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The Hidden Agenda of Modernity

In the seventeenth century, a vision arose which was to captivate the Western imagination for the next three hundred years: the vision of Cosmopolis, a society as rationally ordered as the Newtonian view of nature. While fueling extraordinary advances in all fields of human endeavor, this vision perpetuated a hidden yet persistent agenda: the delusion that human nature and society could be fitted into precise and manageable rational categories. Stephen Toulmin confronts that agenda—its illusions and its consequences for our present and future world.

"By showing how different the last three centuries would have been if Montaigne, rather than Descartes, had been taken as a starting point, Toulmin helps destroy the illusion that the Cartesian quest for certainty is intrinsic to the nature of science or philosophy."—Richard M. Rorty, University of Virginia

"[Toulmin] has now tackled perhaps his most ambitious theme of all. . . . His aim is nothing less than to lay before us an account of both the origins and the prospects of our distinctively modern world. By charting the evolution of modernity, he hopes to show us what intellectual posture we ought to adopt as we confront the coming millennium."—Quentin Skinner, New York Review of Books

235 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1990

History: General History

Philosophy: General Philosophy

Table of Contents

Prologue: Backing into the Millennium
1. What Is the Problem About Modernity?
Dating the Start of Modernity
The Standard Account and Its Defects
The Modernity of the Renaissance
Retreat from the Renaissance
From Humanists to Rationalists
2. The 17th-Century Counter-Renaissance
Henry of Navarre and the Crisis of Belief
1610-1611: Young René and the Henriade
1610-1611: John Donne Grieves for Cosmopolis
1640-1650: The Politics of Certainty
The First Step Back from Rationalism
3. The Modern World View
Fashioning the New "Europe of Nations"
1660-1720: Leibniz Discovers Ecumenism
1660-1720 Newton and the New Cosmopolis
1720-1780 The Subtext of Modernity
The Second Step Back from Rationalism
4. The Far Side of Modernity
The High Tide of Sovereign Nationhood
1750-1914: Dismantling the Scaffolding
1920-1960: Re-renaissance Deferred
1965-1975: Humanism Reinvented
The Twin Trajectories of Modernity
5. The Way Ahead
The Myth of the Clean Slate
Humanizing Modernity
The Recovery of Practical Philosophy
From Leviathan to Lilliput
The Rational and the Reasonable
Epilogue: Facing the Future Again
Bibliographical Notes

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