Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 12, No 1 (2016)

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Dystopian Contemporary Positions: Sustainable Development as an Instance of the Epistemological Disposition

Ruth Thomas-Pellicer


This paper addresses the following research question: what is the extent to which the official project of sustainable development-mainly as set out in Our Common Future (WCED 1987)-can steer the global polity out of the ecocidal mode of being where it is immersed? In tackling the query I argue that, cognitively, the project at issue is conterminous with the epistemological tradition largely inaugurated by Socrates. It is on these grounds that the project of sustainable development is readily dismissed as a putative post-ecocidal candidate.

Seven points of continuity between the project of sustainable development and philosophy and science as epistēmē are identified. First, sustainable development is seen to fully endorse the anthropological slumber into which the Modern Age-the zenith of the epistemological trajectory-plunges. Similarly, sustainable development is found to project the analytic of finitude common to this Age to the environment as the latter turns into an issue of public concern. Second, the rational management with which Our Common Future is imbued is pinpointed as an intrinsic element of the logocentric sciences into which philosophy as epistēmē evolves. Third and relatedly, ecological statements that inform the report under scrutiny are identified as problematic logocentric claims to truth, operative and legitimized under the ecocidal mode of being. Points four and five relate to a leading feature of philosophy and science as epistēmē-namely, the pervasiveness of binary pairs. Sustainable development replicates the Cartesian culture/nature divide by which the res cogitans-"thinking matter"-stands over against the res extensa-"extended matter." Likewise, the rubric of sustainable development is conceived as conforming to an unproblematized reversal of productivity-as an extension and complementing pole of the latter, that is. Sixth, the propensity of sustainable development to take for granted a docile nature, assumed as it is to be utterly controllable by Promethean Man, is interpreted as an expression of restricted economy, a leading trait of the epistemological disposition. Seventh, sustainable development, in its promise to render productivity clean, is severely charged with the perpetuation of the teleology of progress also ingrained in the epistemological trajectory.

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