Thomas Moynihan / COSMIC FICHTEANISM VS COSMIC SADISM: on catastrophes and great filters, their uses and abuses, as a critique of omnicidal reason

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Catastrophe is in vogue. In philosophizing, at least. It doesn’t even need to appear with all the pyrotechnic and traumatizing trappings, just with the lean and minimalist sense of the arrival of the totally unprecedented: whether in the Advent of the hyper-chaotic or the Event of the radically new. A triumph of unadulterated novelty even to the point of celebrating utter rupture, a longing for something—anything—that can smash the status quo. It is seen as liberating or, at the very least, libidinal. For elsewhere it indeed comes with all the maximalism of pyrotechny and cathectic terror. In pitch-black vaticinations on the looming Great Filter as Exterminator and Abstract Horror, for example.[1] Here, the cathexis of catastrophe is explicit: the Great Filter, that astrobiological “hunter that drives to extinction”, is the “archetype of horroristic ontology”.[2] Following this, our galactic environment itself becomes a looming catastrophe of cosmic proportions: dramatizing the dejected intuition that nature is conspiring to cause our extinction; that somehow it wants nothing more than to accomplish this.


This sentiment, of course, goes back a while. In fact, it was as soon as people could so much as even think about human extinction that they began saying similar things and championing similarly darksome fates. The sentiment is nearly two centuries old.

Rewind to 1795. With the shocks of the Reign of Terror still rippling through revolutionary France, Marquis de Sade divulges his utterly devastating La philosophie dans le boudoir. A book for the times. Therein, the Marquis titillates himself picturing how the “obliteration” of our “entire world” would in nowise afflict “Nature”:

[T]he stupid pride of man, who believes everything created for him, would be dashed, indeed, after the total extinction of the human species were to be seen that nothing in Nature had changed, and that the stars’ flight had not for that been retarded.[3]


However, this unresponsive repose is only fleeting, for it is soon revealed that, in fact, this outcome is nothing but nature’s “desire”. Sade propounds that

by means of this system you are going to be led to prove that totally to extinguish the human race would be nothing but to render Nature a service.[4]


A few years later, the cruel Marquis published Juliette. Therein, his lethal anti-natalist mantras and “system” of cosmic mortido reaches its apotheosis:

[T]he propagation of our species therewith becomes the foulest of all crimes, and nothing would be more desirable than the total extinction of humankind.[5]


This is the earliest statement of its kind. There is, of course, an age-old tradition of attacks on human hubris—insofar as the human is the only animal capable of being revolted with itself—but this was an utterly novel sentiment: a conceptual step change in our perennial self-hatred. It is the very first time anyone explicitly said that the “total extinction” of our species would be “desirable”. Around two decades before Schopenhauer, it is the first exhortation of species suicide: a recommendation of self-inflicted existential catastrophe.


Surely this is the apex of disillusionment and desacralization? Let us find out why not.


Desanctification is indeed, across the long millennia, the driver behind our progressively advanced grasp of the shape of catastrophe.

Around 75,000 years ago a mega-colossal volcanic eruption and its climate fallout (tier 8 on the explosivity index, the largest such event in recent geohistory) reduces early human populations to as low as 1,000 viable breeding pairs scattered across various refugia. Homo sapiens, some propose, nearly went extinct. It is also argued that this disaster forced the development of Behaviorally Modern Humans (BHM) by selecting for wider, more variegated, and more robust social networks. Complexified interaction required a wider linguistic repertoire, or the ability to talk in irrealis terms about the permissible and the impermissible, the possible and the impossible. This was thus also the emergence of the non-declarative grammatical forms that allow us to anticipate events beyond the mere present as well. In other words, this super-volcano catastrophe possibly provoked the cognitive consolidation of our proscopic ability to catastrophize in subjunctive and future tenses. This catastrophe may have been the birth of the concept of catastrophe. Anticipation was no longer merely a response to a present homeodynamic disturbance, or a reaction to a currently held drive state, but an exploration of a semantic possibility space. We became delaminated from the here and now and started drifting towards nowhere and nowhen and have been drifting ever since. Disabused of the sanctity of a pure present, we could begin to be motivated to anticipate the future’s perils as increasingly distal, dangerous, and exotic.

However, this aptitude remained relatively constrained down to the Ancient World. This was because reality itself remained sanctified by assumption of its inherently rational structure. As such, though you find talk of grand calamities in many Greek texts (say, Plato’s account of Atlantis), there is no room for true catastrophism because all such events are nested within a wider conviction that the universe is essentially rational in shape and structure. This was manifested in the prevalent belief that there are no unjustifiable absences in existence, or no things that could be but simply never are without any further justification, because saying that nature has no unjustifiable gaps is the same as saying that nature is as justifiable as it can possibly be. This, of course, has long been known as the Principle of Plenitude: all possibilities are sometimes realized.[6] Moreover, in obstructing locutions containing an allusion to counterfactual scenarios beyond tangible factual realization, this prevented the subjunctive allusions to nature’s potential autonomy from our categorial rationalization of it, for it is only in counterfactuals that we put such autonomy into expressive relief. Thus, natural structure could not but be considered interminably identical with rational justification. One consequence of the collateral prohibition on eternally unrealized possibilities, or unjustifiable gaps in nature’s space of realizations, was that no thing could permanently be terminated, or exit existence, because the possibility of its returning would inevitably be fulfilled. Thus, even something as seemingly unaccountable as death could be seen as having a reason in the conviction that all deaths are qualified and conditioned (i.e. justified) by the inevitable guarantee of some later return or recompense. As such, nothing could truly go extinct. This conviction applied as much to Aristotle as to Lucretius. Accordingly, there can be no real stakes, thus no true disaster in nature. Disaster is an epiphenomenon floating over system-wide upcycling and equilibrium.

To hold that “all legitimate possibilities are realized” is just to say that “reality is as legitimate as it can possibly be”. Or, “to be” is, without exception, “to be just”. This meant that cataclysms were long interpreted as the sentencings of divine judiciary, inscrutable though it may be, rather than as the facts of a nature unresponsive to any moral law.

The sense of reality’s disastrous autonomy from moral decree only really emerges as an accidental side effect of late medieval Islamic and Christian speculation on divine omnipotence. A conceptual exaptation, if you will. Here, theologians wanted to prove that nature was contingent not just in part but in whole—in order to exalt God’s arbitrary ability to have made it otherwise, his untrammeled potentia absoluta—and thus they wanted to strip the cosmos of all indwelling and inherent rationality. All categories of mind, all regularities, all sensory content, all the structure our minds impose upon the world in order to cognize it—these could not be a straitjacket to the potentia absoluta. In order to put this into relief, the voluntarists were driven to show that rational relations such as that between cause and effect couldn’t be proved demonstrably: in order to put this into relief, they were driven to produce counterfactual—yet logically possible and coherent—scenarios wherein nature acts beyond all good reason and categorial stability. The laws could simply change, many of them posited. One theologian described nature’s nomologies as a mere “custom of nature”—subject to revocation and rupture at any point.[7] Another claimed that even the structure of the past could be changed at any moment.[8] In the name of nominalist voluntarism, the universe was stripped of all necessarily indwelling rational structure. Though this might seem scholastically retrograde, the output of schoolmen drunk on piety, it accidentally initiated the scientific revolution insofar as it convinced people that, since everything that in fact does happen is not everything that logically can happen, the features of nature are not the way they are for reasons of demonstrable apodicticity alone and, thus, also demand messy a posteriori inquiry. We need to put questions to nature, because the answers may not be apodictally self-evident. In other words, “empiricism”. Nonetheless, another unintended side effect of nominalism’s stripping nature of any inherent rational structure was simultaneously the first philosophical sensitization to the precarity of human rationality—of its principles and precepts—within a now utterly arational cosmos. This was the beginning of our acutely modern sense of the catastrophic.

