Professor Eric Santner, University of Chicago
Professor David Wood, Vanderbilt University
Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago
Modernity defines its civilization and epoch, its political desires and ethical norms, through the value and meaning of being human. It is in terms of the rights, needs and nature of a common humanity that universal laws are conceived as valid and true. Today, however, the very notion of humanity faces crises that are at once practical and theoretical. The Idea of humanity remains a vital locus of normative, ethical, legal and political thought; and yet it is mired in histories of violence and exclusion that testify to how contested rights of membership in the human world have often been. The desire to secure a better and ‘more human’ future remains strong; but the human simultaneously appears as an element so disjoint with nature that it threatens to bring life to the threshold of extinction. Multiple hopes and desires for future development are attached to humanity as the subject and object of extensive technological innovation. Self-mapping and self-making, this is a humanity bearing startling knowledge of and capacity for intervention into the genomic elements of organic life. Such power, however, also brings a new awareness of technological limits, a new set of questions about the relation of humanity and the natural world, and a sense of the narrowness of our intellectual and practical grasp of human life’s place within ecosystems. Our capacity to think the human as one species amongst others proves curiously – perhaps disastrously - at odds with the moral terms of modernist thought and humanistic politics.
How, then, are modernity’s legacies in thinking the human to be both taken up and called into question today? What kind of limit has humanity reached? Papers will explore and test the linkages between philosophical, historical and ecological perspectives on humanity as a species confronting potential catastrophe, at an historical limit where forms of moral self-accounting arguably come into crisis or fail. What are the resources and what the problems inherent to humanist traditions in understanding present situations? And what survives of pertinence today in poststructuralist and postmodern anti-humanism? How do the plurality of modern ways of thinking about the value, potential and capacities of the human coincide or clash? Is the very idea of history redefined by the threatened extinction of the human species if climate change continues unchecked? And can we imagine a politics adequate to the inhuman futures we are now anticipating?
Conveners: Fiona Jenkins or Debjani Ganguly
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