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“The Heuristics of Fear” in Hans Jonas’ Ethics of Responsibility-Measures for Enhancement

  • Journal of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • 2023, 80(1), pp.233-260
  • DOI : 10.17326/jhsnu.80.1.202302.233
  • Publisher : Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : January 12, 2023
  • Accepted : February 2, 2023
  • Published : February 28, 2023

Bae, Hee Jin 1

1순천대학교 인문고전학과

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study critically analyzes Hans Jonas’ concept of “the heuristics of fear” in his work on the ethics of responsibility, The Imperative of Responsibility. I evaluate the effectiveness of fear as a heuristic and suggest some supplementary measures. The “heuristics of fear” involves the process of humankind’s awakening to its vulnerability to sudden extinction through ecocide. This is an experience of existential fear through imagination. The fear in question is a rational one, and thus it arouses ethical sentiments in us and encourages us to take measures to prevent ecological collapse. Although I accept the basic principle of his ethics of responsibility, which is to say that we certainly have a duty to protect the interests of future generations, I see a limited role for fear when it comes to practical steps. I suggest an alternative emotion as the driving factor of such ethical sentiments — that of compassion. Upon realizing the imminent fate of mankind, we come to have strong feelings of compassion, seeing our future descendants as undeserving of the suffering they are destined to endure as a result of our actions, for which they bear no responsibility. This approach provides a more convincing view of Jonas’ future-oriented ethics of responsibility, and a more inspiring call to act responsibly for the sake of future humankind.

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