- Paperback: 235 pages
- Publisher: The University of Chicago Press; 1st edition (November 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226808386
- ISBN-13: 978-0226808383
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity 1st Edition
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From the Back Cover
With wisdom and wit, Stephen Toulmin challenges that human nature and society could be fitted into exact rational categories and explores the consequences of moving beyond it for our present and future world.
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Profound and full of insight, an excellent complement to any study on Modernity.
The most important chapter of the book, for me personally, was the final chapter which argues for the need to adopt what he calls "skeptical rationality" rather than the foundational rationality of modernity.
All in all an important study of modernity which should be read by any one who is interested in the zeitgeist of the present.
Toulmin's development and application of the notion of "scaffolding" were very effective in distinguishing Presuppositions and situatedness from the actual Construction and elements of Modernity. Moreover, the scaffolding metaphor was used to investigate the origins, formulation, and justification of these elements. Also, it was employed as a clever organizing theme over the first three-and-a-half chapters, ultimately being used in characterizing the historical incremental discrediting of the major supporting bases of Modernity.
Evidently, the classical accounts of Modernity's formation have taken a narrow and idealized view, akin to the strictures of abstraction and universality exercised by the 17th century's seminal thinkers themselves. In consequence, these accounts diminished the influence of historical and societal contexts, and further, declined to examine the latent presuppositions. Toulmin accordingly re-contextualized the unfolding of Modernity's construction, and examined the implications and validity of the presuppositions: in all, the methodologically reasonable thing to do. Additionally, he described the ready acceptance and historical application of the derivative concept of Cosmopolis. It was based on a confluence of central ideas of Newton and Descartes in pursuit of order and certainty. To a Europe exhausted from religious conflict then, Cosmopolis offered a synergistic/harmonious worldview of nature and humanity, thereby capturing the desired attributes of stability and hierarchy. Toulmin next critiques Modernity's actual outcomes and consequences in its dominating legacy extending into the 20th century. In all, this is an enlightening and compelling, if revisionist, view of modernity.
The transition in tone, coherence, and content beginning in the fourth chapter, however, really did surprise me! Beginning with the section entitled 1965-1975: Humanism Reinvented, the tone shifted from scholarly and thoughtful investigation/exposition to glib or unsupported assertions/construals/endorsements. Basically, it struck me that Toulmin was gratuitously articulating fashionable contemporary "dogma", i.e., using a coercive device that earlier in the book he had stigmatized as a undesirable practice of 17th century religious institutions. These ostensibly unwarranted add-ons to his previously scholarly critique made it difficult for me to complete reading the book: a Two-Star finale.
Three instances of such problematic passages may be noted:
On page 166, an Assertion is made regarding Christ's statement that "The poor ye have always with you". To wit: "Now, many believers in `traditional values' understood Him to mean...that it is the business of the poor to stay poor, of blacks to stay deferent, of women to stay home, and of the handicapped to stay in the back room, and of homosexuals to stay in the closet" (note the qualifier "many"). This is an unbelievably preposterous contention, so I can only presume that this assertion is just part of contemporary academic folklore.
On page 168, a Construal associates "scientific understanding" with the condom fetish in sex education, and "ideology" with the opposing view. The purported science invoked here is questionable at best in light of the empirical evidence bearing on the stated expectations of sex education proponents. Accordingly, the highly dubious scientific understanding applauded here seems itself to be ideologically driven, not empirically based. This example hardly qualifies as an instance of science worthy of the name.
On page 185, an implicit Endorsement cites a proposed reorganization of MIT's discipline-oriented academic departments, wherein administrative units would fashion the academic programs in accord with their judgments with respect to "addressing particular types of human needs". This unattributed proposal is utterly bizarre and unworthy of any mention much less consideration. If the fatuous proposal was indeed serious, it is clearly the product of sheer unreasonableness or blithe ignorance.
Unfortunately, passages like the three cited above contribute to an incongruous closure to an otherwise well developed account of Modernity. Worse, they significantly compromise the merit of the book. Sadly, Toulmin's evident rashness belies his apparent advocacy of tolerance and open-mindedness in this book. I nonetheless, highly recommend at least the first two-thirds of the book. The remaining one-third strikes me as the "switch part" of a "bait-and-switch" proposition, albeit not necessarily an intentional one. It might instead be that Toulmin just got lazy or simply struggled to make a target page count.
Cosmopolis is a search for a way to connect the theory of the natural sciences with practices of the human sciences. The next century needs to see the rebirth of humanist skepticism to complement--not replace--today's outdated "pure" rationalism. Rather than turning the human sciences into abstract theoretical disciplines comparable in structure to physics, they need to be understood as processes inseparable from the situations in which they arose. Tangibly this will be seen in the interactive behavior of the world's nations; subnational and multinational movements will gain authority through influence rather than brute force. Therefore, a post-modern society will be characterized more by modesty rather than certain confidence that is blinded by the neatness of abstraction and the simplicity of theoretical assumptions. De-contextualizing our problems is no longer an option.