From Ivan Illich to nanotechnology. Preventing disaster?


By retracing the different stages of his intellectual career and his books, the philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy explains how the climate issue led him to renew his links with the work of Ivan Illich, with whom he developed his first works. The emerging environmental challenges and his original philosophical path thus lead Jean-Pierre Dupuy to propose to think about technology in terms of a paradoxical but perhaps indispensable "enlightened catastrophism". UP' thus transcribes this interview that appeared in its time in the magazine Esprit, which is incredibly topical... 

Spirit: THE ENERGY CRISIS is fuelling many debates and concerns, including disaster scenarios. What are the different arguments? How do you assess the issue of energy reserves?

Jean-Pierre Dupuy Yes, our world is heading straight for disaster, I am firmly convinced of that. The path on which humanity is advancing is suicidal. I speak of "the" disaster in the singular, not to designate a single event, but a system of discontinuities, of crossing critical thresholds, of ruptures, of radical structural changes that will feed off one another, to strike the rising generations with unprecedented violence. My heart tightens when I think of the future of my children and their own children, who have not yet been born. Those who hope that the twenty-first century will escape the horrors of the twentieth century may have forgotten that the inaugural act, dated 11 September 2001, was an event of inconceivable brutality. They probably believe that science and technology will get us out of this situation as they have always done in the past.
When I was a child, I was told in civics class that all of mankind's misfortunes came from the fact that the progress of science had not been accompanied by a parallel progress of human wisdom. Science was pure, but men remained evil. How naive!

I owe it to Ivan Illich to have understood that humanity has always had to guard against three kinds of threats, and not just two - the two that come to mind first: the force of nature and the violence of men; the earthquakes that collapse glorious cities and the barbarity of war that massacres, maims and rapes their inhabitants. It is by learning to know nature better that men have partially succeeded in taming it; it is by becoming more lucid about the mechanisms of hatred and revenge that they have understood that one can get along with one's enemies and that they have built civilizations. But there is a third front on which it is much more difficult to fight, because the enemy is ourselves. It has our own features, but we don't recognize it, and sometimes we turn it back to nature, sometimes we turn it into a hateful and vengeful Nemesis. The evil that melts on our heads from this third front is the counterpart of our ability to act, that is to say, to trigger irreversible processes that have no end, which can turn against us and take the form of hostile powers that destroy us.
Great reader of Hannah ArendtIllich knew well that this faculty is exercised first in the network of human relations. Action and words generate stories of which no one can claim to be the author and which sometimes, and often, have a tragic outcome. From this primordial experience of the empowerment of action in relation to the intentions of the actors, the sacred, the tragic, religion and politics are probably born - all symbolic and real devices that can keep this capacity to act within limits.
The unprecedented fact that characterises our societies based on science and technology is that we are now capable of triggering such processes. in and on nature itself. With extraordinary prescience, Hannah Arendt analysed this change in action as early as 1958 in her major work Human Condition (1).
Tomorrow's droughts, cyclones and other tsunamis, or simply the weather, which has always served as a metonym for nature, will be the products of our actions. We will not have made them, in the sense of manufactured, because the activity of manufacturing (poiesis for the Greeks), unlike action (praxis), has not only a beginning but also an end, in both senses of the term: goal and ending. They will be the unexpected products of the irreversible processes that we have set in motion, often without wanting or knowing it.

French political philosophy has largely remained foreign to this change in action. Since Sartre at least, the good French intellectual not only knows nothing about physics or chemistry, is perfectly ignorant of the principles of operation of a nuclear power station or a computer, understands nothing about economic theory, but he does not mind boasting about it! This filthy inculture now condemns him to impotence. All the questions that make the headlines in today's intellectual and political debate must be asked and dealt with afresh, within the framework of a moral and political philosophy that gives nature and technology a central place.
The issue of immigration is rightly occupying people's minds at the moment. We are thinking about the criteria that will enable us to achieve a optimum of the immigrant population on our territory. Like the swimmers in Thailand who saw only at the last moment the gigantic wave breaking over them, we do not seem to see the hundreds of millions of unfortunate people who, in the near future, driven from their homes by drought, rising waters, hurricanes or storms, will seek asylum with us, to flee not only from oppressive regimes, but from territories that we will have ransacked, without even knowing them, by our inconsequence. These human waves will make a mockery of our poor calculations. Political action today must be seen in the perspective, no longer of the revolution to be accomplished, but of the catastrophe to be postponed, if there is still time.

