Global Changes pp 171-180 | Cite as

Energetic Ethics. Georges Bataille in the Anthropocene

  • Jochem Zwier
  • Vincent BlokEmail author
Part of the Ethics of Science and Technology Assessment book series (ETHICSSCI, volume 46)


In this chapter, we develop the claim that today, in light of the distributed catastrophe called the Anthropocene, the question of ethics first and foremost becomes a question of economy and energy. Supplementing existing ethical approaches to the question of economy and energy, we offer what we understand to be a more fundamental economical interpretation of the Anthropocene by way of Georges Bataille’s philosophical thought on economy. We will argue that inasmuch as it results from what has come to be known as “the great acceleration”, the Anthropocene can be understood as a consequence of an economic consideration of energy that is oriented towards scarcity and utility, which is to say to Bataille’s “restricted economy”. Additionally, we show how for Bataille, such a ‘restricted’ consideration of energy is an ethical affair, since it misunderstands the constitutive abundance of energy associated with “the general economy”, thereby simultaneously and catastrophically misunderstanding the ethos of human existence in servile terms of labour and efficiency. Finally, we investigate how Bataille’s concept of sovereignty seeks to surpass such servility and efficiency by way of a consideration of energy that is oriented towards expenditure. We offer a reinterpretation of the ethics of sovereignty by confronting it with our contemporary deteriorating oikos inhabited in the Anthropocene. We close by arguing that notwithstanding its irrevocable difficulties, the question of ethics in the Anthropocene must be considered as an energetic ethics of sovereignty.


Anthropocene Georges Bataille General economy Energy Ethos 


  1. Asveld L, van Est R, Stemerding D (2011) Executive summary. In: Asveld L, van Est R, Stemerding D (eds) Getting to the core of the bioeconomy: a perspective on the sustainable promise of biomass. Rathenau Institute, The Hague, pp 11–14 Google Scholar
  2. Baskin J (2015) Paradigm dressed as epoch: the ideology of the Anthropocene. Environ Values 24:9–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bataille G (1986) Erotism: death and sensuality (Trans: Dalwood M). City Lights Books, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  4. Bataille G (1989) The tears of Eros (Trans: Connor, P). City Light Books, San FransiscoGoogle Scholar
  5. Bataille G (1991) The accursed share, vol. I (Trans: Hurley R). Zone Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Bataille G (2007) The accursed share vol II & III (Trans: Hurley R). Zone Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Blok V, Lemmens P (2015) The emerging concept of responsible innovation; three reasons why it is questionable and calls for a radical transformation of the concept of innovation. In: Koops B-J, Oosterlaken I, Romijn H, Swierstra T, van den Hoven J (eds) Responsible innovation. Vol. 2. concepts, approaches, and applications. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 19–35Google Scholar
  8. Bonneuil C (2015) The geological turn: narratives of the Anthropocene. In: Hamilton C, Bonneuil C, Gemenne F (eds) The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis. Routledge, London, pp 17–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crutzen PJ (2002) Geology Of mankind: the Anthropocene. Nature 415:23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dumanoski D (2009) The end of the long summer: why we must remake our civilization to survive on a volatile Earth. Three Rivers Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. European Commission (2012) Manifesto for a resource-efficient Europe. Available via: Accessed 1 Oct 2018
  12. Fagan B (2004) The long summer: how climate changed civilisation. Basic Books, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Gemerchak CM (2003) The sunday of the negative. Reading Bataille Reading Hegel. SUNY Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamilton C, Bonneuil C, Gemenne F (2015) Thinking the Anthropocene. In: Hamilton C, Bonneuil C, Gemenne F (eds) The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis. Routledge, London, pp 1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lorimer J (2017) The Anthroposcene: a guide for the perplexed. Soc Stud Sci 47(1):117–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Painter-Morland M, Demuijnck G, Ornati S (2017) Sustainable development and well-being: a philosophical challenge. J Bus Ethics 146(2):295–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Parry B (2007) Cornering the futures market in “Bio-epistemology”. BioSocieties 2(3):386–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Shue H (2010) Subsistence emissions and luxury emissions. In: Gardiner SM, Caney S, Jamieson D, Shue H (eds) Climate ethics: essential readings. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Steffen W, Crutzen PJ, McNeill JR (2007) The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of fature? Ambio 36(8):614–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Steffen W, Broadgate W, Deutsch L, Gaffney O, Ludwig C (2015) The trajectory of the Anthropocene: the great acceleration. Anthropos Rev 2(1):81–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Stoekl A (2007) Bataille’s peak: energy, religion, and postsustainability. University of Minnesota Press, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  22. Wendlin AE (2007) Sovereign consumption as a species of communist theory. In: Winnubst S (eds) Reading Bataille now. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp 35–53Google Scholar
  23. Zalasiewicz J, Williams M, Steffen W, Crutzen PJ (2010) The new world of the Anthropocene. Environ Sci Technol 44:2228–2231Google Scholar
  24. Zwier J, Blok V, Lemmens P, Geerts R-J (2015) The ideal of a zero-waste humanity: philosophical reflections on the demand for a bio-based economy. J Agric Environ Ethics 28(2):353–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Zwier J, Blok V (2017) Saving Earth: encountering Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in the Anthropocene. Techné: Res Philos Tech.
  26. Zwier J, Blok V (2019) Seeing through the fumes: technology and asymmetry in the Anthropocene. Hum Stud.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Science in SocietyRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Management Studies Chair Group and Philosophy Chair GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations