Article ID: CBB001201208

Resisting the Enlightenment's Instrumentalist Legacy: James, Hamilton, and Carlyle on the Mechanisation of the Human Condition (2013)


In the early post-Enlightenment period, informed by the history of Scottish and European thought, Thomas Carlyle (1795--1881) and Sir William Hamilton (1788--1856) alerted readers to a melancholy future emerging from mechanical theories of the mind. Opposing a Lockean strand in British and French philosophy, their concerns involved predictions about, among other things, a descent into pessimism and nihilism, and the end of metaphysics and moral philosophy. Arguably influenced by Carlyle and Hamilton, William James's (1842--1910) much later Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) evinces a similar opposition to medical materialist psychology. Confronting a profound shift within Enlightenment thought, towards the increasing dominance of mechanical theories, Carlyle, Hamilton, and James were variously resisting the mechanisation of the human condition and an agency-eradicating instrumentalism. Part of that resistance involved humour and certain indications of hope for humanity that, as Carlyle put it, `mechanism is not always to be our hard taskmaster'. Once immensely influential, Carlyle, Hamilton, and James are presently marginalised figures. However, Jürgen Habermas's distinction between communicative and instrumental rationality suggests that what was at stake for these thinkers is of continuing relevance. Their work deserves to be explored to recover nineteenth-century Scottish philosophy's participation in a discourse of transnational status and significance.

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Authors & Contributors
Leary, David E.
McGranahan, Lucas Robert
Davie, George Elder
Craik, Alex D. D.
Grabiner, Judith V.
Croce, Paul J.
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
History of European Ideas
Historia Mathematica
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society
Science and Education
State University of New York Press
University of California, Santa Cruz
Arizona State University
Pennsylvania State University Press
Pragmatism; instrumentalism
Philosophy of science
Moral philosophy
James, William
Reid, Thomas
Carlyle, Thomas
Hume, David
Stewart, Dugald
Hamilton, William Rowan
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, early
Early modern
United States
Great Britain

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