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Patočka on Techno-Power and the sacrificial victim (Oběť)

Učník, L. (2007) Patočka on Techno-Power and the sacrificial victim (Oběť). In: 37th Annual Meeting of the Husserl Circle/An international conference to commemorate Jan Patočka 1907—1977, 22 - 28 April 2007, Prague, Czech Republic


The Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, one of the last students of Edmund Husserl, is not widely known in Anglo-American philosophy. If known at all, he is mostly regarded as the interpreter of Husserl. In 1995, the publication of the English translation of Jacques Derrida’s book Gift of Death brought Patočka a broader philosophical audience. Although Derrida’s work has brought attention to Patočka’s work, the idiosyncrasy of Derrida’s exposition has masked the true nature and importance of Patočka’s philosophy. In this paper, I present a reading of Patočka’s work that deals with the existential crisis of today’s society. For Patočka, the existential crisis of today’s society and the recurrence of wars disguised as peace are two sides of the same problem. They are the outcome of the transformation of nature into a standing reserve of energy for humans to use as they see fit. Stripped of unpredictable and contingent elements, nature is transformed into a formal system written in mathematical symbols that can be potentially understood by everyone, everywhere and every time. If the book of nature is written in the characters of geometry, as Galileo thought, then the idea of responsibility for the nature in which we live is not clear. How is one to think about responsibility for triangles and circles? To think of nature in such a manner seems to absolve humans from any responsibility for it. Yet not everything in the world is open to such calculative transfiguration. For Patočka, the phenomenon of the sacrificial victim and our own death are examples of the impossibility of calculation, and therefore also of prediction, which is the sine qua non of the modern scientific knowledge. Patočka’s exposition offers a way to confront an understanding that is based on calculation 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 – in the sense of formal – knowledge to account for the world we live in: the natural world.

Publication Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
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