The Works of Man

Edward Craig

in The Mind of God and the Works of Man

Published in print December 1996 | ISBN: 9780198236825
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597244 | DOI:
The Works of Man

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Chapter 5 aims to understand the contemporary philosophical climate in terms of a dominant philosophy, and argues that it is found in the ‘Agency Theory’, or ‘Practice Ideal’: the thesis that we are the creators of our own environment and values, that the realities which we meet with are the works of man. Craig argues that from about 1780, ‘activity’, ‘practice’ and similar concepts began to come to the fore, and provided new solutions of metaphysical and epistemological problems. The idea was to some extent anticipated in writers of the eighteenth century: in Pascal’s famous wager on the existence of God the value of truth has receded, and considerations of what serves a certain purpose have come to regulate belief; Hume saw in our imagination, not in our reason, the governing, and essentially active, principle that supports our beliefs; finally Kant’s transcendental idealism not only provided the key concept of ‘the world as we experience it’ that incorporated both concepts and impressions, but amounted to the claim that the world of our experience is of our own making. But the real rise of the Agency Theory took place in the nineteenth century: Marx and Engels, rejecting both theistic and idealist metaphysics, set up a new ideal for man, who was to be the free architect and builder of his own social world, in virtue of his grasp of the laws governing society and the processes of social change; following Peirce, William James and other American Pragmatists argued that belief is primarily an instrument for the attainment of our goals, and that man is fully autonomous, his creations subject to no controls or standards other than those which he himself imposes; Nietzsche, the most vociferous champion of agency and creativity, affirmed the idea, and constructed his account of reality, truth, and knowledge, and his aspirations for man around it.

Keywords: Agency Theory; autonomy; creativity; Engels; pragmatism; Hume; James; Kant; Practice Ideal; Nietzsche; Pascal

Chapter.  23846 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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