I now come to your question on the energy crisis. I'll take the liberty of recusing it. No, there is no energy crisis, the expression is to be banished... with the last energy. The first reason is summed up abruptly by the formula in the title of the book by my colleague from the Conseil Général des Mines, Henri Prévot we are suffering from "too much oil! ». It was he who opened my eyes to a serious mistake I was making, like almost everyone else who takes the trouble to take an interest in what is foolishly called the "environment" - as if these issues were around of us, therefore outside of us.
It is true that fossil resources (oil, gas and coal) are being depleted at a glance and we will not have any more before the end of the century if emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil embark on the same path as us, as they are already doing cheerfully. It is true that alternative energies are not on the agenda. Admittedly, a war is already looming that will be merciless between the major consumer powers, which will fight with the energy of despair to appropriate whoever has the last drop of oil, whoever has the last ton of coal. The pressure on prices, which could degenerate into panic, amplified by a major financial crisis, is already being felt. Liberal economists are taking satisfaction from this, confident that they are within the mechanisms of the market, which they believe will be able to make the necessary substitutions: reserves will miraculously be multiplied, because it will be profitable to exploit deposits that are difficult to access, energies that were not economical, such as solar energy or biofuels, will become so, etc.

Why not enjoy unlimited reading of UP'? Subscribe from €1.90 per week.

Well, all of this is proving to be a smokescreen that conceals the extreme seriousness of the climate threat. I am going to quote a figure that every citizen of the world, every person in a position to decide even at a very modest level, should know and meditate on. The experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cannot tell us what the average increase in global temperature between now and the end of the century will be exactly within a range of 2 to 6 degrees Celsius. It should be noted that half of this uncertainty results from the unknown policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will be followed. This is an interesting circle for the philosopher, since these policies will themselves obviously depend on the representations that are made of the seriousness of the threat - and these representations depend in part on the uncertainty that hangs over the forecasts. In any case, the same experts assure us that beyond two degrees, the lower limit of the range, the consequences of global warming will be frightening.

I do not want to go into detail on this subject, because anyone who wants to be informed - and it is criminal or crazy not to do so - has a whole range of excellent publications to choose from. I just want to stress this. Beyond the boundary in question, the climate system will enter into a chaos that will cause key variables to pass through what are known as "tipping points" (tipping points). These threshold crossings will in turn cause catastrophic phenomena, which will amplify a self-reinforcing dynamic that will resemble a fall into the abyss. For example: the deep circulation of the Atlantic may stop, causing Europe to cool down paradoxically; the permafrost (the permanently frozen earth) covering the Antarctic will melt, releasing gigantic quantities of methane, one of the most dreaded greenhouse gases; etc. The permafrost will be able to stop, causing Europe to cool down paradoxically; the permafrost (the permanently frozen earth) covering the Antarctic will melt, releasing gigantic quantities of methane, one of the most dreaded greenhouse gases; etc. The permafrost will be able to stop, causing Europe to cool down paradoxically; the permafrost (the permanently frozen earth) covering the Antarctic will melt, releasing gigantic quantities of methane, one of the most dreaded greenhouse gases. We don't know where these thresholds are, and when we do, we will have crossed them and it will be too late.
I'm coming to the number I promised to give: one-third. If we want to avoid the irreversible disaster of a three-degree rise in temperature at the end of the century, humanity must make it an absolute priority not to extract more than a third of the carbon accumulated in the subsoil, in the form of oil, gas and coal, in the next two centuries. Conclusion : it's not rarity that we should be talking about, it's overabundance. we have three times too many fossil resources. Now, as I have said, market regulation relayed by the deregulation of collective panic is going to precipitate everyone, with their heads down, and so much the worse for the weakest, who will be crushed or trampled underfoot, into a crazy race to get hold of the ultimate resources. Who, what, can stop this stampede?

The top priority of the climate threat

Esprit: How do you explain this discrepancy between the omnipresence of the debate on energy reserves and a certain postponement of the environmental problem?

Jean-Pierre Dupuy Between the time we started these interviews last summer and the time of their publication, in the space of six months, minds have changed a lot. Publications like the British Stern Review, films like The inconvenient truth The first by showing that it would be infinitely cheaper to fight global warming than to let the capitalist economy collapse due to environmental degradation; the second by playing on emotions and fear. The heart and the wallet. However, I recently heard the President of the French Republic say that two dangers threaten the survival of the human species: the depletion of fossil resources and global warming. If you followed me, this "and" is a logical mistake. If there is global warming, then resources are not scarce, but overabundant.
This means that public opinion has not yet grasped the perils and is not yet aware of their hierarchy. Why is that? Our world is dominated by the economy and therefore by price movements that anticipate future rarities. But no signal is reaching us of the catastrophic future that the chaos of the climate is preparing for us. The threat is too abstract. Even when we know that disaster is ahead of us, we do not believe what we know.
On the basis of numerous examples, an English researcher has identified what he calls an "inverse principle of risk assessment": a community's propensity to acknowledge the existence of a risk would be determined by its perception of the existence of solutions. Since the powers that govern us, both economic and political, believe that a radical change in our lifestyles and a renunciation of "progress" would be the price to pay to avoid disaster, and that this seems impractical to them, the concealment of evil inevitably follows.

The disaster is not credible. It is only considered possible once it has been carried out, which is too late. It is this lock that I tried to break with my "enlightened catastrophism". (2) ".

Esprit: What viable solution could therefore prevent the effects of global warming, or at least remedy them?

Jean-Pierre Dupuy : I expect a lot from the publication of Henri Prévot's work. (3). With exemplary rigour, they show that France can embark on a programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of three over the next thirty or forty years, and that it is in its interest to do so even if it acts alone, without excessive expenditure or disruption to lifestyles. This "plan for France" does, however, imply a drastic reorientation of our production apparatus, which has a chance of succeeding only if an unfailing political will decides to implement it without delay. (4) - which brings us back to the question of public opinion formation.
It should be noted that Prévot's approach is completely detached from any moral or ethical considerations. It is guided only by instrumental rationality and efficiency: we want to survive? Here are the necessary means.
Prévot denounces the confusion of genres that, according to him, are practiced by the ecologist movements. They would condemn the way we live in the name of a morality of their own, and would try to impose this judgment on all their fellow citizens under the pretext that this way of life is leading us straight to disaster. Refuting this last statement, Prévot points to a certain environmental bad faith.

It is true that the environmental crisis can lead to a situation in whichAndré Gorz called ecofascism, a moral order imposed in the name of survival. But what Prévot's denunciation illustrates is that we do not want survival at any price, especially at the price of renouncing fundamental values such as moral autonomy. It is therefore good that we cannot separate the technical dimensions of survival from the ethical question.
In the most likely scenario, caught in the throes of global competition and the struggle for survival, peoples and their governments will not hesitate to sacrifice the least expendable values. The twentieth century shows us with envy that when a society is afraid and feels threatened in its being and its reproduction, the veneer that separates order from chaos, civilization from barbarism, can easily crack on all sides. What would be the use for humanity to save itself if it were to lose its soul? The panic that would seize the peoples of the Earth if they discovered too late that their existence was at stake would risk breaking all the locks that prevent civilization from falling into barbarism. The forces of the spirit and the values of justice would be swept away. There is therefore a double threat, which must be analysed simultaneously: the threat to survival and the threat to values (5). We must prevent the second from feeding off the struggle against the first. It is at the very moment when it understands that its survival is in danger that humanity becomes aware of itself and its unity. It is incumbent upon it to give itself the means to continue the civilizing task that its history has brought about. Reclaiming meaning and spirit is the opportunity to be seized at this time of crisis.
The Prévot plan calls for significant recourse to civil nuclear power. This is a good example of a possible conflict between the requirement for survival and the requirement for values. For the way the Chernobyl disaster was handled by the world's nuclear technocracy raises doubts as to whether the safety of this form of energy can be ensured by means that are compatible with the basic principles of an open, democratic and fair society. (6). If opacity, concealment and deceit were to prove that opacity, concealment and deceit are the necessary conditions for this security, the energy and environmental equation would be without solution unless humanity uses its freedom to choose a means of achievement other than material development.

Spirit: Will the answer to these problems posed by technology be technological?

To fight against disinformation and to favour analyses that decipher the news, join the circle of UP' subscribers.

Jean-Pierre Dupuy : I believe that the main threat to the future of humanity is the temptation of pride. The fatal presumption is to believe that technology, which has undermined the symbolic systems that contained within limits the always possible overflows of action, will be able to assume the role that these played when the capacity to act concerned only human relations and not nature. To believe this is to remain a prisoner of a conception of technology that sees it as a rational activity, subject to instrumental logic, to the calculation of means and ends. But technology today is much more about action than about manufacture. It is itself part of this capacity to trigger processes without return. Surrendering to the scientific optimism that relies solely on technology to get us out of the dead ends that technology has brought us to, means running the risk of creating monsters that will devour us.
My work in philosophy and ethics of science has led me to illustrate this fundamental point on these advanced technologies whose "convergence" is being announced: nanotechnologies, which manipulate matter at the molecular and atomic scales, biotechnologies, information technologies and cognitive sciences. I have been interested in the metaphysical underpinnings and ethical implications of this new fashionable paradigm, which is attracting billions of dollars and is already the subject of fierce competition on a global scale, not only in science and technology but also in industry and the military.
The most visible component of the nanotechnology dream is to take over from the do-it-yourself that has been the evolution to date from the design paradigm (design). Damien BroderickOne of the most influential visionaries in the field, he said of his contempt for nature as man found it: "Can't we think that nanosystems, designed by the human mind, will short-circuit all that Darwinian wandering It's fascinating to see American science, which has had to fight hard to remove all traces of creationism from public education, including in its most recent avatars, such as theclever designs nanotechnology programme, the nanotechnology programme will be used to address the issue of design...with only now the man in the role of the demiurge.
The philosopher could rub his hands together, thinking he's on familiar ground. This would embody the purpose that Descartes assigns to man through science and technology: to make himself master and possessor of nature, including human nature. Nature becomes artificial, man rebels against the given, and, above all, against everything that constitutes his finitude.
That would be to miss what is profoundly new in today's technology. With nanobiotechnologies, man is taking over biological processes and participating in the manufacture of life. But whoever wants to manufacture - in fact, create - of life cannot fail to aim at reproducing its essential capacity, which is to create something radically new in its turn. Another influential visionary, Kevin Kellyhad this note: "It took us a long time to understand that the power of a technique was proportional to its intrinsic "out-of-control", to its capacity to surprise us by generating something new. The truth is that if we don't worry about a technique, it's not revolutionary enough. »
Since the "nano-dream" is ultimately about triggering irreversible complex processes in nature, the engineer of tomorrow will not be a sorcerer's apprentice through negligence or incompetence, but by design (design). The real designtoday is not mastery, but its opposite.

