguring the History of Philosophy After Kant

Speculative Naturalism, the Radical Enlightenment and Ecological Civilization



[The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future] supports, further articulates and advances the new vision of the future that, I believe, has the potential to unite humanity to overcome the greatest crisis it has ever had to confront, the immanent destruction of the current regime of the global ecosystem. This is the regime of which humanity is part, in which it has co-evolved with other species and produced a stable interglacial period that, for 10,000 years, has been ideal for humans. This is the period in which civilizations have emerged and flourished, and which maintains the conditions for their existence. It has become clear that to continue on our present path will accelerate ecological destruction until massive environmental changes, for instance a runaway greenhouse effect, will bring about a switch from one global ecosystem regime to another that will render human life in most of the presently populated world all but impossible, just as overfishing of cod around Newfoundland produced a switch that has all but eliminated cod (Holling, 2010). Such regime changes are increasingly common, with an almost total collapse of ocean ecosystems expected over the next 50 years. It can and is likely to happen to the global ecosystem unless there is a drastic change of direction of civilization (Gare 2014a). The possibility of such regime changes are conceptualized in complexity theory as bifurcations, or more dramatically, as catastrophes. Conceived as ‘tipping points’, this is the main focus of research of Germany’s leading climate scientist, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who on the basis of his research published a paper titled ‘Global Warming: Stop Worrying, Start Panicking?’ (2008). It is inconceivable that ruling elites do not know that failing to deal with greenhouse gas emissions poses a threat to the lives of billions of people. It appears that many members of the new global ruling class who dominate the politics of nations tacitly accept climate destabilization as a Darwinian mechanism for culling excess human population, possibly serving as a weapon of mass destruction against Asians, with other vulnerable regions such as much of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Brazil and Australia being collateral damage. Spencer Weart in The Discovery of Global Warming (2016), has provided a continually updated hypertext explaining the advances in climate science showing why we face this threat.

If in two hundred years there has not been a catastrophic collapse of the current global ecosystem with all the complexity of its life, along with most of the world’s human population, and people are living civilized lives, living in ways that augment rather than undermine the resilience of their ecosystems, it will be because there will have been a major cultural, social and economic transformation of the whole of humanity. The destructive dynamics of globalized capitalism with its intensive and extensive expansion of commodification, its managerialism, its consumerism, its debasement of culture, its corruption of public institutions, pulverization of communities and subversion of democratic processes, its plundering of public assets, concentration of wealth, income and power in the hands of the global corporatocracy, and the domination of people and nations by transnational corporations imposing and then manipulating market forces, will have been overcome (Klein 2014; Kovel 2007). For this to have been achieved, a new vision of the future will have captured people’s imaginations and inspired them to struggle for and achieve what two centuries earlier had appeared unimaginable, where, as one person observed, ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism’ (Jameson 2003, p.76). While there are several contenders for this, the only vision at present to have this potential is the vision put forward by radical Chinese environmentalists and embraced at least in principle by the Chinese government, first as a goal of government policy in 2007, and in 2012, written into their constitution, the vision of an ecological civilization (Gare 2012a).

It is also becoming clear that what is standing in the way of articulating this vision and effecting this transformation are deep assumptions about humanity, its place in nature and its destiny inimical to such a future. These assumptions are embedded in and are continually reproduced not only by proponents of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and scientism, but by our institutions and forms of life, and are placed beyond questioning by the fragmentation of intellectual culture, making it almost impossible to comprehend the forces at work in modern societies and how their oppressive and destructive dynamics could be overcome. Only instrumental knowledge, the categories of economics, power politics, Darwinism and social Darwinism are taken seriously. We live in a culture where, as Ulrich Beck aptly put it: ‘Concepts are empty: they no longer grip, illuminate or inflame. The greyness lying over the world […] may also come from a kind of verbal mildew’ (Beck 2000, p.8).

Individuals from all spheres of life and from a variety of academic disciplines are beginning to question these assumptions and are struggling against this intellectual fragmentation. Fighting this verbal mildew, some are turning to philosophy. This includes ecologists. As David Abram observed almost twenty years ago:

The ecological crisis may be the result of a recent and collective perceptual disorder in our species, a unique form of myopia which it now forces us to correct. For many … the only possible course of action is to begin planning and working on behalf of the ecological world which they now discern. And yet ecological thinking is having a great deal of trouble taking root in the human world — it is still viewed by most as just another ideology; meanwhile, ecological science remains a highly specialized discipline circumscribed with a mostly mechanistic biology. Without the concerted attention of philosophers, ecology lacks a coherent common language adequate to its aims; it thus remains little more than a growing bundle of disparate facts, resentments, and incommunicable visions. (Abram 1996, p.82)

Traditionally, philosophers concerned themselves with the major problems confronting their civilizations, struggling to overcome one-sided, fragmented forms of thinking that had led to disasters, enabling people to find meaning in their lives whatever the circumstances while providing them with the means to orient themselves to create the future. Philosophers are (or were) the ‘physicians of culture’, as Nietzsche observed. Philosophy was not just one discipline among others. It was the transdiscipline that questioned the assumptions and interrogated the values and claims to knowledge of all other disciplines, revealing their significance in relation to each other, integrating their insights, asking new questions and opening up new paths of inquiry and action. In accordance with its origins in Ancient Greece, the goal of philosophy was to provide the foundations for an integrated understanding of the cosmos and the place of humanity within it through which people could define their ultimate ends. It had the responsibility for engaging with the broader culture and its problems and contradictions, for investigating the relationship between culture, society and civilization, and for working out how people could and should live and how society could and should be organized. It was also an end in itself, the culmination and affirmation of the spirit of free inquiry urged by curiosity to question all received methods, beliefs and institutions in its passionate quest to understand the universe and achieve wisdom. For such reasons, Schelling proclaimed: ‘Philosophy must enter into life. That applies not only to the individual but also to the condition of the time, to history and to humanity. The power of philosophy must penetrate everything, because one cannot live without it’ (Karl Jaspers 1993, p.144). Philosophy was central to the formation of individuals and society, and it was the core of the university.


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Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Saturday 29 February 2020

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