THE IDEA OF MAN by Floyd W. Matson


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Many recent writers have commented that we stand at a turning point of immense significance in human culture. They differ in their interpretation of that turning point and in their augury of what lies ahead: an apocalypse wrought by tragically flawed man; an era of scientific management of our societies, our brains, our very genes; or an era of humanism reborn, of new faith in the authority of subjective experience, the possibility of community, and the responsibility of creative choice. Professor Matson (American Studies, Hawaii) has written a succinct and eloquent metaphilosophy, a study in the science of ideas, which shows that each of these three prognostications is in itself a choice which can readily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Matson himself has clearly chosen the third option, that of the human power of choice, and he sets about proving that our idea of man is the most important, creative, world-shaping, and ultimately moral choice we can make. He crosses swords with the two main antagonists of the new humanism: biological determinism, or man-as-beast (Darwin's reflection and justification of the Victorian ideology of competition, Freud's World War I pessimism, Ardrey's hymn to aggression), and mechanical determinism, or man-as-machine (the behaviorists' and molecular biologists' groundwork for total control of life and death, McLuhan's and Toffler's embrace of technology). And he charts the hopeful springs of the new humanism in every field from physics and ethology to sociology, psychology, and history. Rich in quotation, balanced in discourse, flank and ardent in advocacy, Matson's book demonstrates what it advocates. It is a kind of thinking man's Greening of America (which Matson would rehabilitate selectively), decrying inevitability and enjoining us to choose the future and the humanity we want.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Delacorte