Decreation for the Anthropocene

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Lawson, Kathryn
Philosophy , Ecology , Environment , Ethics , Simone Weil , Plato , Metaxu
This dissertation places the philosophy of Simone Weil into conversation with contemporary environmental concerns in that epoch sometimes referred to as the Anthropocene. Weil’s work has been influential in many fields, including politically and theologically based critiques of social inequalities and suffering, but rarely linked to ecology. There are many reasons for this, including Weil’s own ethical focus on human existence, the notoriously unsystematic nature of her writings, but also, her work’s very specific metaphysical associations which seem to restrict its potential audience. Contra these apparent barriers, this thesis argues that Weil’s work can be understood as offering a coherent approach with potentially widespread appeal applicable to our ethical relations to much more than just other human beings. This claim is approached through a detailed understanding of two linked concepts in Weil’s work, namely, ‘decreation’; key to Weil’s understanding of ethics as entailing the worldly dissolution of the small-self or ego, and ‘metaxu’, a concept she adapts from her reading of Plato. Decreation is traced though Weil’s accounts of the human faculties she considers give our lives meaning and purpose. Far from being nihilistic, as is sometimes claimed, Weil reveals the ethical possibilities that emerge through truly facing and accepting the reality of each faculties’ orientation towards unattainable ideals thwarted by life’s absurdity, impermanence, and sufferings. Many past environmental thinkers have argued that Plato exemplifies, or even instigates, a form of anti-ecological Western philosophy that is dualistic and other-worldly in terms of its positing a metaphysical realm of timeless ideas exempt from the transformations of this-worldly entanglements. I argue that Weil’s non-traditional reading of Plato reconciles this movement between actual and ideal (metaxu) to the kind of non-dualistic and non-hierarchical “entanglement” necessary for an ecological ethics. Following the movement of deep ecology, I then suggest that the process of decreation in Weil is an expansion of the self which might also come to include the surrounding earth and a vast assemblage of others. Ultimately, then, the dissertation works with Weil’s thought to suggest a decreative ecological ethics that decenters the human being by cultivating human actions towards an ecological ethics.
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