This book engages with the classic philosophical question of mind and matter, seeking to show its altered meaning and acuteness in the era of the Anthropocene. Arguing that matter, and, more broadly, the natural world, has been misconceived since Descartes, it explores the devastating impact that this has had in practice in the West. As such, alternatives are needed, whether philosophical ones such as those offered by figures such as Whitehead and Nagel, or posthumanist ones such as those developed by Barad and Latour. Drawing on recent anthropological work ignored by philosophers and sociologists alike, the author considers a radical alternative cosmology: animism understood as panpsychism in practice. This understanding of mind and matter, of culture and nature, is then turned against present-day posthumanist critiques of what the Anthropocene amounts to, showing them up as philosophically misguided, politically mute, and ethically wanting. A ground-breaking reconceptualization of the natural world and our treatment of it, Cosmologies of the Anthropocene will appeal to scholars of sociology, social theory, philosophy and anthropology with interests in our understanding of and relationship with nature.
Table of Contents
Introduction: From Anthropocentrism to the Anthropocene
1. Getting it Right about Mind, Nature, and Cosmos
2. Panpsychism as "Inner Physics": Whitehead’s Project
3. Prospects and Pitfalls of Agential Realism
4. Animism – Panpsychism in Practice
5. Agency Posthumanist Style: Proliferation or Decimation?
Arne Johan Vetlesen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oslo, Norway. He is the author of A Philosophy of Pain; Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing; Perception, Empathy, and Judgment; and The Denial of Nature: Environmental Philosophy in the Era of Global Capitalism.
"How ought one do philosophy in a time defined by the human impact on earthly systems and ecologies? That is, what does the Anthropocene require of philosophers? Many believe that thinking closely about human existence demands thinking closely about the environmental devastation that seems to accompany that existence. For Vetlesen (Univ. of Oslo), the best way to address the anthropocentric excesses that give rise to environmental crises is to move from anthropocentrism (as a cosmological conception and moral vision) to panpsychism. Drawing on research in anthropology, Vetlesen argues that “animism is panpsychism in practice” (p. 15). He offers substantive engagement with Thomas Nagel, Alfred North Whitehead, and the “agential realism” of Karen Barad, providing a rigorously analytic treatment that appreciates the philosophical contributions of Continental thought. Whether or not one ultimately agrees with Vetlesen’s conclusions regarding the promise of panpsychism, this book is an important contribution to debates about devoting philosophical attention to a transformed, and sustainable, relationship between humans and others (whether human or not). This is a compelling but controversial text."
-J. A. Simmons, Furman University