With Illich and after him...

Spirit : What does your work in philosophy of technique owe to your meeting with Ivan Illich? How did you collaborate with him before you left to finally come back to his thinking with your work on the climate crisis and nanotechnologies?

Jean-Pierre Dupuy My meeting with Ivan Illich in the early 1970s was decisive for my intellectual journey and my life in general. As a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and a member of the Corps des Mines, my destiny was clear: I was going to become one of those great French-style bosses, full of positivism and scientism, or a member of the high technical administration, driven by a concern for the general interest and sure of his intellectual superiority. But I have always had an instinctive mistrust of power, even if it is occult. Already a rebel, working through doubt and existential problems, I had decided to become a researcher in the humanities, retaining from my training a strong inclination to rationalism. My first research focused on the medical institution and the consumption of health care, which already at the time was out of control. The point of application was the role of drug prescription in the doctor-patient relationship. I was young, but already the question of the relationship to the body, to illness, suffering and death was on my mind, for reasons related to my family experience. The book (7) who recorded the results of my team's research caused a scandal and gave me a certain notoriety I could have done without. By this time, Ivan Illich had already published his work on school, transportation and turned to medicine. He learned of my existence through Jean-Marie Domenachwho introduced us to each other. The result was a strong friendship, both intellectual and personal, which led me to make several trips during the 1970s to Cuernavaca, the garden city (at that time) located some 60 kilometers south of Mexico City where Illich had established his meeting center. In 1975, we worked together to write the French version of his great book on medicine, Medical nemesis. Expropriation of health (8). Chapter three, which sets out the general theory of counterproductivity, is essentially my own. Latin America, which was to play such a structuring role in my life, fascinated me, and the simple fact of having to go there regularly to meet this incredibly charismatic character that Ivan Illich was was not, I admit, of little importance in my devotion.
Spirit has already given me several opportunities to say everything I owe Ivan Illich... (9). I would like to limit myself here to a theme that extends our conversation: the invisibility of evil. Over the last five years, reflecting philosophically on the question of major disasters, whether natural, industrial or moral, I have had to solicit the thoughts of three thinkers who, like Illich, were Jewish and of German mother tongue: Hannah Arendt, her first husband, Günther Anders, and the one who introduced them to each other, Hans Jonas. Unlike Illich, they were professional philosophers, all three of them students of Heidegger. I found in them, especially in Anders, very strong, even overwhelming resonances with Illich. This probably explains my recent return to Illich's thinking.
Earlier, I put forward a first reason why it is misleading to talk about an energy crisis: we have too many fossil resources. The second is that Illich himself gives it in his Energy and Equity (10) Propagandists of the energy crisis point out the problem of the shortage of food for the energy-producing slaves "on whom men believe they must depend for a good life. I," Illich replied, "wonder whether free men really need such slaves. »
Readers ofSpirit are familiar with the Illichian critique of the counter-productivity of the great institutions of industrial society. What is noteworthy is that it avoids the trap of "moralism" that bristles so much with the "moral" aspect of the industrial society. Henri Prévot. Like him, Illich - at least in appearance - hides behind instrumental rationality and efficiency. You want to waste less time moving around? Give up, beyond a certain threshold, the use of motorized transport. Is health a priceless value for you? Turn away - beyond a certain threshold - from the medical institution. Beyond these critical thresholds - Illich's central notion of "health is priceless" - is found in Illich. tipping pointIn the social and political field, it is inevitable that medicine will destroy health, transport will immobilise, education will make you deaf and dumb, and telecommunications will make you deaf and dumb. Provocations? Not if we define "use values" as Illich does, not only in physical terms, but in all their cultural and symbolic dimensions. This is where the theme of the invisibility of evil comes in.
Why do we remain blind to the proven fact that each of us devotes more than a quarter of our waking lives to transport, if we take into account the time we spend working to pay for the means of travel? Precisely because industrial transport masks this absurdity by substituting working time for actual travel time. However, even if work and travel are linguistically duplicates. (11)The first, under its employment side, is, in our implicit economic calculations, more on the side of benefits than on the side of costs, more on the side of ends than on the side of means. Why do we not see that the promise of immortality conveyed by nanobiotechnologies is not only false but destructive of what makes up the "structural" health of mankind? Because we have not understood that health is not only the "silence" of the organs, it is above all the autonomous capacity, nourished by a culture and a tradition, to face suffering and mortality, and more generally the finiteness of man, giving them meaning, inserting them into a history. This becomes impossible when, as one of the "nano-champions" claims, they are treated as "problems" awaiting a technical solution.
My work on Chernobyl brutally confronted me with the question of the invisibility of evil. Physical invisibility, first of all, since it is the absence that strikes the gaze of one who travels through the immense contaminated zone that stretches from Ukraine to Belarus: absence of the razed villages, of the displaced persons; absence of life in the cities that remain standing but without inhabitants for the next twenty thousand years. And the evil, in this case radiation, is tasteless and odourless.
The statistical invisibility, more insidiously, which explains why between estimates of the number of deaths the figures vary from 1 to 50: when radioactive doses are very spread out over time and distributed over a large population, it is impossible to say of any designated person dying of cancer or leukaemia that he or she died as a result of Chernobyl. All that can be said is that the probability that she had a priori of dying of cancer or leukemia has been very slightly increased as a result of Chernobyl. So the tens of thousands of deaths that I think will be caused by the disaster cannot be named. The official thesis is that they do not exist. It's an ethical crime.

