Chair of Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Mind


Politics of Nature. Philosophical Perspectives on the Anthropocene

Universität Potsdam/Institute for Cultural Inquiry, 20.-21.10.2022


It is obvious that human forms of life have affected the earth system to such an extent that one has to consider the possibility that we have entered a new geological age. More importantly, the severe changes underway in this new age, often called the “Anthropocene,” seem to undermine the very conditions of our survival on this planet: Climate change, a severe reduction of biodiversity, the increasing exploitation and devastation of the environment, new diseases based on cross-species virus transmission are only a few of the most visible forms in which human activities have seriously undermined the habitability of this planet for our own and other species. It is the dire irony of the term “Anthropocene” that it is named after the very species that is heading for self-extinction in this age. This situation does not just underline the fact that our current capitalist forms of life are unviable, but also poses a challenge to some of the constitutive ideals that have guided the critique of these forms of life as well – notions of growth and transformation, liberation and invention, freedom and self-determination, care and responsibility, justice and equality.

Three Goals

Against this background, the conference seeks to articulate the “Anthropocene” as a philosophical problem that requires a deep revision of our self-understanding and a new conception of politics. It aims, first, to acknowledge and determine the extent to which the current crisis challenges fundamental elements of our philosophical self-conception (among other things the way we have conceived of the relations of subject and object, spirit and nature, thought and matter, cause and effect, freedom and necessity). Second, it aims to propose avenues for overcoming the epistemological obstacles that keep us from understanding our current situation properly and develop a new understanding of ecologies of existence. Third, it seeks to develop conceptions of a new politics of nature – a conception of politics that takes seriously the peculiar agency of nature and develops new notions of self-determination.

Avoiding Two Mistakes

The conference is guided by the sense that in revising our modes of thinking and acting we have to avoid two symmetric mistakes: On the one hand, to just reiterate and reformulate the notion of human rule over nature in a different guise, a notion that is still implied in the very idea of the “Anthropocene” and also expressed in the well-minded aspiration that human beings should become guardians of all life on earth. On the other hand, it is equally hopeless to take recourse to a romantic picture of an immediate harmonious unity with nature which is just the flip side of the domination model and fails to do justice to nature’s sublime indifference to us. Instead of the domination of nature or retreat into our unity with it, we require, as Walter Benjamin once put it, a conscious political articulation of our relation to nature.

Toward A New Politics of Nature

A politics of nature in this sense seeks to recognize that, first, nature is genuinely political (always already affected by our political regimes, never simply natural, most obvious in the constructions of pristine or innocent nature); and, second, that politics has a natural dimension (has to reckon with natural dynamics that it can neither unilaterally control nor negotiate with, however hard one tries – something the current pandemic has painfully reminded us of). It seeks to hold these two insights together, thereby enabling us to see the interconnectedness of contemporary planetary and social crises: to acknowledge how climate change and social inequality intersect, how natural and political crises co-determine one another, how social structures have enabled natural crises that in turn exacerbate social pathologies.

The conference will include a diversity of approaches to these questions and invites controversy and debate that extends to questioning the very terms of the debate laid out above (involving the problematic term “Anthropocene”, the pitfalls of thinking about “ecologies of existence”, and the possible problematic implications of talking about a “politics of nature”).


With Jacob Blumenfeld (Oldenburg), Robin Celikates (FU Berlin), Lillian Cicerchia (FU Berlin), Jeanette Ehrmann (HU Berlin), Hanna Hamel (ZfL Berlin), Hilkje Hänel (Potsdam), Katharina Hoppe (Frankfurt), Thomas Khurana (Potsdam), Kristina Lepold (HU Berlin), Beth Lord (Aberdeen), Andreas Malm (Lund), Christoph Menke (Frankfurt), Karen Ng (Vanderbilt), Oliver Precht (ZfL Berlin), Rupert Read (East Anglia), Francesca Raimondi (Düsseldorf), Eva von Redecker (Verona), Frank Ruda (Dundee), Eric-John Russell (Paris), Martin Saar (Frankfurt), Christian Schmidt (HU Berlin), Johannes-Georg Schülein (Bochum), Melanie Sehgal (Wuppertal), Oxana Timofeeva (St. Petersburg), Slavoj Žižek (Ljubljana)


Fines Hominis Lecture

Prof. Andrea Kern "All and Nothing: The Life of an 'I'."

Universität Potsdam, 14.7.2022, 16-18 h (House 11, Room 0.09) + Workshop 15.7., 10-13 h (House 9, Room 2.05)

Some, though not all, people sometimes, perhaps always, use ethical terms like “justice” or “duty” when thinking about themselves and their peers. That we humans have such terms, the (neo-)Aristotelian argues, is not because we have practical reason. It is quite possible to imagine a form of life of I-thinkers who do not apply ethical concepts to themselves, but confine themselves to purely instrumental forms of practical thinking and reasoning. In the availability of ethical concepts lies rather, so the idea, the characteristic of a genuinely human life, which in it proves to be a fact of nature, which also could not have been. I will argue – with reference to Hegelian considerations – that this identification of the human form of life with an ethical form of life rests on a misunderstanding of what a self-conscious form of life is. The idea of a self-conscious form of life, whose subjects are I-thinkers, is not the idea of a genus, which can be realized in both ethical and non-ethical forms. The reason for this, however, is not that, according to Hegel, the idea of a non-ethical self-conscious life-form is incoherent, as Kant, for instance, thought he could show. Rather, the reason is that Hegel denies that the notion of a self-conscious life-form describes a potentiality that can be thought without thereby thinking itself through that notion. And that is, without thereby either bringing to bear a thinking in which one recognizes oneself through and in another human being, or bringing to bear a thinking that denies precisely this self-knowledge through and in another human being. According to such a disjunctive conception of a self-conscious form of life, the reality of a self-conscious form of life is at stake in every moment of thinking. This is the flip side of the Hegelian insight that the concept of the human being is not the concept of something finite, but of something “absolute”.