Modern philosophy was initiated by this newfound sense of reality’s catastrophic caprice, its potential unreliability vis-à-vis the mores of mind. Descartes came close to saying God could even break the law of non-contradiction. And it is no coincidence that most of the pioneers of the Scientific Revolution were staunch voluntarists. The lurking idea of nomic rupture returns again, abraded of any theism, within early theories of geohistory. Eighteenth-century naturalists, equipped with an acute appreciation of the clear coordination of the organism to its environment yet thus far unequipped with any theory of the causal mechanisms behind adaption or speciation, looked at fossil beds with their abrupt saltations between progressive layers of fauna and saw exactly that: abrupt causal ruptures and nomic discontinuities demarcating changes in the biosphere across time. Yet this was no continuously threaded history, but a series of causally disconnected worlds, utterly explanatorily separated from each other. They might as well have been distant in space, not just time (indeed, many at the time commented just as much). The paleontologist Georges Cuvier was explicit:

The thread of operations is broken; nature has changed course, and none of the agents she employs today [are] sufficient to produce her former works.


When tracing the revolutions of nature, it is “found to be subject to new laws”.[9]


The desacralization of nature—the long-durational expatriation and diaspora of reasons from the cosmic furniture—was the historical driver behind these rolling recurrences of philosophical catastrophism. This extraction, of course, reached an important culmination in Hume’s suspicion regarding the demonstrability of reason’s reliance on inference from cause to effect. Cuvier, in many ways, merely took the Scottish empiricist at his word in producing his geotheory of a Hume-world without permanent laws.[10] Just such a centuries-long process of Ordnungsschwund, or loss of a rationally structured cosmos, was similarly the driving factor behind Sade’s omnicidal catastrophism.[11]


Citing Cuvier’s naturalist forebear and compatriot Georges Buffon, Sade expands on his views regarding human extinction and willed omnicide:

Why! what difference would it make to her were the race of men entirely to be extinguished upon earth, annihilated! she laughs at our pride when we persuade ourselves all would be over and done with were the misfortune to occur! Why, she would simply fail to notice it. Do you fancy races have not already become extinct? Buffon counts several of them perished, and Nature, struck dumb by a so precious loss, doesn’t so much as murmur! The entire species might be wiped out and the air would not be the less pure for it, nor the Star less brilliant, nor the universe’s march less exact. What idiocy it is to think that our kind is so useful to the world that he who might not labour to propagate it or he who might disturb this propagation would necessarily become a criminal!


This premonition on global extinction comes directly on the heels of a quintessentially Sadean delectation of various outlawed sex acts:

[T]he sodomite and Lesbian serve [Nature] by stubbornly abstaining from a conjunction whose resultant progeniture can be nothing but irksome to her. Let us make no mistake about it, this propagation was never one of her laws, nothing she ever demanded of us, but at the very most something she tolerated; I have told you so.[12]


This was Sade’s crippling attack on the pro-natalist demographic policymaking of the French Ancien Régime. Traditional notions of sexuality, arising as the extension of Plenitude to procreation, have long been braced by the prejudice that, as existence is “better” than non-existence, sex should only ever be reproductive: it should “create”. (And, following from this, homosexuality was long related to death and negation, because the sex act here supposedly ends in “mere terminus”.) Sade, however, eviscerates and exacerbates this logic by instead cosmically vindicating “sodomy”. For when nature is no longer rationally equilibrial essence but the unaccountability of reasonless expenditure (or, in other words, is stripped of all rationalization), then the much maligned wastefulness of the non-procreative sex act of Sade’s suddenly becomes the most “natural” of all acts. If there is no ratio essendi for any loss (in some recompensating replenishment or return, elsewhere and elsewhen), and if death genuinely is unaccountable and inconsolable squander without further justifiability, then the sun truly is just a prolonged onanistic ejaculation. This, then, is why Sade collapses sexual paroxysm onto geohistorical cataclysm and orgasm into species extinction: because bedroom politics is just a subtype of generalized galactic termini. Sadean sexuality and Sadean cosmology are thus utterly indistinct—the one licenses and foments the other.


Surely, then, this is the apex of disillusionment, of hard-nosed disenchantment?

Absolutely not.

For Sade simply inverts the Ancien Régime worldview of Plenitude rather than escaping it. Judging nature as “wasteful” is just as moralistic as judging it as “prudent”. The marquis interprets the subtraction of justice from existence as itself being a judicial injunction. For only in the ruins of the old-world conviction that mere existence carries moral contentfulness would the subtraction of justice from nature be considered a cosmos-sized injustice; only in the continuing twilight of the presumption that “to be” is necessarily “to be just” would the evacuation of purpose and prudence from existence be inherited as the belief that existence is malignance and cruelty to the very extent that it is. Yet this maneuver is the very kernel of the Sadean “system”: being is a catastrophe precisely inasmuch as it actually exists and persists. In other words, existence is maximally catastrophe. (Sound like Great-Filter-as-Abstract-Horror-and-Exterminator, yet?) An “omnipotence of thought” need not dress the world with prudent value, it can also ventriloquize it with catastrophic disvalue, but it remains an “infantile omnipotence” nonetheless.[13]

Again: it is only from still within the old worldview of plenitude—wherein “to be” is “to be just”, and naked existence carries moral content—that nature’s loss of inherent jurisprudence can be seen as justifying any particular action or deed, even if said deed is immoral or sadistic.

Instead of inheriting the revelation of nature’s autonomy from all morality as an injunction to embark on the task of procedurally separating our inquiry-motivating values from the objective facts whose inquiry they regulate, Sade interpreted nature’s loss of indwelling justice as a Principle for the Plenitude of Disvalue, or the moral enjoinder toward maximizing injustice.

A Pollent Plenitude, rather than a Prudent Plenitude: one that venerates nature’s injudicious abundances rather than its judicious pleroma. This, then, is Sade’s “Principle for the Plenitude of Prodigality”. In his own words:

Destruction being one of the chief laws of Nature, nothing that destroys can be criminal; how might an action [i.e. human extinction] which so well serves Nature ever be outrageous to her?[14]


If nature is maximally disastrous, then it is our duty to inflict maximum catastrophe, from the psychosexual scale all the way up to the civilizational. We must radiate disaster triumphant. Hence why, within the Sadean system of cosmo-sexuality, our extinction—our sacrificial and saturnalian omnicide—would be to give nature precisely what it “wants”. A release of tension like an orgasm. Yet cathecting the catastrophic cosmos is not disillusionment, far from it. Even, that is, if you call it the Exterminator, equate it with the Great Filter, and claim it is “thickened by statistical-cosmological vindication”.[15]


To return to the present day, and catastrophe’s current conceptual vogue, one can identify that many strands of continental thinking have inherited the Sadean enjoinder of Pollent Plenitude but in a transposed domain of application. That is, it has mutated from an injunction to maximize profligacy in the bedroom towards instead being an injunction to maximize prodigality in philosophizing.

