CFP: Philosophy & Catastrophe (Filosofia Journal #37 special edition)

Submission deadline: December 31, 2021


Call for Papers: Special Edition

Philosophy and Catastrophe Vol. 35 (2022)

Filosofia, Revista da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto

Tiago Mesquita Carvalho (ed.)

Submission Process:

December 31, 2021: Abstracts (300 to 1000 words in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, German or English)

January 15, 2022: notification of acceptance

July 1, 2022: deadline for accepted articles

October 1, 2022: publication

Submissions or queries:

[email protected],

Catastrophes are on the agenda. The proximity of an event that breaks with routine crosses nowadays liberal societies, leading to the deployment of vast resources directed at understanding, managing and predicting various types of threats. Sudden events such as floods, landslides, wildfires, pandemics and other slow events like climate change are all cumulative and gradual processes that result from the interaction between natural phenomena and collective human agency. Other natural disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions call ex post facto for a set of responsibilities and regulations that could have prevented major human and social impacts. The distinction between man-made and natural disasters is itself disputed since their assessment depends on the state of scientific knowledge as well as in the possibility of anticipating their causes and preventing their effects.

The possibility of catastrophe points to a transformation of humanity's relationship with time and with a vision of history that can be actively and deliberately made. The idea that the future can be reached as productive goal, as a way of installing a set of expectations in an empty and homogeneous time, is confronted with the evidence of new sources of heteronomy. The unrestrained causal powers unleashed by techno-scientific progress are largely unanticipated phenomena that lead to the awareness of the undeniable fragility and ambiguity of action. Thee relationship with the future thus becomes prophylactic and reflexive. As in tragedy, catastrophe is a moment of revelation of a greater logic underlying current forms of social organization and collective agency.

Catastrophes also herald the possibility of transforming the current political framework that democratic governments attribute to technoscience. They raise questions as well on the limits of preventive action. Although political and scientific power led to the reduction of traditional forms of contingency, since many decades both have been established as another source of the random and the incalculable. The assumption that only with more scientific knowledge can the domain of praxis be improved no longer suffices. With the loss of such an instrumental idea of science and of the neutral application of technology, the grounding for political power is weakened when it is perhaps most needed.

The knowledge explosion is thus accompanied by an ignorance explosion. Stemming from economics, risk assessment and rational choice theory are the traditional methodologies that can enable the choice of certain public policies based on the possibility of anticipating and managing environmental and technological impacts. These approaches, however, do not deal with the indeterminable uncertainties that make it impossible to accurately and completely assign a probability of occurrence as in the space-time lags that feature in catastrophes. The diversity of causes and effect leading to and resulting from a catastrophe is so disparate that aggregating them into a quantitative indicator for the purposes of imputation or compensation is often problematic. If the difference between risk (what we can estimate) and uncertainty (what we disregard that may happen) acquires normative power, the question remains as to how public policies and normative responses can be grounded on ignorance of what is the case.

In the realm of moral philosophy, the subject of catastrophe also raises several questions. The ascription of forward- and backward-looking moral responsibility is troublesome due to the complexity of causal chains. First, causal responsibility in a technological context relies on a high interdependence of agents and cannot usually be attributed to the action of a single agent. Collective agency is distributed among a wide range of actors, from individuals – consumers, technicians, managers or politicians – to other collective entities such as governments or companies. Moreover, there is an epistemic gap intrinsic to technological action. Agents are often unaware of the indirect and cumulative effects they are triggering, thus invalidating one of the conditions for ascribing moral responsibility. In short, the possibility of an occurring catastrophe can well mean that no one would be responsible for it.

Within this framework, Filosofia: Revista da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto invites all those concerned to submit high quality original proposals on this topic. The approach should follow any philosophical methodology but, given the scope and importance of this topic, other interdisciplinary approaches are not excluded. Some of the possible guidelines are:

·         Causal and moral responsibility and collective agency;

·         Criminal and civil frameworks for liability in catastrophes;

·         Catastrophes and the inscrutability of evil (Kant, Ricœur)

·         Typology of events: accidents, disasters, emergencies calamities, catastrophes;

·         The normative boundary between real and virtual risk and the role of political power;

·         Limits to the methodological assumptions of rational agency in economic theory;

·         Catastrophes and the rebound effect (Jevons paradox);

·         Ethics of climate change: future generations and temporal preferences;

·         Post-normal science, relation between lay people, experts and political power;

·         The role of fear and other emotions in risk perception and motivation for action;

·         The aesthetics of catastrophes and the negative sublime;

·         The question of whether banal individual actions hold eschatological power (Arendt, Anders, Jonas, Nancy, Dupuy);

·         Theories and conceptions of tragedy and their relevance to the understanding of catastrophes (Aristotle, Hegel, Hölderlin, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Simmel, Scheler, Benjamin);

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