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Natural Histories of the Human Mind: From Kant to Benjamin

Universität Potsdam, 4.-5.7.2022

What does it mean to argue that the human mind can only be understood on the basis of its natural history? It is a common notion that the project of such a natural history aims at a reductive explanation of the human mind. The workshop investigates Kant and the post-Kantian tradition in order to explore a different notion of natural history. According to this Kantian and post-Kantian conception of natural history, it does not involve a reductive or eliminative program, reducing the space of reasons to a space of causes, but rather provides a different account of the possibility and reality of reason.

By drawing on the Kantian and post-Kantian tradition, the workshop will explore a different sort of naturalism that is neither a reductive naturalism of first nature nor a merely therapeutic naturalism of second nature, but rather a “dialectical naturalism.” While this dialectical naturalism finds an important point of departure in Kant’s characterization of the double nature of the human being as an “animal but also rational being” (Critique of Judgment, §5), it is only fully developed in Kant’s aftermath in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The project aims to elaborate this tradition of dialectical naturalism from Hegel and Goethe to Benjamin and Wittgenstein and articulate the different ways in which these versions of dialectical naturalism interrelate nature, history and critique.

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The Wickedness of Freedom. Immorality and Reason after Kant

Universität Potsdam, 20.6.-21.6.2022

Hardly any thought is as defining for the systems and debates of Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy as the thought of the unity of freedom and law. The moral law, Kant teaches, is the law of autonomy; to be truly free is to realize the moral good. Neither Fichte nor Schelling nor Hegel seem to deny the unity of freedom and morality. Thus, it is not surprising if, for example, contemporary ethical constitutivism, according to which moral norms are grounded in the nature of rational, and therein free, agency, refers not only to Kant but also to other representatives of this epoch. It may therefore be surprising if in central passages of important works of Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy we find, in addition to the idea of the unity of freedom and law, at the same time also the counter-idea: the idea that precisely immorality – its reality, not only its possibility – is in a certain sense constitutive for our freedom and that consequently the free realization of morality and of reason would be impossible without immorality. In his Religion, Kant declares that we humans, the only beings under the moral law whose possibility we can make intelligible to ourselves at all, are morally evil with “subjective necessity”. Although Fichte does not simply adopt this doctrine of radical evil, he nevertheless discusses this idea in his System der Sittenlehre, not without reason, in the section on the “formal conditions of morality”. Hegel, otherwise Kant's harshest critic, explicitly praises precisely the doctrine of radical evil and seems to radicalize it in the Morality chapter of his Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. And in his Freiheitsschrift, Schelling seeks an alternative between privation theories of evil on the one hand and the Manichean assertion of the positive character of evil on the other precisely in a theory of the “common root” of good and evil. For contemporary ethical constitutivism, freedom is an expression of our rational nature and consists in our being determined by the constitutive norms of rational action, which include those of morality. But the idea that the power of moral normativity could at the same time require in us a freedom from these norms seems to be completely absent from constitutivism – as well as from other contemporary approaches and interpretations of Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy, such as those that are more Wittgensteinian or Aristotelian in spirit, for example.
What is in each case the reason for the counter-idea to the idea of the unity of freedom and law in the representatives of the post-Kantian tradition mentioned above – and those not mentioned? And how are the two thoughts to be reconciled? What challenges arise for the perspectives of contemporary constitutivism and other approaches and interpretations that deny or neglect the counter-idea against the background of the Kantian and post-Kantian arguments? These are only three of the possible questions we want to discuss together at our conference. 

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Dialectical Anthropology: Critical Theory and the Significance of Anthropology

University of Potsdam, March 30-31, 2022


Speakers: Léa Barbisan - Peggy Breitenstein - Nicholas Coomann - Katja Diefenbach - Daniel Martin Feige - Fabian Freyenhagen - Dirk Quadflieg - Gabriel Rivero

Program (download)

Isabel Sickenberger (Universität Potsdam) |  Alexey Weißmüller (Universität Potsdam) ​


Photo: "The Struggle for Recognition and the Authority of the Second Person"

The notion that the human being is defined by its ability to speak and act in the first person is a hallmark of modern philosophy. For Descartes, Leibniz, or Kant, the first distinctly human word is: “I”. This conference investigates the view that there is no “I” without a “You” and that the human being is only fully constituted by relations of second personal recognition. To speak and act in the first person means to speak and act as the second person of a second person. But if that is so, what defines a relation between different beings as second personal? How is a second personal relation established or entered? And what fundamental normative implications does it have for the ones engaged in it?

​The conference “The Struggle for Recognition and the Authority of the Second Person” will draw on two discussions that have developed comprehensive perspectives on these issues: It connects the discussion on “struggles for recognition” which has established a new paradigm for critical theory with the discussion on “the second person standpoint” which has informed new approaches in contemporary ethics. The conference will relate insights from these two perspectives and investigate their implications for issues in ethics and meta-ethics, political and social philosophy, philosophy of law and language. Among the questions to be addressed are: What is the relation between the first, the second, and the third person? What defines an interpersonal relation as second personal and in what ways can we fail to actualize this type of relation? How does a transcendental account of the second personal stance as the condition of possibility of normativity relate to the genealogical account of interpersonal recognition as the result of political and historical struggles? And finally: under which circumstances and in what way may the ideal of a second personal relation and of mutual recognition turn out to be ideological?  

Programm (download)




Photo: "The Struggle for Recognition and the Authority of the Second Person"