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« Of Heterogeneity, Species-Being and Ontological Foundations | Main | A Few Thoughts on Modern Metaphysics »

Reply to Bousquet: Humanity and Anthropocentrism

Antoine, thanks for your further thoughts. With regard to anthropocentrism and humanity, I would want to point to the comment I made in my ‘Against Anthropocentrism’ essay (Review of International Studies, Vol.32 No.3 (2006), p.423). Forgive me for quoting at length, but I think it is worthwhile:

[I]t is worth noting that critiques of anthropocentrism have, like critiques of Enlightenment humanism, been criticised as anti-human. However, a critical stance towards, or contestation of, the ‘anthropocentric bias’ that has affected the majority of scholarship on political violence, does not represent a turning away from concerns with the well-being and security of individuals. In this regard it is worth revisiting Martin Heidegger’s comments regarding his critique of humanism. Heidegger noted that his

opposition [to humanism] does not mean that [his] thinking aligns itself against the humane and advocates the inhuman, [nor] that it promotes the inhumane and depreciates the dignity of man. Humanism is opposed because it does not set the humanitas of man high enough.[1]

For Heidegger then there is more to humanity than humanism can comprehend. Similarly, a non-anthropocentric approach to political violence would argue that there is more to the constitution of a polis than the gathering of anthropos.

I think it is part of the anthropocentrism of political theory that humanity can only be conceived of as a collectivity of individual bodies. By ‘humanity’ I refer to the distinctive contours of ‘our’ way of being-in-the-world (or species–being in Foucauldian terms). It is wrong to regard this being-in-the-world as simply a matter of bodies instrumentally using tools. The subjectivity of humans (and thus their humanity) is more complex than this. But this complexity does not mean we can drop the notion of ‘humanity’ itself.

In other words, this is not an either/or problem in which referring to the constitutive role of objects prohibits us from examining the nature of our ‘humanity’ (which I would understand as a cyborg humanity of the kind that Haraway has documented). On the contrary, my arguments contra anthropocentrism represent a battle for the definition of what species-being actually is.

I would also want to add that if we look to a parliament of things to solve our problem here we seem to bifurcate the political terrain into politics for humans and politics for things. Far from contesting anthropocentrism such a move leaves the latter intact and simply opens up a new terrain of enquiry separate to it. Contrary to this I want to go straight onto anthropocentrism's terrain in order to note that its conception of political subjectivity (or species–being) is impoverished.

As such, I do not find it contradictory to refer to 'crimes against humanity' – it all turns on what ‘humanity’ actually is. And my contention is that the current range of crimes acknowledged to be contrary to our species-being is not sufficient to take account of the way in which that being is constituted in relation to things.

I will address your comments  regarding the problems of laws relating to geniocide prevention (as well Nate Wright's reply) here.

[1] Martin Heidegger ‘Letter on Humanism’, in Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, edited by D. F. Krell, Revised Edition (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 233–4

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