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The Nineteenth Century Problem August 15, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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The universal historian Henry T. Buckle (1821-1862) was last subject of a serious scholarly monograph in 1958.  This is the fate of any number of nineteenth-century intellectuals.   The first reason for the disappearance of these writers has been the inability to connect them to the catastrophic events of the twentieth century: the World Wars, National Socialism, the deradicalization of the European right after Nuremberg, the flight of the Marxist intellectuals, and so on.   Second, the nineteenth century has been the province of sociologists and literary scholars.  Such attention continues to be selective, judging from the ceaseless publications on the canonical sociologists: springtime for Weber, and winter for Gobineau and Bagehot.

Third, ignoring the nineteenth century allows anthropologists to get on with their own work.  Fourth, and finally, while some nineteenth century economists get attention — Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) has been accumulating more slim volumes as the months go by — the impression I get from some not so cursory reading of the literature is that the with the exception of the proponents of “evolutionary” and “heterodox” economics, philosophers of economics, and Philip Mirowski, it’s Smith, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Mises, or monograph wilderness.  (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.