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The Anthroposeen: The Invention of Linear Perspective as a Decisive Moment in the Emergence of a Geological Age of Mankind

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2018

Philipp Lepenies*
Freie Universität Berlin, Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science, Ihnestraße 21, 14197 Berlin, Germany. Email:


The beginning of the Anthropocene has been inconclusively debated. Usually, its starting point is linked to the moment in which some measurable human physical impact, such as global carbon dioxide emissions, increased in an unprecedented manner. However, to grasp the fact that mankind became at some point the major change agent of the earth system it is important to identify how and when humans began to perceive their role as that of an active creator, capable of dominating and changing nature. Although no monocausal explanation exists, I argue that the invention of linear perspective in fifteenth-century Renaissance Italy was a major trigger. Linear perspective changed the way humans saw and interpreted the world around them. It fostered an anthropocentric worldview that placed humans in control of their physical environment, allowed the advancement of scientific methods and the ultimate disenchantment of the physical world. Linear perspective marks the beginning of the ‘Anthroposeen’ without which the Anthropocene would not have manifested itself in the accelerated way it has. This holds important lessons. It reminds us that to understand the nature of the Anthropocene, we have to understand the parameters that made us think, see and ultimately act the way we do.

© Academia Europaea 2018 

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