As it was for Sade, the Ancien Régime’s theodical axiom that “whatever is, is maximally just” merely inverts into the mantra that “whatever is just, is just whatever maximally is”. Yet, it now licenses a semantic, rather than sexual, dissoluteness. For if we apply such a principle to intentionality itself, the constraining and shepherding normativity of objectivity (the tribunal against which we upbraid inapposite judgements so as to sort “correct” from “incorrect” and selectively drift towards truth) is replaced by a blinding conceptual voluptuousity wherein it is only in being profligate, and in proliferating in as many ways as is possible, that a judgment or action “justifies” or “licenses” itself. Again this is merely an inversion of Prudent Plenitude into Pollent Plenitude: the principle no longer states that “all legitimate possibilities are realized”, but rather states that “all legitimacies are the realization of possibilities”, and, insofar as this measures legitimation by realization alone, it collaterally entails that “the realization of no possible can be illegitimate”. As such, we cannot commit ourselves to “better” or “worse” concepts, we can only generate more—in an act of blind mind pollination. Conceptual enormity becomes the name of the game. Thus, the Sadean sexual enjoinder is applied to intentionality itself: conception is not assertoric constancy to an external object = X, in the stepwise rooting and weeding out of incorrect assertions; rather, it is the irresponsible fertilization of novel concepts. One cannot be “correct” or “incorrect”, only “profuse”, “prodigal”, “prolific”, “profligate”—judgements aren’t “fastidious”, only “fecund”. (What other reason could there be for lionizing the potato root as a model for cognition? What other reason could there be for desiring to outsource all selectivity to teeming patchworks in our politic reasoning? And yet, thinking is much more than a vegetable patch.)

Hence also the obsession with novelty for novelty’s sake. Because, inasmuch as “legitimation” becomes the mere indiscriminative power-to-be rather than the discriminating power-to-be-right, we cannot select better or more apposite concepts, and accordingly our only hope is to patiently await some promised evental advent of utterly new ones. Amor fati. We can neither think nor explain, we can just anticipate something—anything—that breaks the status quo.[16] (But, as it ought to be more than a rootstalk, philosophy similarly should be more than the waiting-room for whatever “X-to-come” is currently being held up as our belated salvation.) Thus also the celebration of catastrophe: the ritual of pointing to a nature profligate beyond expectation in order to petition that no assertion, no matter how arrogated or unreasonable, is not somehow adequate to nature’s potency to surprise in its blind profligacy. The catastrophic is conscripted as the exception that always disproves the rule; supposedly disabusing us of the constraints of ever suffering the imposition of having to select the correct. In this, the Ancien Régime idea that no part of nature can be inconsolably illegitimate because all legitimacies are never not eventually re-realised inverts into the conviction that no intentional state can be illegitimate because nature has the power to actuate anything and everything through the mindless maximalities of its myriad becomings. Existence, in its largeness and largesse, licenses all. In the illustrative words of Nietzsche:

If the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force—and every other representation remains indefinite and therefore useless—it follows that, in the great dice game of existence, it must pass through a calculable number of combinations. In infinite time, every possible combination would at some time or another be realized; more: it would be realized an infinite number of times. And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place, and each of these combinations conditions the entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum.[17]


But what exactly is this taken to license, in theory and practice?

Everything becomes and recurs eternally—escape is impossible! Supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence [as a] principle in service of strength (and barbarism!!).[18]


If nature is profligacy and enormity to the exact extent that it is, then the only statements that could be considered “justified” are the ones that are most prolific, proliferate, prodigal (and, indeed, even barbarous). Removing responsibility from thinking reduces it to the mindless muscularity of maximization—the “service of strength”. Whatever is just is just whatever maximally is. All legitimation rests in the realization of possibles; the realization of no possible can be illegitimate. Our only hope is to catastrophize, or hope that we get the catastrophe we deserve.


Thus, the Prudent Plenitude that subordinates nature to jurisprudent rationality by insisting that “no possible justifiability remains unrealized” inverts, after the historical climax of the Ordnungschwund, into the Sadean Pollent Plenitude that submerges rationality within exorbitant nature by proclaiming that “no justification is not the realization of some possible”.

Two “directions of fit” for one principle: the first subordinates facts exhaustively under prudential values, the second submerges values entirely within proliferating facts. Today we inherit the latter in the myriad philosophies that noisily cathect catastrophe; the notion descends from Sade to everyone who continues, in our own time, to try and reduce mind to muscularity or the cascading cataclysms of virality. This includes all those who believe that, in the supposed twilight of values, the tiresome transgression of all value is the only laudable goal.

Yet plenitude, in either direction, entails no meaningful allusion to possibilities beyond their factual—i.e. temporally definite—realization. Claiming all possibilities are sometimes realized is collapsing modality into temporality. This, however, removes all workable semantic distinction between how our judgements in fact are and how they ought to be. Plenitude, whether it points to a nature catastrophic or ministrative beyond measure, is thus utter conceptual infantilism and circumspection because it removes our ability to even be wrong in our judgings and thus trivializes the (properly existential) stakes involved in what we think and do upon this planet. It is an attempt to absolve oneself of the theoretical and practical burdens of mind (the illumining impositions of the public lights through which we are held accountable and hold others accountable in turn) and it shirks this all in some narcotic attempt to return to the absolutions and deliverances and trivialities of cognitive nonage.

Despite parading as hard-nosed disillusionment, the cathectically catastrophizing philosopher is in fact the purveyor of a reheated reenchantment. Because in holding that an injudicious nature somehow licenses irresponsible thinking, such philosophers are buying an exemption from accountability-in-thinking at the price of reifying disvalue and injustice. (Again, only in the twilight of the retrograde notion that “to be” is “to be just” could existence be classified as tragedy to the extent that it is. Or, only through reifying disvalue could one come to the conclusion that nature somehow wants our extinction, whether dramatized as the Sadean cosmo-orgasm of self-willed extinction or as the dubiously personified Great Filter that stalks the hoary galaxies “hunting” its next victim.) Yet, even though reifying disvalue somehow seems more “mature” than reifying value—just as Schopenhauerian pessimism may seem more “realist” than Lebinizian optimism—the former remains just as retrograde as the latter: for where Prudent Plenitude cradles cognition in a cosmos interminably amenable to justification, Pollent Plenitude simply immerses discerning reason within the narcotizing absolutions of indiscriminate enormity; and yet, despite these inverse directions of fit, both unanimously act to exempt cognition of any accountability for its assertions by dissolving the distinction between “is” and “ought” in assertoric affairs; and a cradle, whether consisting in catastrophic caprice or in prudential pleroma, remains a cradle nonetheless.

Catastrophe becomes the new method for achieving henosis with the fully disenchanted cosmos. A new intellectual intuition, an equilibration of thought and world, albeit a tragic one. But to follow this path is merely to reenchant the independent cosmos with our sense of tragedy, and tragedizing is as much a moral disposition as the perfections proposed by theodicy. Catastrophizing is, unavoidably, moralizing all over again. Even worse, it is simple cowardice: for maximizing enormous injustice, such that no statement can ever be so much as “wrong” within the overflowing exorbitances of prodigal nature, is the attempt to trivialize all the stakes involved in thinking and thus betrays an unwillingness to face up to the venture that we call “mind”. Or, to conscript the cataclysm as the exception that disproves every rule is merely to try and liberate oneself of the burthens of ever being assessed against any standard in excess of the way our thoughts and deeds actually are or have been. Yet this is only liberating in the sense that blinding oneself is liberating oneself of the imposition of having to see. All it does is alleviate one of the risk of having to think.