We have more to fear today from the good guys than the bad guys. This Illichian thesis on the disconnection of evil from the intentions of those who commit it must be compared with the analyses of Anders and Arendt, who meditated on Auschwitz and Hiroshima. (12). The scandal that has not finished upsetting the categories that we still use to judge the world is that an immense evil can be caused by an absence of malignancy; that a monstrous responsibility can go hand in hand with an absence of evil intentions. Visiting Hiroshima in 1958, Anders wrote: "The implausibility of the situation is simply breathtaking. At the very moment when the world is becoming apocalyptic, and it is our fault, it offers the image ... of a paradise inhabited by murderers without malice and victims without hatred. Nowhere is there a trace of wickedness, only rubble. »
Anders talks about "blindness in the face of the apocalypse". One of its main dimensions is the "shift" (Diskrepanz) between our ability to produce, manufacture, produce, create (herstellen) and our ability, or rather our inability, to represent ourselves, to conceive, to imagine (vorstellen) the products and effects of our products. If knowledge is reduced to know-how, says Arendt, then it is thought that is sacrificed, and the worst horrors become possible.
In its Eichmann in JerusalemArendt diagnoses Eichmann's infirmity as "lack of imagination". Anders will have shown that it is not the infirmity of one man, but of all men, when their capacity to do, and to destroy, becomes disproportionate to the human condition. Anders predicted that man would be made "obsolete" by his productions, and that he would disappear overwhelmed by the shame of not being himself the product of a fabrication, the shame of having been born and not having been made. This "Promethean shame" was to strongly influence Sartre and existentialism.

Criticism of cognitive science

Esprit: What have been the successive stages of your philosophical journey beyond or below the philosophy of technology?

