Saving the world in times of transcendental danger

saving the world in times of transcendental danger


When we talk about saving the world in IRWEGK, the obvious question is what is actually meant by the world in this context. Only from this do the options for its salvation arise.




A modern philosophical definition comes from Ludwig Wittgenstein: The world is everything that is the case. In this definition, the world and everything that exists in it is perfectly tailored for scientific exploration, technical use and capitalist exploitation. A true child of its time at the beginning of the 20th century, one might say. What is missing in it, however, is the reference to the human being. The world becomes a pure object and the interconnectedness of man and the world is faded out in favour of a supposed scientific objectivity. This is different in another definition of the world that emerged a few years after Wittgenstein's. At the end of the 1930s, Edmund Husserl spoke of the lifeworld (Lebenswelt), meaning the unquestioned ground of all human action and thought, everything that we take for granted without there having to be a conscious act for this presupposition. The lifeworld understood in this way is admittedly also only a section of what can be called the world. Especially the aspect of nature, which is so important for our time, quickly comes up short in the lifeworld. (Accordingly, the lifeworld has made a career for itself in sociology and with Jürgen Habermas). I am interested in this concept because I suspect that the unquestioned ground it refers to seems to be dissolving in various ways at present.




And this brings me to the transcendental dangers mentioned in the title. Transcendental is also a word from philosophy, more precisely from Immanuel Kant's epistemology. He is concerned with analysing the "conditions of the possibility of cognition" and the area where these conditions are found is what Kant calls transcendental. For Kant, the conditions that enable us - humans and, theoretically, all rational beings - to perceive and know the world are the structural elements of mind or reason. I.e. they are all to be found in us. Kant still lacked the understanding that these structural elements are also socially determined. The lifeworld in which I live helps determine how I perceive, interpret and recognise my world. That, by the way, is why something like art becomes possible as a social practice.




My thesis now is: The unquestioned ground on which we have built our modern world is getting cracks in our epoch which would have been unimaginable until not so long ago.


We live in an age of transcendental peril! The conditions of the possibility of our "world" are under pressure. Not in Kant's subject-philosophical sense, but on the ontological level, so to speak. I will give two examples of this:




Climate change is about to attack the foundations of our way of living together in modernity. Until recently, the relative stability of the world's climate was part of the self-evident foundation for human activity on our planet. But now we know that the climate, or climatic stability, can no longer be taken for granted because of our way of dealing with the world, and possible changes even have the potential to severely shake our livelihoods. The world is becoming a dangerous place where life structures based on a certain security no longer work. I think we have yet to realise how profound the insecurities in our understanding of the world - caused by climate change - will be. It is not just a matter of a possibility that was open to us for a long time now closing itself off. Just as in cars the internal combustion engine will soon no longer be an acceptable option and will be replaced by the electric motor. In the case of climate change, it is not a possibility that is closing, but rather the warming of the earth is changing the conditions from which possibilities for action and life can arise in the first place. That is why there is so much anger and despair in the young generation in particular. Instead of asking the question that needs to be asked in youth, how a good life can succeed, young people have to try to create or maintain the conditions that allow the question to be asked in the first place and live with the danger that the conditions that allow a good life, as they intend it, will no longer be there for them. This is a dramatic situation. The Belgian choreographer Guy Cools reported in a recent lecture that young art students in workshops dealing with mourning often choose their future as the aspect of their life to be mourned. The future they could have had if the conditions of their possibility had not been lost to climate change and other ecological disasters.




The second field of the dissolution of the conditions of the possibility of the world is somewhat closer to what Kant was concerned with. The common ground for what we call reality is in the process of dissolution. The fundamental agreement on the character of facts has taken its leave. The generally known keywords for this phenomenon are fake news, alternative facts or lateral thinkers (Querdenker). The argumentative debate about the evaluation of what is is apparently losing its basis, which is at the same time the foundation of a democratic social order. We no longer agree on what we want to call true or real. We are in danger of losing the criteria that help us to agree on a state of affairs. (Does this, by the way, show that Kant's epistemology lacks worldliness? For the problem cannot be formulated in Kantian terms at all. But without this common ground or agreement on what I hold to be true, well-founded, etc., the idea of the rational being, which was Kant's point, dissolves in the end).




Art, even more than philosophy, is the place to address these phenomena of dissolution in the living world. What art in its modern form has in common with philosophy is a tendency to methodically reflect on its own actions. Modern art is subject to itself. This surplus of reflection, which has accompanied philosophy since its beginnings, trains it to make the self-evident questionable. Modern artists have thus always questioned hitherto unquestioned foundations of action and doubted strategies of agreement. So they know what they are getting into. This is not for the faint-hearted. At the same time, the exploration of these fundamental problems in works of art is a way of raising awareness of these problems in the first place. For in modern societies, art functions as a mirror of these life worlds.




Artists can contribute to saving the world in the spirit of art (IRWEGK) in other ways as well. Artists are often familiar with the phenomena of vulnerability and fragility, which are closely linked to a well-developed sensitivity. Despite all attempts to establish security and stability, fragility is revealed as an insurmountable condition of the possibility of being human. Making this experience vivid and tangible is one of the modern motivations for artistic creation. This is always about more than just one's own personal state of mind. Vulnerability is an anthropological constant. Part of a humane society is the willingness to integrate the vulnerability of others into my way of life as a condition. Even in the case that I do not feel myself vulnerable at all in a certain aspect of life. The philosopher Svenja Flaßpöhler has just expressed this as follows:


It is the sense of the vulnerability of the other that is the core of humanity and the driving force for social transformation. On the other hand, those who declare individual resilience to be the supreme and sole principle overlook the suffering of others and perpetuate discriminatory structures.




Svenja Flaßpöhler, Sensibel, quoted from Der Freitag, 28.10.21, p. 29






 A good closing word for today...




Translated with (free version)




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