All inheritors of the cosmo-Sadean enjoinder, therefore, are in fact sufferers of Geistschmerz: the circumspect phobia of the jeopardies and tenacities of assuming accountability for oneself in intellection. Thus, despite appearances—despite the aesthetization of gargantuan disaster—catastrophe-drunk thinkers are philosophical ocnophiliacs through and through.[19] And not only when it comes to their refusal of the riskiness of ever being held accountable in thinking, but also when it comes to the topic they hold most dear: human extinction.


However, before we come back again to the topic of omnicide, let us first establish the philobatic, risk-seeking alternative to plenitudinarian ocnophilia and assertoric circumspection.


Plenitudinarianism entails there is no meaningful allusion to possibilities beyond their factual and actual realization. Accept this and one is left with only two options regarding axiology: either all facts are valuable ministrations, or all values are just muscular facts. Yet it was Kant who first, and most cogently, argued that there are concepts that—despite not at all being in the business of denoting temporally specific facts—are also utterly semantically legitimate and meaningful. In fact, these concepts are necessarily presupposed by any such temporal or factual designation or denotation. They do not at all describe, yet they are utterly requisite for all description. This, indeed, comprises the heart of the Sage of Königsberg’s epoch-making response to the problem of the Ordnungsschwund.

The collapse of the rationally ordered cosmos dovetailed into the Enlightenment teaching that values are actively forged by human activity rather than dictated or given by the cosmic facts-of-the-matter. They are protocols we electively bind ourselves by. This auspicious notion culminated in Kant’s mature critical philosophy. Kant noticed something momentous: we need values to motivate and regulate our descriptions of objective facts (Why bother updating them otherwise? Why bother even stating them? Why bother not contradicting yourself?) but values are never ever facts objectively described. Without values—as criteria of assessment and appraisal—descriptions could not even be deemed wrong, and without the ability to be wrong, how could descriptions at all be said to be in the business of describing an objective world?

Highlighting the “rulishness” of concept-use, Kant hinted to the fact that such concepts are marked out by a discursive capacity for meaningful allusion to mere possibles—or, in technical terms, they are “intensionally” articulated—regardless of what actually happens or is factually realized in time.[20]  And by meaningful, this also means motivating.

Such intensionally articulated concepts are requisite, in other words, in order to even begin to understand linguistic rule-following and our manifest tendency to repel incorrect or incompatible judgements. Quite simply, if one rejects intensions—which is precisely what is entailed by any form of plenitudinarianism, inasmuch as it completely reduces possibility to temporality—then one loses the ability to distinguish between how judgements in fact are and how they ought to be, and thus one correlatively loses all explanation of how it is that our representations can begin to be incorrect, and therefore also foregoes any explanation of why anyone would ever be motivated to update an incorrect claim. In other words, one loses the ability to explain why anyone would ever change their mind.

Intensions, or meaningful and motivating mention of mere possibles, alone account for rule-following and thus our capacity to be progressively more correct. For though we may find many extensional contexts that co-refer to the rule in question, we simply cannot exhaust what people mean or intend when they invoke the rule in question by pointing to such coreferential contexts alone. No extension or denotative set of facts—regardless of how plentiful or coreferential it may be—can capture or explain this essential dimension of meaning. Their functional role in our discourse cannot be grasped by pointing to frequencies of manifestation or obeyance alone. This is not what they do. Instead, intensions grant us the notion of “possibility” as the possibility-to-be-right, in the sense of constraining ourselves by rules whose content cannot be exhausted by frequentist specification of facts alone. They allow us to be right and to be wrong, and thus to be procedurally more right in our judgings, which is the very foundation of us even classifying or counting as “having-a-world-in-view” (inasmuch as one only earns the epithet “objective” to the extent that one is willing to update one’s incorrect assertions), and thus, insofar as this semantic capability thereby founds the very workability of the distinction between “appearance” and “reality”—and of our becoming progressively more responsible for what such a distinction demands of us—it is the kernel of our notion of ourselves as self-conscious agents intentionally directed towards an external world. In other words, part of being directed in this way indispensably involves having intelligible stakes involved in what you think and do. Whether one wants to accept it or not, it is these “stakes”—and our progressive acknowledgement of what they entail—that grant us all a “world” in the first place.

And so, in this, Kant revealed that not all legitimate concepts describe temporally definite and factual states-of-affairs. Some talk is not at all talk of the way things are, and it is no less legitimate for that. It is because functionally, this talk is talk about talk. In other words, when one invokes a value, one is not saying anything that carries objective committal (i.e. is “about” any fact), but is rather regulating the framework within which all objective committal and factual purport becomes possible (that is, appraisable). This, then, is why the historical extraction of justice from the cosmic background—the Ordnungsschwund—accordingly entails nothing objectively (it entails nothing about the facts themselves), nor does it entail anything axiologically (it licenses no practical action—because values are never facts objectively described, which is the same as acknowledging that no extension of facts can, by itself, justify any given maxim), but it means everything methodologically. Because values are ways we talk about talk. They are how we invigilate our descriptions and manoeuvre through the space of the myriad entailments that individuate our descriptions as describing-anything-at-all by virtue of structuring what they do and do not entail or follow from. It is in being able to meaningfully refer beyond what is fully actual and natural (an endeavour whose explicit logical basis goes back to the counterfactual thought-experimenting of the nominalist schoolmen) that rationality gives itself the semantic capaciousness to refer to its own artifice and thus arrive at critical consciousness of the fact that reason’s motivating and regulating norms are not at all identical with, nor inherent within, widest nature. And, what’s more, it is in critically reflecting upon what is irreducibly artefactual in our conceptual framework upon the world—or in procedurally artificializing those certain precepts of experience that are regulative requisites for objectivation but are never themselves objects—that we come to better grasp naked existence independently of this value-laden framing and thereby further the project of naturalization.

Accordingly, it is only with intensions in tow (or meaningful reference to mere possibles), that we vouchsafe for ourselves a semantic distinction between how judgements “ought to be” and how they “in fact are”, and this alone explains our manifest tendency to change our minds. Yet this chasm between “ought” and “is” engenders an inexhaustible tension: we are forever drawn to update and revise; and, by this very token, we are also damned to eternal destitution and lability. It is this tension, this chasm, that the Pollent Plenitudinarian attempts to absolve, because they cannot handle the philobatic tenacity and motility it demands of us: the tenaciousness of being ceaselessly held accountable by, and continually upbraiding our judgements against, standards that are not semantically exhausted by their frequential realisations or by the maximality or minimality of their realization within time. They want to refuse the stakes involved in having a world in view.