Jean-Pierre Dupuy : It was the path I travelled with Illich that brought me into philosophy, at the price of a double negation: firstly, detachment from the technocracy that was my destiny, thanks to Illich; secondly, detachment from what I judged to be a certain irrationalism in Illichian rhetoric (but not thought).
I've told elsewhere (13) how I came to know at or through Illich some of the founders of the theory of complex self-organizing systems: Heinz von Foerster, Henri Atlan and Francisco Varela. At the time, it was a marginal branch of the cognitive sciences, which has since undergone a resounding revival. It was around these ideas that I built with Jean-Marie Domenach the project of a philosophical research centre for the École polytechnique, where he and I taught. It was the Crea (14)whose history is intertwined with my own journey since 1981.
Among other things, Crea will have been the cradle of cognitive sciences in France. Contrary to what many people think, I was never a zealot, quite the contrary. Criticism of this materialist, mechanistic and reductionist paradigm that functions like a bulldozer has been the core of my work in philosophy and history of science. (15). My current research on the philosophical foundations of nanotechnology is the culmination of this research. It can indeed be said that with converging technologies (nano, bio, info, cogno), the themes of self-organization and complexity, which were still only ideas when we pioneered them in the 1980s, are now becoming part of the subject matter, for better or for worse.
The figure of self-organization was also the starting point for my research in economic, social, moral and political philosophy, which occupied half of my time in the 1980s and 1990s. It allowed me to revisit this liberal tradition that was born in the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment (David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson) and knows its culmination in the social philosophy of Friedrich Hayek. Among French political philosophers, I have always found myself a little isolated to take an interest in this tradition, which I probably considered too close to economic theory to be really admitted to the realm of philosophy - which I consider to be an absurdity. (16).
In terms of economic philosophy, I have contributed with economists such as André Orléan and Olivier Favereau to the constitution of a new paradigm, which we have called the "convention economy", referring to the notion of convention introduced by Hume in the TreatyThere is no market self-regulation or state regulation. This led me to explore the possibilities of cross-fertilization between the cognitive and social sciences, particularly on the question of symbolic exchange and the omnipresence of religion in human societies.
The possibility of founding a Kantian-type ethic ("deontology" in the jargon of moral philosophy) with the resources of rational choice theory is a challenge that analytic-type moral philosophy (which is now written mainly in English) has tried to meet in many ways. I have proposed a systematic assessment of this challenge (17)with a focus on the Theory of justice from John Rawlswhich I published in Le Seuil, in 1987, in Catherine Audard's translation. It was in Crea that the first Rawlsian studies developed in France in the 1990s.
My research in philosophy of action has led me to question the metaphysical foundations of rational choice theory and game theory and to revisit the question of free will and determinism opened by the dominant argument of Diodorus Kronos. My reflections on the radical inadequacy of the probabilistic framework for choices in an uncertain world led to a radical critique of the (too) famous "precautionary principle" and led me to found this philosophical attitude that I called "enlightened catastrophism".
I would have stayed in very different philosophical regions, but I must admit that each time I would have done so much more as an anthropologist than as an indigenous person. From the cognitive sciences to political philosophy, from theoretical economics to rational metaphysics, I have always treated the works that I studied, commented on, criticized and, at times, helped to develop, as symptoms rather than as corpora with intrinsic value. Without being a patented "deconstructor", I have the same relationship with texts as DerridaI am interested above all in the flaws, the contradictions, the paradoxes, and this, not to declare the texts null and void, but to make them say much more than what they explicitly say when they close in on themselves for the sake of coherence. In this quest for meaning, I have been guided by my work on the anthropology of René Girard (18), whose influence on my thinking will not have been less than that of Ivan Illich - which doesn't allow to say that I will have been the disciple of one or the other.
There have been some breaks in that journey. After the shock of September 11, 2001, I stopped taking seriously large parts of the social and political philosophy I had been interested in. In a book that shows this reversal (19)I let myself write of Rawls' work that "it concerns a possible world, which would be populated by reasonable zombies completely alien to the tragic human condition, but this world is not ours, alas perhaps. The naive, pompous, academic and sometimes ridiculous irenicism of the developments of Theory of justice seems to me today a fault against the spirit. Not to see evil for what it is, is to make oneself an accomplice to it". Colleagues have not forgiven me for what they call my betrayal.
Allow me to justify myself for a moment. Political and moral philosophy today is divided between the "utilitarian" doctrines of the natural or artificial harmony of interests and the deontological doctrines, which seek to raise the selfish and calculating individual to the rank of universal subject, operating this decentration either through abstraction (Rawls) or through communication (Habermas). Sometimes it is as a problem, sometimes as a solution that "egoism" presents itself, but in all cases its main effect is to obscure what Rousseau called "wickedness", that is, the central place that the Other holds in our existence. None of these doctrines goes further than the question of the right balance between selfishness and altruism. The central question they deal with is that of the just sacrifice of the interests of some for the good of all or the common good. None of them is in the universe that is now ours, where some do not hesitate to sacrifice themselves to maximize the evil, not the good. Resentment is a concept unknown to the theories of justice. The urgent task is therefore less theoretical than practical: since it is understood that resentment will not be suppressed, the only relevant question is how we can minimize or defer its effects, channeling them into benign or even productive forms.
One of the features that contribute to the limitlessness of modern violence is the almost sacred status given to the position of victim. The universalization of concern for victims reveals in the most striking way that civilization has become one on a global scale. Everywhere, it is in the name of the victims, real or alleged, that people are persecuted, killed, massacred or mutilated. It is, logically speaking, in the name of the victims of Hiroshima that the kamikaze Islam has struck America.
I have made proposals to think and implement justice that escapes victimized resentment. When the powerful, or the one who is seen to be powerful, humiliates the other, it incites him or her to settle into the convenient status of victim and all negotiation becomes impossible. Negotiation among the unequal presupposes that they see themselves as equal in law and morality. But in victim justice, morally, it is the inferior who absolutely dominates the superior, like a god avenging his sinful creatures. By way of compensation, the "persecutor" is obliged to pay back his "victim" for the resentment he feels, and only an infinite price would allow the first to pay off his debt. In order to get out of this trap, it is necessary that a dialogue be established between the parties, since the mere fact that they participate at least partially restores moral equality. It is obviously up to the most privileged, or whoever appears as such to an outside and non-partisan eye, to take the initiative for dialogue.

