One Way to Read Ourselves

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:
One Way to Read Ourselves

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This chapter examines central philosophical themes and doctrines of twentieth century philosophy in the light of the Agency Theory. Craig argues that despite the unpopularity of philosophical visions of high generality in contemporary philosophy, the Agency Theory is the one vision, or Weltbild, on which much twentieth century philosophy explicitly or implicitly relies. It is evident in the philosophical doctrines of the Vienna Circle, with its radically emotivist accounts of value and radically conventionalist accounts of the a priori. It is evident in the numerous attacks on moral realism, which invite us, instead of thinking about morality not in terms of an independent realm of moral facts that obtain independently of our thinking about them, to see ourselves as the creators of ethical value. It is evident in existentialism, with its belief in absolute human freedom and its demand for absolute moral independence, manifested in the existentialist ethics of authenticity. It is evident in the prevalence of ‘opacity’, our willing acceptance of brute facts without further explanation as long as our beliefs about those facts are reliable. Finally, the dominance of the Agency Theory is evident in epistemology, where the community has taken over many responsibilities that the individual used to have, as well as in the theory of meaning, where accounts of meaning are given in terms of the use of words in a linguistic community, as by Wittgenstein and Austin, or in terms of the speaker’s environment, as in the externalist account of meaning advocated by Putnam. But, as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four illustrate, too much enthusiasm for human activity has its dangers.

Keywords: Austin; epistemology; existentialism; Huxley; Moral anti-realism; Orwell; Popper; theory of meaning; twentieth century philosophy; Vienna Circle; Wittgenstein

Chapter.  26247 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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