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Should Naturalists Believe in the Anthropocene?

Morgan C. Tait

Environmental Values 28 (2019): 367-383. doi: 10.3197/096327119X15519764179845

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The concept of the Anthropocene draws attention to human activity's impact on the planet at the geological scale. It is tempting to reason that like evolution, a heliocentric solar system or quantum mechanics, climate science compels us to accept as real a radical new ontology, the 'anthroposphere', with far-reaching social and political consequences. I wish to argue that this temptation should be resisted. The Anthropocene cannot be understood entirely as a natural scientific phenomenon, although it can be treated as such for certain purposes. It is also an irreducibly social phenomenon. This is not to say that it is a socially constructed concept like nationhood, but that it is constituted by natural causal processes that are irreducibly entangled with social causal processes. Adopting the Anthropocene as a working concept therefore requires that we understand the causal processes involved in bringing it about as social causal processes, while also viewing these processes as objectual, open to public scrutiny and capable of compelling public assent. Social causes are not, however, easily subjected to such a naturalistic treatment. I conclude that the Anthropocene is not currently a suitable candidate for inclusion in a naturalist ontology.


Anthropocene, naturalism, social-ecological systems, cognitive values, governance

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

Paradigm Dressed as Epoch: The Ideology of the Anthropocene.Jeremy Baskin

How to Get Out of the Multiple Crisis? Contours of a Critical Theory of Social-Ecological Transformation. Ulrich Brand

The Development of Environmental Thinking in Economics. Clive L. Spash

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Editorial: Social Ecological Transformation, Whether You Like It or Not! Clive L. Spash

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