Overview: A Social and Environmental Philosophy by Kenneth Wilson

This is the work of Kenneth Wilson B.Sc.(Edin.); a thesis presented in 1998 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen. It is published in sections on the Ragged University website, and this is the overview.

This thesis addresses the crisis of modernity by examining three inter-related concepts, namely, action, rationality and mediation. Part One on action examines three often neglected aspects of human agency. The first of these is the agent’s relationship with the biosphere or environment. Against a tendency to see the agent as isolated from the biosphere it is argued that he or she is inextricably dependent on it.


The second chapter of Part One argues against the traditional liberal view of the agent as being isolated from other agents. The last chapter of Part One further argues against the tendency to see the agent as being isolated from history and the past. It is argued that each of these aspects of agency can be seen as aspects of a problematic modern, western world-view which contributes to the existence of the crisis of modernity.
Part Two on rationality further explores this theme by discussing three aspects of rationality which are conceived as guides to action. The first of these argues against the tendency to retreat into pre-modern world-views as a response to the crisis of modernity. The second discusses scientific rationality and argues that this may not be quite the paradigm case of rationality it is often taken to be.
The last chapter of this Part discusses economic rationality and it is argued that the prevailing economic world-view is far from rational. Thus each of the chapters up to the end of Part Two explores problematic aspects of the modern, western world-view in terms of agency and rationality and suggests means by which these problems might be overcome.
Part Three discusses language and technology as mediators of rational action. It is concluded that although there is a crisis of modernity, there may well be viable means to overcome this crisis.



1. Introduction


Part One: Agency

2. Human Action in the Biosphere

3. The Individual and Collective Dimension of Action

4. The Historical Dimension of Action


Part Two: Rationality

5a. Rationality, Religion and Modernity part A

5b. Rationality, Religion and Modernity part B

6. Rationality and Science

7. Rationality, Economics and Violence


Part Three: Mediation

8. Language

9. Technology

10. Conclusion


Appendix: Philosophy and Literature




In particular I would like to thank Dr. Nigel Dower and Prof. Eric Matthews for so helpfully acting as supervisors for this thesis. I suspect that without their expertise this project would have fallen by the wayside some time ago. In addition I would like to thank the Andrew Carnegie Trust for Scotland which made a generous award for fees in the second year of my work. Thirdly I owe thanks to Mr. Mark Feeny, my friend and flatmate, who also helped me out financially – often against his better judgement. Lastly I would like to thank all my friends and family for their patient support over the duration of this project.

Author’s Declaration

The present thesis has been composed by the undersigned author and has not been accepted in any previous application for a degree. The work which led to the composition of this thesis has been carried out solely by the undersigned. All quotations have been clearly indicated either by quotation marks or by indentation, in accordance with BS 4821:1990, British Standard Recommendations for The Presentation of Theses and Dissertations, (London: British Standard Institution, 1990).
Kenneth Wilson B.Sc.(Edin.)


POP = Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology Of Perception, (Trans. Colin French, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962).
EHCT = Rüdiger Bubner, Essays in Hermeneutics and Critical Theory, (Trans. E. Matthews, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
CDP = Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, General Editor Robert Audi, (Cambridge: CUP, 1995).
LMA = Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, (Trans R. M. Wallace, London: MIT Press, 1985).
PDM = Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, (Trans. Frederick Lawrence, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987).

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