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Should Naturalists Believe in the Anthropocene?

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The concept of the Anthropocene draws attention to human activity's impact on the planet at the geological scale. It is tempting to reason that like evolution, a heliocentric solar system or quantum mechanics, climate science compels us to accept as real a radical new ontology, the 'anthroposphere', with far-reaching social and political consequences. I wish to argue that this temptation should be resisted. The Anthropocene cannot be understood entirely as a natural scientific phenomenon, although it can be treated as such for certain purposes. It is also an irreducibly social phenomenon. This is not to say that it is a socially constructed concept like nationhood, but that it is constituted by natural causal processes that are irreducibly entangled with social causal processes. Adopting the Anthropocene as a working concept therefore requires that we understand the causal processes involved in bringing it about as social causal processes, while also viewing these processes as objectual, open to public scrutiny and capable of compelling public assent. Social causes are not, however, easily subjected to such a naturalistic treatment. I conclude that the Anthropocene is not currently a suitable candidate for inclusion in a naturalist ontology.
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Keywords: Anthropocene; cognitive values; governance; naturalism; social-ecological systems

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2019

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  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2019) of 2.158. 5 Year Impact Factor: 2.047.
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