The choice of enlightened catastrophism

Esprit: How, following in the footsteps of Hans Jonas, did you come to work on ethics and metaphysics, and to define what you call enlightened catastrophism?

Jean-Pierre Dupuy The thesis of enlightened catastrophism is at the confluence of many of my past research projects, whose diversity may have resembled dispersion and which find there a form of complex unity. It is at this "apocalyptic" point that everything seems to come together: my militant research on the future of the world, certainly, and the need for a new model of civilization where science and technology would be used to develop autonomous capacities. But I must confess, as few of my readers have understood, that this was not the immediate cause of my "catastrophic" research. Rather, it was my philosophical work on the foundations of rational ethics and the temporal metaphysics underlying rational choice theory and game theory on the one hand, and my research on the anthropology of violence and the sacred on the other. Like Hans Jonas, indeed, I believe that the solution, if any, to our problems can only be political on a global scale; but that politics will not be changed without first devising a new ethic, which Jonas called the 'ethics of the future' - understanding the ethics that seeks to preserve the possibility of a future for mankind; and that this ethic presupposes a new metaphysics which, unlike Jonas, I have tried to build with the instruments of analytical philosophy (and theology). It is, as was the case for Jonah but especially for Anders, on the problem of the effectiveness and ethics of nuclear deterrence that for me everything came into play.
During more than four decades of the Cold War, the so-called situation of "mutual vulnerability" or "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) gave the notion of "mutual defence and security" (MAD) its name.deterrent intent a major role, both strategically and ethically. The essence of deterrence is contained in the following reflection, made almost without flinching by a French strategist: "Our submarines are capable of killing fifty million people in half an hour. We believe that this is enough to deter any adversary. "It is astonishing that this proposal could pass for the height of wisdom and rationality and be credited with having ensured world peace throughout this period, which some even regret today. Few, however, were moved by it. Why is that?
A commonly accepted answer would have been that it is precisely here that we are dealing with an intention, and not with an act; and again an intention of such a particular kind that it is precisely because it is formed that the conditions that would lead to its execution are not met: the adversary, being by hypothesis deterred, does not attack first, and one never attacks oneself first, so that no one moves. One forms a dissuasive intention so as to not to carry it out. Experts refer to this as self-invalidating intent (self-stultifying intent), which gives a name to the puzzle if it cannot be solved.
Those who have looked at the status, both strategic and moral, of deterrent intent have indeed found it to be extremely paradoxical. What may make it immune from ethical condemnation is the very thing that makes it strategically void, since its effectiveness is directly related to...the intention to actually carry it out. As for the moral point of view, like the primitive deities, deterrent intent seems to combine absolute goodness, since it is thanks to it that nuclear war does not take place, and absolute evil, since the act of which it is the intention is an abomination without name.
Late in the day, some realized that there is no need for intent to make nuclear deterrence effective. The deity turned out to be a false god. The mere existence of arsenals facing each other, without the slightest threat to use them being uttered or even suggested, was enough to make the twins of violence stand still. But the nuclear apocalypse did not disappear from the picture, nor did a certain form of transcendence. Under the name of "existential" deterrence, deterrence was now seen as an extremely perilous game of turning mutual annihilation into an "existential" deterrent. destiny. To say that it worked simply meant this: as long as we did not try it recklessly, there was a chance that fate would forget us - for a time, perhaps long, even very long, but not infinite.
Ultimately, if nuclear deterrence has kept the world at peace for a time, it was by projecting evil out of the sphere of men, by making it an evil exteriority, but.... without malicious intentIt is always ready to melt on humanity, but with no more wickedness than an earthquake or a tsunami, yet with a destructive power capable of making Nature pale with envy. This threat hanging over their heads has given the princes of this world the necessary prudence to avoid the abomination of desolation that would have been a thermonuclear war destroying them and the world with them.
However, this whole edifice was based on premises that are no longer satisfied today, in particular the Hobbesian hypothesis that in this state of nature that is the so-called "international community", everyone has this minimal rationality that constitutes the concern to keep oneself alive (ibid.).self-preservation). In the perspective of a multipolar world where dozens of agents will have weapons of mass destruction and where some of them will not hesitate to "sacrifice" themselves in order to maximize the evil around them, the entire intellectual, symbolic and institutional edifice that has enabled humanity until now not to eliminate itself in intestinal violence must be rebuilt at a new cost.
What makes it legitimate to bring the problem of the major disasters that weigh on the future of humanity (for example, the chaos of the climate and all ecosystems) closer to the nuclear deterrent is precisely its interpretation in terms of existential deterrence. The structure, in both cases, is the same: not a duel to the death between two adversaries, but a single protagonist, humanity, dealing with its own violence, reified, externalized. The obstacle to awareness and action is the same: even when we know it is going to happen, the catastrophe is not credible. We know, or should know, but we do not believe what we know.
Enlightened catastrophism is a ruse that consists in acting as if we were the victim of a destiny while keeping in mind that we are the sole cause of our misfortune. We must now live with our eyes fixed on this unthinkable event, the self-destruction of humanity, with the aim, not of making it impossible, which would be contradictory, but of delaying it as long as possible. It is a question of coordinating on a negative project that takes the form of a fixed future. unwanted. The paradox of self-refutation watches: if one succeeds in avoiding the undesirable future, how can one say that one will have coordinated, fixed on the future in question? I have shown that there is a rational solution to this paradox, and that it points towards the figure of the tragic - the tragic event being both accidental and fatal, like Oedipus killing his father at the fatal crossroads or Meursault the Stranger shooting the Arab under the Algiers sun. It is only cause the apocalypse is written in the future that it may not happen.
As it says Hölderlin : « Wo aber die Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch. "("But where there is danger, there is also growth.")

