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Reclaiming the “Cultural Mandate”: The Idea of Sustainable Development in the Kantian Perspective



In the Club of Rome report Come on! Capitalism, Short-Termism, Population and the Destruction of the Planet (2018) Kant, along with other “old” Enlighteners, is presented as the father of a world-view which led to the destabilisation of the environment in which humanity exists. The authors of the report argue that the “old Enlightenment” with its individualism, faith in the market and a consumerist attitude to nature should be scrapped. I maintain that this assessment of Kant’s philosophy is groundless and that his ideas allow us both to conduct a more profound diagnosis of the crisis and to propose a more solidly founded strategy of overcoming it. First, I sum up the position of the authors concerning the loss of sustainability of development which they attribute to the philosophy of Enlightenment. Next, I outline the history and content of the notion of “sustainable development” and offer an analysis of the sources of progressivist commitment to the conquest of nature which lie outside Modern Times in the idea of the “cultural mandate”. Then I present the Kantian diagnosis of the causes of the crisis which attributes it to humankind’s failure to “mature”. I compare the idea of “the full world” formulated by the authors of the report with the idea of the “the world come of age” and their diagnosis of “capitalism — short-termism — depletion of resources” with the Kantian assessment of the attempts to escape from the predicaments of the present into the past or the future. I draw attention to Kant’s solutions to some of the specific problems indicated in the report. Instead of the strategy of “return of the cultural mandate”, proposed at this time by the authors of the report, the Kant­ian answer to the crisis is a “Copernican turn” and re-direction of the cultivating effort to the inner moral development of the human being.


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