Patočka on techno-power and the sacrificial victim (obět')
The Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, one of Edmund Husserl's last students, is not widely known among Anglo-American philosophers. If known at all, he is mostly regarded as an expositor of Husserl. In 1995, the publication of the English translation of Jacques Derrida's book Gift of Death brought Patočka a broader philosophical audience. Nonetheless, the idiosyncrasy of Derrida's commentary has masked the true nature and importance of Patočka's philosophy. In this paper, I present a reading of Patočka's work dealing with the existential crisis of today's society. For Patočka, this crisis and the recurrence of wars disguised as peace are two sides of the same problem. They are the outcome of nature's transformation into a standing reserve of energy for humans to use as they see fit. Stripped of unpredictable and contingent elements, nature becomes a formal system written in mathematical symbols that can be potentially understood by anyone, anywhere, at any time. However, if the book of nature is written, as Galileo believed, in the characters of geometry, the idea of responsibility for nature as that in which we live becomes unclear. How are we to reflect on responsibility for triangles and circles? To think nature in such a way seems to absolve humans from any responsibility for it. Yet not everything in the world is open to such calculative transformation. For Patočka, the phenomenon of the sacrificial victim and our own death are examples of the impossibility of calculus and, hence, of prediction which is the sine qua non of modern scientific knowledge. Patočka's exposition offers a way to confront understanding based on calculus alone. The phenomenon of sacrifice can initiate a challenge to our techno-scientific understanding of the world by showing the futility of attempts to simply use objective — i.e., formal — knowledge to account for the world we live in: the natural world.
(2011)., Patočka on techno-power and the sacrificial victim (obět'), in E. Abrams & I. Chvatík (eds.), Jan Patočka and the heritage of phenomenology, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 187-201.
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