How to Think About Catastrophe

Toward a Theory of Enlightened Doomsaying

by Jean-Pierre Dupuy


Translated by M.B. DeBevoise and Mark R. Anspach


Michigan State University Press


Available from: B&N | MSUP l Amazon


During the last century, humanity acquired the ability to destroy itself. To avert the dangers crowding our horizon –– from the looming threat of climate change to the ever-present risk of nuclear war –– we need a new form of apocalyptic thinking that combines a future-oriented ethics and a novel metaphysics of temporality.


"In this timely meditation on humanity’s frightful inclination to violence... Dupuy sketches the way forward: utter clarity about the doom that awaits us, thereby forestalling its realization."

Jerry Brown, California's longest-serving Governor


"Is California being governed by apocalyptic French philosophy? Oui. But it’s not the end of the world... Brown is a longtime friend of the French techno-philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy... I’ve been reading everything Dupuy has published in English. I’m glad I did... The work itself is irresistibly thought-provoking, brilliantly connecting history, science, religion, economics and art in an open spirit... Brown’s famous skepticism of new programs makes sense if you believe, as Dupuy argues, that man is blind to the consequences of his own belief in progress. Brown’s focus on avoiding catastrophes — from his rainy-day fund to his prioritization of climate change — reflects Dupuy’s “prophet of doom” calls to focus on postponing the apocalypse... Dupuy’s solution: “enlightened doomsaying.” We must imagine ourselves in the unthinkable future, peering into the black hole of nonexistence so that we might understand our limits and sacred origins. “To believe in fate is to prevent it from happening”... Dupuy writes that we should think in the “future perfect” tense — as in, by tomorrow, the apocalypse will have happened. From there, we work backward to find the limits that might save us. While there are happier ways to confront the dangers ahead, there may not be a smarter one."

—Joe Mathews, San Francisco Chronicle

Read the full article (first published in 2016) on SFGate:

Why Jerry Brown is practicing 'enlightened doomsaying'


"How should we think about catastrophe when the way we think led to our current constant environmental crisis? In M. B. DeBevoise and Mark R. Anspach's translation of How to Think about Catastrophe: Toward a Theory of Enlightened Doomsaying, Jean-Pierre Dupuy challenges fatalistic risk discourse surrounding anthropogenic catastrophe. He argues that, contrary to fearmongering about fear as antithetical to rationality, enlightened doomsaying forms a necessary heuristic for averting catastrophe in a world rendered increasingly inhospitable by human hubris... Dupuy’s fascinating refiguring of time to avert catastrophe through negation, based on Borges’s fiction, tills rich theoretical ground for ecocritics. Despite its haunting prescience—or perhaps because of it—How to Think about Catastrophe’s rejection of fatalism while embracing doomsaying as anagnoristic device provides a path forward. An ontology of ecological doomsaying is, refreshingly, one of hope."

—Heather Ann Ringo (University of California, Davis), H-Net Reviews