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Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, and Economic Determinism January 28, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Brooks Adams (1848-1927)

Russell Kirk (1918-1994) noted that Brooks Adams was “an eccentric.” Adams was disgusted with American society in his day and thought inertia was “social death.” He believed the only solution to the ills of society was progress and change, denouncing capitalists and bankers in much the same language as Karl Marx.  Adams, much like Marx, was to Kirk, an “economic determinist,” but unlike Marx, he “detested the very process of change which he urged society to accept,” and “longed hopelessly for the republic of Washington and John Adams,” condemning “democracy” as both “a symptom and cause of social decay.”  Adams’ “detestation” of capitalism stemmed from his aversion to “competition,” enjoining his fellow man to seek stability and order.  According to Kirk, however, Adams’ dream of harmony was subverted by his own understanding of historical laws, as “by the logic of his own economic and historical theories, permanence is never found in the universe.”  Kirk underscored that the persistent theme throughout Adams’ four works — The Law of Civilization and Decay, America’s Economic Supremacy, The New Empire, and The Theory of Social Revolutions — was man’s imprisonment by economic forces and civilization as the product of ceaseless centralization (The Conservative Mind, 367-9) (more…)

Technological Determinism, Scientific Reasoning, and Leslie White October 1, 2010

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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For the French philosopher Jacques Ellul, the sum of technological accomplishments in contemporary civilization formed the “Technique,” which was the “new and specific milieu in which man is required to exist” and which replaced “nature.” This milieu was artificial, autonomous, self-determining, not directed towards any specific end but only established through specific means, and interconnected to such a degree that all of its elements are impervious to analysis by its constituent parts ( In Philosophy and Technology, ed. Carl Mitcham, Robert Mackey, 86.)

Leslie White (1900-1975)

Technology, according to Ellul, had become the all-pervasive material reality and rationality which defined the superstructure of contemporary society.  Culture or politics, according to Ellul, does not determine the growth and development of technology.  Rather, it is technology or technique which determines the culture or political life of a society.  Nor was the understanding of technology as autonomous rationality a concern of French philosophers.  German philosophers were as concerned with interaction of technology and human freedom and were as anxious to establish its roots in the philosophic and scientific thinking of the West.

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