The Plenitudinarian, regardless of their direction-of-fit proclivity, collapses modality wholesale into temporality, so as to remove any difference between how our judgings “ought to be” and how they “have been”, in the attempt to escape the possible accountability of ever being wrong. Yet this collapse prohibits any ultimate distinction between prescription and description—or between language’s declarative and regulative resources—such that those who follow this path are doomed to once again mix human axiology with independent reality in their circumspect pursuit of absolving us of culpability for our assertions vis-à-vis objective matters. This applies whether one reifies value or disvalue: the former trivializes the stakes involved in our assertions and actions because anything catastrophic is sublimated as temporary and regional errancy from the cosmos’s baseline of interminable justice; the latter achieves the same circumspect absolution by decreeing that in the sheer profligacy of nature’s catastrophic becomings, any statement can be proven “just” in the service of strength alone. In refusing the ability to be wrong, both directions are alike forms of ocnophilia, or risk-averseness. They are conspecific refusals of accountability: they do not want to accept the jeopardy of ever acknowledging that thought involves stakes (and does so unavoidably and constitutively inasmuch as it has an objective world in view).

Because, as Kant again dimly saw, it is only through being held to account—which means risking everything in knowledge—that we can claim ourselves to be “objective”. Certitude always comes in degrees because incertitude is the very environing medium of objective inference, of the making and staking of ever self-correcting claims, in that jeopardization is the only route to ever better knowledge. This is because it is only through progressively submitting our claims to the risk of their defeasance that we can correct incorrect claims and thus reach ever better ones and through this begin—in the first place—to earn the title of “objective” (through the process of being recognized as intentional agents who take themselves to have a world in view precisely via their acknowledgement of the constancy and relentless sensitivity to assertoric accountability that earning such a recognition demands of them). In other words, it is through this game of jeopardization that we even first come to our representational relation towards an external world: for we only demonstrate responsibility for our assertions, which is the minimum condition for being recognized as a world-directed being, by demonstrating that we are willing and able to correct incorrect commitments. Only the kind of being that demonstrates this willingness can be said to have a world (as opposed to existing merely as a bundle of sensa and impressions which cannot even be wrong).

However, such an assiduous task of world orientation requires tenacity. It is this constant upbraiding, course correction, and ever-present risk of being held accountable that the Pollent Plenitudinarian attempts to absolve in his attempt to flee from the spacious and philobatic differential between “ought” and “is” through claiming that existence is an overflowing catastrophe to the very extent that it is. Despite its aesthetic of “brave catastrophe”, such an attempt is, ultimately, a geistschmerzlich attempt at equilibriating the task-of-mind and the facts-of-the-world. This is why it is an ocnophiliac and circumspect refusal of mentation’s properly cosmic vocation.

Cathecting the Great Filter as some looming Exterminator serves just this purpose: as a kind of retroactive exculpation, a deliverance from the risks of ever having to be held responsible for any assertion or action, a kind of consolatio in the inevitable and incoming interstellar extinction.

For what is more daunting than the fact that reason presupposes values that cannot be exhausted in time? Who wouldn’t want to reject the sheer gigantism of the task that this demands of us? Who wouldn’t want to run away from the unconditioned into the deliverances of darksome extinction? Who wouldn’t want to retreat to the safety of knowing that nothing ever mattered anyway?


Hence, we return to the topic of human extinction and of wilful omnicide.

It is the case that, throughout the history of Western thought, human extinction remained unthinkable because the Principle of Plenitude (in its Prudent conjugation) made extinction so axiologically trivial as to be objectively unthinkable. Plenitude, and the congenital belief that the universe was somehow as maximally full of value as is possible, led to the default conviction that should Homo sapiens be wiped out on planet Earth, it would merely return elsewhere and elsewhen. There are many examples to cite, but Bernard de Fontenelle provided one of the best ones when he claimed in the 1680s that—in the vast cosmic infinites—no species can “totally perish” because they will all eventually be resurrected to repopulate some new world.[21]  Another example comes from Diderot, who proclaimed that even if our species were annihilated, evolution would inevitably be rerun and “at the end of several hundreds of millions of years of I-don’t-know-whats, the biped animal who carries the name man” would ineluctably re-enter the cosmic scene.[22]

Moving a few decades, from Diderot to de Sade, could anything have truly changed in the latter’s neat inversion of the old-regime Principle? Evidently not. Because if one thinks that maximizing destruction is the chief moral law of nature, then there must always be something—that is, someone—to immorally destroy. That is, even though he titillated himself celebrating the “obliteration” of unlimited populated worlds, Sade again would fall into the trap of presuming resurrecting humanoids across other epochs and biospheres. And so, even though he enjoyed (indeed, loved) the idea of human extinction, he couldn’t quite fully grasp it. For instead of holding that nature is as full of value as is possible, he simply held that it is as full of disvalue as is possible, and by direct consequence of this, the French libertine backslid into a cyclicity tellingly identical to Diderot’s resurrecting humanoids.

Sade’s may be an eternal return of sadistic suffering rather than sapient bipeds, but a plenitude of pain remains plenitude once again.

That is, after claiming that human extinction would be utterly desirable, Sade also proclaimed that if our “species” were to be “destroyed absolutely” and “blotted out of existence”, then the “extirpation of [our] breed would, by returning to Nature the creative faculty she has entrusted to us, reinvigorate her” and thereby ensure that “new constructions, wrought by her hand” would eventually replace us.[23]

Absolutizing suffering requires that there be eternal sufferers, such that, once again, nothing can truly ever die. Collaterally, there can again be no true stakes—no real meaning—to our extinction.

In an indicting manner, Schopenhauer falls into precisely the same trap, close on the heels of Sade’s anti-natalist vituperations. For despite ejaculating that if his ascetic “maxim” becomes “universal” then the “human race would die out”, the German philosopher also propounded that we necessarily live in the “worst of all possible worlds”.[24] He reasoned his way to this position by looking at the previous worlds lately unearthed by geoscience. Observing these previous worlds of monstrous beasts and terrifying leviathans, the arch pessimist claimed that they evidence prior creations or world plans whose “continuance was no longer possible” by virtue of the fact that they proved even “worse” than our own, and thus necessarily became non-viable and were weeded out of existence.[25] By direct consequence, we find ourselves within the worst of all possible (that is, workable) worlds. A devilish twist on Leibniz’s powerful notion of compossibility, this still committed Schopenhauer to an eternalism of suffering (and, by consequence, also of sufferers). For despite seemingly accepting the terminality of extinction in some places, he elsewhere claimed that “in spite of thousands of years of death and decay, there is still nothing lost, no atom of matter, still less anything in the inner being exhibiting itself as nature”.[26]


One cannot but think that in our time, cathecting the Great Filter as some kind of Exterminator suffers from the same dubiousness. It sounds a lot like Sade’s titillation that murder is nature’s chief law. We have no independent verification of the inherence of mental categories such as “terror” or “horror” in autonomous reality, and yet they are here reified as the cosmic baseline. Not only this, but these emotions are dubiously personified as some kind of distant intelligence murderer (finding its “mythological expression in the hunter”), which humorously makes the floating and nooicidal Filter resemble something like Thomas Paine’s sarcastic vision of Jesus in a galaxy repletely populated with thronging exocivilizations (wherein the Saviour is condemned to flit “from world to world, in an endless succession of deaths”—for all eternity).[27] The Filter here becomes some kind of Dead Christ. Indeed, instating a plenitude of terror surely commits one to the absolutization of terrorized beings. It would certainly seem so:

How gentle and soothing, if death were really nothing but ceasing to be, but is there such a thing as “mere death”? /…/ The facts are blatant: it is not the case that death leaves matter satisfied. At most it is a temporary refreshment, a cool black wave for matter to bask in like a reptile, a phase of dormancy, before the rush back into the convulsive dissipation of life. /…/ Across the aeons our mass of hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls.[28]


This quote does not come from Sade but from Nick Land. A chip off the Sadean block. “How much dying can a body do?” he asks. Again, a plenitude of pain is just a plenitude all over again. (This statement is merely a neat inversion of the age-old theodical bromide: “Dissolution is the prelude to recreation. Analogy leads us to believe that the same is true of the cosmos. Nothing can be destroyed.”)[29] Here there can be no true extinction and no true terminus: and this is not in spite of—but because of—the author’s adherence to a Principle of the Plenitude of Disvalue. And, in spite of the posturings of such a Principle, Fermi’s Paradox is actually much more interesting and internally variegated than dressing it up as a horror trope (in the two-centuries-old tradition of Cosmic Sadeanism) would have one believe. “Horroristic” conclusions are by no means the only game in town here.[30] And where such conclusions evidently arise from cathecting catastrophe and from hobby-horsical predilections for horrorism, one might do well to be cautious.

Plenitude has ever been—and so remains—a trivializing of the stakes involved in thinking, and regardless of whether it accomplishes this trivialization by guaranteeing that nature is maximally moral or maximally immoral, it remains just as specious either way. Especially, that is, when it comes to the topic of our extinction. For where it jettisons the language by which we critically reflect on the distinction between mind and world (insofar as extensional fact-stating alone cannot point to failures to grasp facts), this strain of thought is fated, again and again, to mingle mind-based values (or, indeed, disvalues) with the constants of the independent cosmos at the most maximal scales. Moreover, inasmuch as it collapses prescription into description, and norm into nature, this outlook simply cannot accommodate the fact of the end of all value. And, identically, neither can it accommodate the fact of the end of all disvalue. Or, in other words, despite the fact that cosmo-Sadeans may noisily cry for human extinction—and advertise it as the USP of their philosophy—they simply cannot properly cognize this concept because they cannot fully articulate its stakes. And it is precisely the concept’s axiological stakes that mark it out as unique: individuating it against “false friend” cognate concepts such as apocalypse, collapse or regional extirpation. Trivializing the stakes involved in thinking leads to the ultimate circumspection: an inability to even concede the stakes involved in extinction, backsliding into the security of eternally returning sufferers and/or sapients.


Cathecting cosmic catastrophe and promulgating horroristic interpretations of Cosmic Silence, though it may seem tough-minded and unsentimental, derives from precisely the same human inclination that once led people to think that nonhuman and lifeless objects were deserving of legal punishment if they had harmed someone or caused their death.[31]


Rather than being some background feature of the cosmos—some tragic baseline from which everything else is deviation—the “catastrophic” is, in fact, only ever something that happens to someone. This is why absolutizing catastrophe is also absolutizing sapient observers.

Catastrophes befall someones, constitutively so. They are a matter of perspective. Even without the undeniable ethical component—that they are bad—catastrophes, insofar as they are unprecedented events, can ultimately be specified as unprecedented only relative to an outward-expanding awareness of the positionality of our conceptual witness within widest epochal cosmological history. (Put differently, “we should regard what we observe as typical only after taking into account all preconditions for our emergence as intelligent observers at this cosmic epoch”.)[32] And this orientation presupposes, in turn, a grasp of the distinction between conception and existence—between appearance and reality—which, again, is the very beating heart of self-consciousness.


As intimated above, the historical progress of our grasp of catastrophe moved in step with our extraction of “value” from “fact”. For when one mingles the two, one allows oneself no real responsiveness to nature’s non-responsivity vis-à-vis our axiological expectations and moral intuitions. Hence why beginning from the late Middle Ages onwards, the Ordnungschwund was the birth of “catastrophe” proper. But it follows from this that the first “catastrophe” was cognitive and practical in scope, rather than objective and empirical. For experiencing the unexpected isn’t ever purely an empirical datum without first also being the self-infliction of the logically anterior—and irreducibly semantic—awareness that our experiential horizon of expectation cannot exhaust the scope of total reality. In this, disaster was learnt, never given. An actively imposed and orientational self-reflection, rather than some event passively befallen. Our acutely modern sense of the catastrophic was tacitly reflective first, only acquiring declarative applicability after (in becoming the suite of natural—and now anthropogenic—risks that grows to this day). For we had to first articulate the axiological stakes involved in “disaster” before we became capable of even observing cataclysms as cataclysms. (Otherwise, they are no doubt tragic, but they remain the jurisprudent sentencings of the morally structured universe—cruel and inscrutable though it may be.) Modern catastrophe is initially a reflection upon the propriety and place of concept-use itself—namely, the hard-won semantic acknowledgement that concepts are limited because reality is not conceptual in structure—before it latterly gains any empirical-level determinability as prospective or potential fact.

In slowly extracting norm from nature, and thus realising that there are some concepts that do not declaratively refer declarative reference, but are nonetheless presupposed by it, we later came to realize that compulsory features of rationality, such as the inference from cause to effect, are not independently demonstrable facts of nature’s categorial structure (contrary to the dogmatic rationalist’s conviction) nor are they, due to subtraction, to be jettisoned or somehow “simply done without” in our putting questions to nature (as is recommended by the radical empiricist and the proponent of nomic rupture) because, instead, they are to be regarded as regulative ideals (that is, norms of inquiry) that functionally motivate us to update our theories or models when we encounter the exceptional or unprecedented. “Uniformity” is a standard that we freely bind ourselves by, and is thus a goal actively achieved rather than a factum passively received, and it is the value that motivates us to synthesize a coherent manifold and thus procedurally manufacture for ourselves a structure-infused “world” worthy of the name. But, ultimately, it is just that: a motivating standard. Axioms like the Principle of Uniformity are impelling values—presupposed by inquiry—that get objective investigation off the ground. They are the drivers of inquiry, rather than the results of it. (By corollary, a categorially structured and uniform world is the output of synthetic experience rather than its basal or founding input.) Likewise, we only experience the “catastrophe” as “catastrophic” inasmuch as we observe our compelling duty toward synthesizing an ever more unified world model. Without this shepherding drive, we would have no reason to think of anything as unprecedented. In other words, we can only objectively experience catastrophes, and so much as become conceptually aware of them, because they manifest and engage our compulsion to act and think ever better (in that they actuate that inexhaustible differential between how judgements merely are and how they should be that is so essential to—and, indeed, inceptive of—intentional self-consciousness). Catastrophes are the ignition system of cognitive updating. The experience of “catastrophe” is thus only our self-infliction of our higher-order awareness of the differential between “fact” and “value”, in that it is our acknowledgement of our duty of constancy to the “object = X”: in forcing us to acknowledge that our experiential categories do not exhaust the autonomous and anomalous cosmos, we are merely answering our global obligation to continually update our theories and nomological models when they are catastrophically contravened. For receptivity to the unexpected is identical with the drive to update one’s views in light of contradicting evidence. By this very token, “the catastrophe” is revealed as precisely that which impels us to further assert ourselves within the world: for it is only in progressively spelling out the stakes in what we think and do (in assertoric affairs as much as existential ones), and thus in becoming increasingly conversant with an ever-growing pantheon of perils, that we become awakened to the projects of self-betterment in the first place (whether this undertaking is instantiated as the drive to colligate more robust predictive models, as the impulse to generate more context-sensitive practical protocol, or, at the very limit of modernity’s growing edge, as our awakening to the task of asserting ourselves at increasingly encompassing spatiotemporal scales in order to counter and mitigate increasingly encompassing risks).

