Towards a Qualitative Assessment of Energy Practices: Illich and Borgmann on Energy in Society

Robert Jan Geerts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Energy consumption is central to both a number of pressing environmental issues and to people’s attempts to improve their well-being. Although typically understood as essential for people to thrive, this paper sketches a theoretical foundation for the possibility that the form and amount of energy consumption in modern society may inhibit rather than enable human flourishing. It achieves this goal by connecting and critically assessing the writings of Ivan Illich and Albert Borgmann, which offer a number of concepts that enable a qualitative discussion on energy practices. For different reasons, both authors are highly critical of the societal tendency to command ever-increasing amounts of energy. Illich focuses on negative effects of high energy consumption at the societal level, whereas in my particular re-reading of Borgmann, one finds reasons why high energy consumption fails to realize intended positive effects. It is argued that therefore, energy transition should involve a re-appreciation of the function of energy consumption: to support, rather than to be central to life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-540
JournalPhilosophy and Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Borgmann
  • Energy practice
  • Energy transition
  • Illich
  • Sustainability


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