Sensus Communis: Exploring the Ontologies of Coexistence
International Conference, June 12-14 2019, Aarhus University
Venue: Richard Mortensen-stuen, Frederik Nielsensvej 2-4, 8000 Aarhus C
Human existence necessarily takes place with others. It is originarily coexistence. This premise is reflected in the basic concepts of the philosophical, sociological and anthropological traditions, such as Aristotle’s zoon politikon, Tylor’s Culture, Durkheim’s Social, Tönnies’ Gemeinschaft, Heidegger’s Mitsein, Levinas’ Other, Nancy’s being-in-common, etc. But also for otherwise individualistic thinkers like Hobbes, the others are there from the beginning as an always-present potential for violence and death. The premise is affirmed in ordinary life, when we find ourselves facing irrevocable demands from the others, whether they are ordered in kinship systems or arise in the extraordinary encounter with the radical Other. The premise is a fundamental tenet in mytho-religious concepts of consubstantiality such as Gaia and in practices of transubstantiation such as the Holy Communion or “cannibalistic” funeral rites. While animistic ethno-theories and shamanistic technologies, since the dawn of humankind, have testified to an all-encompassing interconnectedness belonging to organic life as such, an increasing technological augmentation of our surroundings and bodies has recently extended our “social” relationships also to entities whose life springs from silicon and code. Social media remind us – around the clock – that we are enmeshed in webs of (post)human relationships. The questions of climate change and the anthropocene, finally, reiterate the ever so pressing task of rethinking responsibility and relationality – human and beyond.
While two of the most prominent trends in anthropology; ”the anthropology of ethics” and ”the ontological turn”, each in its own way (tacitly) imply notions of ethical community, a range of decisive aspects pertaining to coexistence remains unexplored. In its eagerness to distance itself from Durkheimian collectivism, the anthropology of ethics leaves ethical community in a blind spot to focus instead on subject formation. Ontological anthropology focuses on a fundamental (animistic, panpsychistic, rhizomatic, semiotic) connectedness of all life, but in the almost holy name of a “flat ontology” it often leaves the specifically ethical dimensions of human action in a blind spot. The philosophical phenomenological tradition exhibits a range of attempts at exploring coexistence (e.g. Husserl’s transcendental inter-subjectivity, Heidegger’s Mitsein), but it has often been criticized for its subjectivist and totalizing tendencies, which leave alterity and plurality in blind spots. By bringing together the three approaches to coexistence, the conference will shed new light on these blind spots and show how the three different approaches complement each other in exactly these areas. In other words: the blind spots will appear to be cross-fields for interdisciplinary research and collaboration.
The aim of this conference is to consider a wide range of phenomena of coexistence and to pose, in a comparative and interdisciplinary spirit, the question of how coexistence is given in experience. The methodological claim, hence, is that the senses of coexistence are to be clarified through analyses of the ways in which we sense the predicament of being-with.