To borrow the still-resonant words of J. G. Fichte, it is only in acknowledging the catastrophe (Anstoβ) that we first answer the summons (Aufforderung) to our daring vocation (Bestimmung).[33]

It is this primary “check” to unlimited practical activity that initially incites us to the task of structuring a world for ourselves (by freely constraining our assertions regarding it by way of myriad unfolding norms of coherence and consistency) so that we might practically assert ourselves ever better within our worldly practices. It is from this primordial and always ongoing encounter, a ramifying familiarity with jeopardy and calamity, that the Fichtean project can be seen as an attempt to procedurally and steadily deduce all the categories of experience—all the structured richness of our objective world—as so many self-assertions of the germinating transindividual self in its responses and rebuttals to environing hazard. Always and forever, it is the catastrophe that compels us to our task.

And now, in the opening of the twenty-first century, that we have come to recognize hazards that are existential in scope (and, more so, that may well irreversibly denude the future development of intelligence, not just at our own biosphere, but across all others throughout our astrobiological environ), we are beginning to answer the summons—the Aufforderung—of a calling of equitable scope.

That is, as we become increasingly sensitive to the astronomic precarity of intelligence—or, the more we realise that, as outer-space isn’t brim-full of sapience, so too are sapient values even more alienated and estranged from brute facts—we incrementally come to accept that our intellectual endowment is not astronomically precious merely because it is “rare” (i.e. that its extension is maximal or minimal within time and/or space) but that it is precious because principles-of-value are never exhaustibly specified by conscripting sets-of-facts alone (and the growing silence of the cosmos only further puts this disjuncture into relief): and thus the scope of the potentially abortive failure of our task cannot be encompassed by pointing to temporally specified facts and aetiologies and consequences alone, and thus such a prospect cannot but be articulated as an eventuality that will have been a tragedy of properly unconditioned and absolute scope, such that coming to recognize the catastrophic silence of outer space—as the ultimate Anstoβ—must be received by us as nothing other than the summons to a vocation and enterprise of identically unconditioned proportions. It is yet another Anstoβ, another incitement towards intellect’s assertion of itself at ever greater, ever more colossal, ever more insanely ambitious scales. A summons to a Kardashev-scale vocation. This is the true Bestimmung of whatever it is that our task decides that will become.

It progressively becomes more and more obvious that as sapient beings, we were always wrapped up in just such a task—a calling whose scope cannot be conditioned by any “here” and “now”; one that cannot be constrained by evolutionary or historical filiation to one’s species nor, indeed, to one’s biosphere—it is just that we always forever didn’t quite know this yet. And yet, inasmuch as intelligence just is the ability to divest oneself of the contingencies of “somewhere” and “somewhen” in order to drift towards “nowhere” and “nowhen”, we could not but become implicated in such a project. And we cannot but continue to become further implicated, further entangled; indeed, we remain never quite yet fully understanding just what such a calling demands of us, and yet (existential mishaps notwithstanding) it remains our ongoing and unending task to find this out.


In the years during which Sade penned his most devastating demands for omnicide, Fichte published a book with an important title: The Vocation of Man (Die Bestimmung des Menschen).[34] Stripped of its eighteenth-century androcentrism, the title encapsulates a resonant concept, one whose consequences we are still exploring and following up. It captures the realization that humanity itself constitutes a “project”. This discovery has been lauded as the most important thing that has ever happened to us.[35] It announces the understanding that we are—at least to a non-trivial degree—creatures of our own making. We are, in other words, accountable for what it is that we are. Or, put differently, our entire fate lies in our own hands (inasmuch as we can recognize it as a “fate”, or something that has “good” and “bad” outcomes). And this is why becoming aware of the risks that intelligence faces—not just in our parochial planetary environs, but in any astrobiological and astrocognitive setting—is an indispensable part of the task we inherit.

As such, just as we can interpret the Great Silence of the Cosmic Skies as a looming horroristic hunter—and exculpate ourselves of any duty or constancy in advance, so as to backslide into narcotic nonage by cathecting tragedy as the baseline of the cosmos—we can also intercept the cosmos’s eerie canopy of inactivity as the summons to a task daring beyond all scales amenable to our terrestrial history and heritage. Indeed, upon closer vivisection, the former option reveals itself to be nothing other than a reformulated and reheated version of the Cosmic Nonchalance that has long been the promise of the Principle of Plenitude across the long-drawn-out centuries. Diderot’s returning bipeds are, ultimately, not unlike the desire that the Great Filter be some kind of manifestation of the universe’s overflowing disvalue. In this way, we would be advised to choose the critical option, and reject those of both the cosmic pessimist and the theodical optimist: that is, we would be best to recognize that such silence tells us something important about the task of value in an inhospitable and unresponsive universe. It is only in answering this summons that we will have begun to realize just what is demanded of us in our position as sophonts in a seemingly otherwise silent universe.


A soteriology of infinite disvalue is a soteriology all over again, and the soteriologist always seeks safety—whether it be found in the absolutions of narcotic night or in the deliverances of obsequious theodicy. Consequently, insofar as one wants to be philobatic rather than ocnophilic in one’s thinking, one simply must uptake Cosmic Fichteanism and reject Cosmic Sadeanism.


Omnicidal reason is illegitimate. This is regardless of whether it be of the type that celebrates “extinction” as yet another proliferation of difference in “the service of strength”, as yet another decentering of the anthropocentric, as yet more glib ruin porn for the human project, or as the dejected and chagrined feeling that because we consistently fail to meet our ideals, this somehow invalidates the pursuit of following them such that we would be better off elegiacally aborting our project altogether.

But, again, values are not made valid or invalid by the happenstantial frequencies of their realization—by the maximality or minimality of their extensions—such that the existential legitimacy of our species’ project comes not from our historical record of morality or immorality but instead from the fact that, as the only known creature capable of being revolted by itself, we can hold ourselves to higher standards and, by consequence, the scope of our project simply cannot be exhaustively specified by pointing to facts and stats alone: and this means that if the vocation were to be aborted, it would have been a loss of absolute—rather than spatiotemporally definite—scope. It will have mattered “absolutely” or “unconditionally” and this acknowledgement cannot but be motivating and meaningful in the here and now. Even if, in one sense, “nothing will have mattered” after all is said and done, it is also true that insofar as one is even uttering this counterfactual, one is acting in accordance with certain mental precepts that outstrip the factual designation of this post festum world.

It is the case, moreover, that contemporary omnicidal reason is genealogically illegitimate, in that it is blind to the history within which its favorite idea emerged and continues to unfold. And this is because, if you look at the long-term history of how we came to care about catastrophe—and thus by extension also existential catastrophe—it was essentially only by undertaking some basic self-responsibility for the activity that we call “thinking” that we so much as even become able to postulate that one day, it may objectively cease.

As ever, we had to accept value-driven responsibility before we became able to even discover this prospectively potential fact. We had to disentangle value from fact before we could become gripped by the potential fact of the end of all value.

