THE ILLUSION OF TECHNIQUE: Prospects for Philosophy in a Technological Civilization by William Barrett

THE ILLUSION OF TECHNIQUE: Prospects for Philosophy in a Technological Civilization

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It is a commonplace nowadays that professional philosophy has withdrawn from the contemplation of Life into mere intellectual exercise. Barrett has long resisted this withdrawal, and here he examines the relation of modern philosophy to modern life with the aim of illuminating ""the paramount issue of our time""--freedom vs. determinism. The problem of freedom has become decisive, he says, because modern thought and society alike are drifting toward a complacent acceptance of determinism, to the detriment of both mind and life. This drift has come through the cult of technique, which means the hegemony of material technology and of the technical patterns of thought that at once create and imitate technology. Believing that modern philosophy supplies compelling arguments to thwart this drift, Barrett lucidly explicates these arguments as found pre-eminently in Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and William James. To Barrett, Wittgenstein's austere meditations on logic, language, and mathematics disclose nothing so much as the conceptual inadequacies of logic and the corresponding inventive freedom of mind. Heidegger shows us the force of external circumstances and their threat to the integrity of Being--thereby invoking a consciousness that masters rather than submits to technology. And James explains how freedom of the will can exist within a universe of inescapably interconnecting causes: freedom consists in acting as if the will were free. This vigorous, affirming pragmatic spirit runs through the book, joined, as one would expect, to Barrett's earnest and now-restrained existentialism. To Barrett's credit, this pragmatism does not trivialize the more strenuous philosophical enterprises it is brought to bear upon; his explications are philosophically subtle and rich in intellectual historical context. The result is a learned, eloquent argument for freedom and Barrett's most satisfying book since Irrational Man (1958).

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1978
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday