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Let's say Modernity had turned out the way its heartiest supporters had imagined it would. "Reason," epitomized by the inquiry methods of mathematics, analytic philosophy, and science, guided all our everyday interactions in the common spheres of social life: politics, economy, law, and so on. Nothing said or done did not pass through a rational filter, which is to say that the central commitment was to free and objective inquiry into matters of fact so that matters of value were grounded on solid foundations. Open, transparent communication was not only cultivated but assured through structures that enabled stakeholders to voice their perspectives without fear of coercion or misconstrual. Management of the natural world was guided by principles rooted in maximizing utility over the long haul. Non-human interests were even taken into account in what might be termed a "generous anthropocentrism." Prior to any management decision a thorough risk analysis factored in every conceivable relevancy. Values were protected and nurtured by a robust ethical framework that ensured freedom for individuals while limiting the social costs of egocentric behaviour. In this Modernity, war was rendered irrelevant, for every dispute could be referred to the tribunal of reason, which would never judge that violence was a better solution to conflicts of interest than status quo, compromise, or incremental pragmatic change. The rather ironic result of valuing reason above all is that the shaping of values becomes value-free. Does this sound like the best of all possible worlds? In effect, the above is the air-brushed portrait that a committed Enlightenment rationalist already sees taking shape when he looks past the manifest social imperfections (e.g., income inequality) and intransigencies of knowledge (e.g., religion) that continue to vex our world. His presumption is that these existing deformations of society and reason are simply aberrations that a completed Modernity will do away with once it achieves unqualified mastery over the conditions of existence. But the paradox, as any critic of Modernity can explain, is that the completion of Modernity, i.e., the rule of reason over passions and ignorance, is foiled by reason itself--which, as it purges baser motivations and promotes technical solutions to environmental and social problems, renders the world inert and machinic, a domain where, as Max Horkheimer put it, reason is "incapable of determining the ultimate aims of life and must content itself with reducing everything it encounters to mere tool, its sole remaining goal ... the perpetuation of its coordinating activity" (92). In other words, when all measures of life are subject to the dictates of rational thought, the world is transformed into a field of means, where each end exists only to demonstrate the triumph of reason. Values, which by definition fall outside reason into the realm of choice, predilection, mystery, and even whim, must themselves be rationalized, purged of that which makes them tokens of freedom and transcendence. In short, the triumph of reason spells doom for every other mode of being and valuing.

Arts & Entertainment
November 1
Wilfrid Laurier University - Environments
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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