It was by spelling out the stakes involved in what we think and do—rather than rejecting them by retreating into the deliverances of some new plenitude—that we first became even able to be gripped by our future extinction.

Thus, those who today inherit the idea of extinction as an excuse to adjure irresponsible omnicide are genealogically illegitimate in the sense that they do not acknowledge that the very idea that they champion—that of “human extinction”, the ultimate catastrophe—was only made available to us by way of our progressive undertaking of accountability for ourselves as a species. To even be able to utter the idea is, whether one likes it or not, to acknowledge something of the summons that intelligence cannot but answer.[36]

And this is the summons to a tenacious task—of clarification and rigorization and jeopardization and philobatic exploration—one that thereby refuses the tenebrous and trivializing abundances of the ocnophiliac’s narcotic night within which everything will be merely done again, and through which the “service of strength” is revealed to be the utmost conceptual cowardice.


Thomas Moynihan is a researcher from the UK. Through his work, he aims to bring together the history of human thought with the project of contemporary futurology in one synoptic vision, so as to refit the notion of our “human vocation” for the giga-annum perspectives of modern science. Having completed a PhD at the University of Oxford, he recently published Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History (2019) with Urbanomic/MIT Press, and has written for Aeon and The Conversation.

This text was published in Šum#14 – Ljubljanastrophe: Alien Perspectives

[1] The “Great Filter” refers to Robin Hanson’s famous response to the Fermi Paradox. The Fermi Paradox refers to the fact that we see no evidence of intelligent life, or its artefacts, throughout the galaxy (and beyond) even though multiple factors lead us to suspect that we should. Hanson proposed that there must be some kind of developmental bottleneck somewhere along the way that prevents inorganic matter from becoming advanced spacefaring civilizations.

[2] LAND, Nick, “Exterminator”, in: Phyl-Undhu: Abstraction Horror, Exterminator, Shanghai: Time Spiral Press, 2014, pp. 84–92.

[3] DE SADE, D. A. F., Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings, A. Wainhouse (tr.), New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1971, p. 333.

[4] Ibid., p. 230.

[5] DE SADE, D. A. F., Juliette, A. Wainhouse (tr.), New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1971, p. 373.

[6] LOVEJOY, Arthur, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1936.

[7] Quoted in KNUUTTILA, Simo, Modalities in Medieval Philosophy, London: Routledge, 1993, p. 76.

[8] See RANFT, Patricia, “Peter Damian: Could God Change the Past?”, in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 8, 1978, pp. 259–268.

[9] CUVIER, Georges, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations and Interpretations of the Primary Texts, M. J. S. Rudwick (tr.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 184–193.

[10] Later recurrences of this strain of thought include the French spiritualist Émile Boutroux’s The Contingency of the Laws of Nature (Paris, 1874) and, of course, Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude and The Divine Inexistence in our time. See After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (R. Brassier (tr.), London: Continuum, 2008). Elsewhere, the idea of nomic inconstancy continues to enjoy attention in works of science such as Robert Unger & Lee Smolin’s 2014 The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time (Cambridge: CUP, 2014), wherein the authors argue for an “inclusive reality of time” as a temporality within which laws themselves emerge and dissolve.

[11] The term “Ordnungsschwund” is borrowed from Hans Blumenberg (Legitimacy of the Modern Age, R. M. Wallace (tr.), Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1983).

[12] DE SADE, Justine, p. 276.

[13] See FERENCZI, Sandor, “Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality”, in: First Contributions to Psycho-analysis, New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1980, pp. 213–239.

[14] DE SADE, Justine, pp. 237–238.

[15] LAND, “Exterminator”.

[16] The vogue for amor fati vis-à-vis nomic rupture as the only remaining route of emancipation can hardly be a mistake during the era of so-called capitalist realism—diagnosed by the feeling that “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism”.

[17] NIETZSCHE, Friedrich, The Will to Power, W. Kaufmann & R. J. Hollingdale (tr.), London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968, p. 549.

[18] Ibid., p. 545.

[19] The psychoanalyst Michael Balint defined two personality types: the ocnophiliac and the philobat. Ocnophilia is the risk-averse longing for stasis and certainty; philobatism is the openness to the risks involved in remaining continually motile. The ocnophiliac clings to safeties, the philobat leaps into incertitudes. See BALINT, Michael, Thrills & Regressions, London: Hogarth, 1959.

[20] Intensional definitions clarify a term by mapping out the space of the term’s appropriate application. (So, one would define “sadist” by giving criteria of its correct application.) This is opposed to extensional definitions, which clarify a term by enumerating all extant instancings of the target term: defining its content solely via its available instantiations. (So, one would define “sadist” by compiling a list of all sadists.)

[21] FONTENELLE, Bernard, A Plurality of Worlds, J. Glanvill (tr.), London, 1687, pp. 150–151.

[22] See KORS, Alan Charles, D’Holbach’s Coterie: An Enlightenment in Paris, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976, p. 99.

[23] DE SADE, Justine, p. 230.

[24] SCHOPENHAUER, Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, E. F. J. Payne (tr.), New York: Dover, 1969, p. 1:380.

[25] Ibid., pp. 2:584–585.

[26] Ibid., p. 2:479.

[27] PAINE, Thomas, The Age of Reason, New York: Citadel Press, 1974, p. 90.

[28] LAND, Nick, Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 128.

[29] FLAMMARION, Camille, Omega: The Last Days of the World, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999, p. 284.

[30] See, for example, ĆIRKOVIĆ, Milan M., “Post-postbiological evolution?”, in: Futures, 99, 2018, pp. 28–35.

[31] “In 1522 some rats were placed on trial before the ecclesiastical court in Autun. They were charged with a felony: specifically, the crime of having eaten and wantonly destroyed some barley crops in the jurisdiction. A formal complaint against ‘some rats of the diocese’ was presented to the bishop’s vicar, who thereupon cited the culprits to appear on a day certain, and who appointed a local jurist /…/ to defend them. /…/ When his clients failed to appear in court, [the jurist] resorted to procedural arguments.” See EWALD, William B., “Comparative Jurisprudence (I): What Was it Like to Try a Rat?”, in: University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register, 143, 1995, pp. 1889–2149; and EVANS, Edmund P., The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1998; and HYDE, Walter W., “The Prosecution and Punishment of Animals and Lifeless Things in the Middle Ages and Modern Times”, in: University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register, 64:6, 1916, pp. 696–730. Such objects or creatures were referred to as “deodands”.

[32] ĆIRKOVIĆ, Milan M., The Great Silence: Science and Philosophy of Fermi’s Paradox, Oxford: OUP, 2018, p. 53.

[33] Fichte used the word Anstoβ to denote the primordial “collision”, “repulsion”, “recoil”, “shock”, or “check” that incites the ego to self-activity, self-consciousness, and self-assertion.

[34] FICHTE, Johann Gottlieb, The Vocation of Man, P. Preuss (tr.), Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

[35] BRANDOM, Robert, A Spirit of Trust, Massachusetts: HUP, 2019.

[36] In a certain historical and transindividual sense, we can only think about human extinction because we already care about it. It could thus be said that from the perspective of “where” our ideas emerge from and thus gain their continuing legitimacy and content, one who exhorts extinction is operating under a specific form of false consciousness.