Future Present: Ethics And/As Science Fiction

Future Present: Ethics And/As Science Fiction

Future Present: Ethics And/As Science Fiction

Future Present: Ethics And/As Science Fiction


To prepare for the Other: this is the mission of ethics. Future Present: Ethics and/as Science Fiction fuses contemporary philosophy from Heidegger, Derrida, Levinas, and others with cultural texts preoccupied with the future arrival of an Other: science fiction. We peer through the lens of science fiction with the help of H. G. Wells, Wait Disney, Star Trek, David Cronenberg, Philip K. Dick, and many others, in search of a theory of ethics that leaves open the possibility of the Other and encourages empathy, which is necessary for survival in our multicultural world.


My friends, we are all interested in the future, for that is where
you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.


We have indeed always been interested in the future. where are we going? What will be awaiting us when we arrive? Notice the plural pronoun: we. You and I. As an individual, I certainly anticipate the future. But my culture anticipates as well. As Jeremy Rifkin points out, most cultures create an ideal future that incorporates “the dreams and visions, hopes and aspirations, of the collectivity” (145). Plato's Republic, Hegel's Absolute Spirit, H. G. Wells's Eloi, Hitler's Fatherland, Star Trek's Federation. For better or worse, we continually create future worlds where the crises of the present are explored and even solved. We live in the present, but if you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives together, then we probably should figure out how the future works.

So where is the future? We usually expect an answer from science. After all, we assume science tells us more about the real world, the real problems that we face, than does philosophy. But even science does not seem very sure anymore exactly what “time” is. Does it only go in one direction? How does it relate to space? Do objects really exist in the past and future? Science fiction writers speculate on this sort of thing all the time, trying out the sundry possibilities of twentieth-century physics, those strange creatures known as “relativity,” “quantum mechanics,” “chaos theory.” They have become the new philosophers of our age, as Philip K. Dick once suggested: “I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. the core of my writing is not art but truth” (In Pursuit, 161).

Truth? How can science fiction, of all things, be telling the truth? At first glance, science fiction would seem the most subjective of genres: not only does it account for events that do not happen (as fiction is supposed to do), but it deals particularly with events that have not yet not happened. Pure speculation. Perhaps this is why sci-

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