South African Journal of Philosophy

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Nature, Capitalism, and the Future of Humankind

Bert Olivier


This paper addresses the question regarding the relation between capitalism and nature, on the one hand, and that of the continued existence of life, including humankind, on earth in light of the disturbing evidence that has emerged since the early 1970s, concerning massive environmental degradation, on the other. It is argued that the evidence of such destruction is there for every one to see; what is less obvious – in fact, mostly ignored or denied – is the connection between capital as a process which either grows, or dies, and the devastating effect of such uncontrollable growth on geo-ecology (where a distinction is made between ecology and environment in terms of the relations of interdependence by which the former is characterised). Ironically, as far back as 1972 the ‘Club of Rome' warned against the dangers of ‘unlimited growth'. The paper draws substantially, but not exclusively, on the work of Joel Kovel, who argues in favour of what he terms eco-socialism as the best kind of alternative to capitalism. Needless to say, this entails an understanding of the latter, in an encompassing sense as a state of being, instead of in a narrow economistic sense. It also requires that one should distinguish clearly between a mechanistic conception of nature (the Cartesian) that seems to legitimize its exploitation for human use and eventual degradation, on the one hand, and another (Kantian) conception which makes room for the inscrutability of a natural purposiveness that transcends human cognition.

S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.24(2) 2005: 121-136
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