Interview by Olivier Mongin, Marc-Olivier Padis and Nathalie Lempereur ©Revue Esprit

* See his articles in Esprit: "From Lisbon (1755) to Sumatra (2005), on evil, we have learned nothing", May 2005 and "The medicalization of life. Medicine and Power: in homage to Ivan Illich", October 2004.

1. Hannah Arendt, Human Condition, trans. fr. Condition de l'homme moderne, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1961, see pp. 259-261.
2. Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Pour un catastrophisme éclairé. Quand l'impossible est certain, Paris, Le Seuil, 2002 (2nd ed., "Points" collection, 2004).
3. Henri Prévot, Too much oil! Énergie fossile et changement climatique, Paris, Le Seuil, 2007.
4. See Henri Prévot's article here.
5. See Frédéric Worms' intervention in this debate: "La catastrophe et l'injustice", Esprit, November 2005.
6. This is the thesis I developed in my Return from Chernobyl. Journal d'un homme en colère, Paris, Le Seuil, 2006.
7. Jean-Pierre Dupuy and Serge Karsenty, l'Invasion pharmaceutique, Paris, Le Seuil, 1974 (2nd ed., "Points" coll., 1977).
8. Ivan Illich and Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Medical Nemesis. L'expropriation de la santé, Paris, Le Seuil, 1975 (2nd ed., "Points" coll.), 1981. See I.Illich, Œuvres complètes, 2 vols, Paris, Fayard, 2005 and 2006).
9. To limit oneself to the last few years: "The detour and the sacrifice. Ivan Illich et René Girard, Esprit, May 2001, pp. 26-46; "La médicalisation de la vie. Médecine et pouvoir: en hommage à Ivan Illich", Esprit, October 2004, pp. 26-39.
10. I. Illich, Énergie et équité, with an appendix by J.-P. Dupuy, Paris, Le Seuil, 1975, pp. 9-10.
11. Derived from the Latin trepalium, an instrument of torture with three stakes.
12. J.-P. Dupuy, Petite métaphysique des tsunamis, Paris, Le Seuil, 2005.
13. J.-P. Dupuy, Ordres et désordres, Paris, Le Seuil, 1982 (2nd ed. 1990).
14. Centre for Research in Applied Epistemology.
15. J.-P. Dupuy, Aux origines des sciences cognitives, Paris, La Découverte, 1994 (The Mechanization of the Mind, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000).
16. Id, Introduction aux sciences sociales, Paris, Ellipses, 1992; Libéralisme et justice sociale, Paris, Hachette, coll "Pluriel", 1997; Éthique et philosophie de l'action, Paris, Ellipses, 1999.
17. J.-P. Dupuy, le Sacrifice et l'envie, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1992.
18. Paul Dumouchel and Jean-Pierre Dupuy, l'Enfer des choses. René Girard et la logique de l'économie, Paris, Le Seuil, 1979.
19. J.-P. Dupuy, Have we forgotten evil? Penser la politique après le 11 septembre, Paris, Bayard, 2002.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Previous article

Can we escape the permanent innovation syndrome?

Next article

Fear. Reason and folly

Latest articles from Analyses



Already registered? I'm connecting

Inscrivez-vous et lisez three articles for free. Recevez aussi notre newsletter pour être informé des dernières infos publiées.

→ Register for free to continue reading.



You have received 3 free articles to discover UP'.

Enjoy unlimited access to our content!

From $1.99 per week only.