The age of contingency

Murphy, Peter (1998) The age of contingency. Daimon: Revista de Filosofia, 17. pp. 101-118.

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Abstract

[Extract] Moderns do not expect persons to display constancy of purpose or to pursue the sorts of purposes (ends-in-themselves) that can be constantly attended to. Modernity does not speak to its denizens in these terms. What "matters" in modern life is that persons can choose and re-choose, their purposes and activities. Whether these are trivial pursuits or not, whether the choices are transient or not, is irrelevant from the modern point of view. Persons of good (rational) character are marginalised in Modernity. Of course, moderns must protect themselves from the harms caused by "fly by night" characters (the unreliable, the dishonest, etc.) if only to protect the integrity of modem choice. However, modern institutions do this not via ethical norms but procedurally. Democracy has its electoral procedures, the market its notification procedures, science its experimental procedures, hospitals their supervisory checks, films and recordings their classification, production and copyright rules. These procedures are "rules of the game" that outlaw privileges, rotten boroughs, gerrymanders, cheating, manipulation - anything that interferes with choices people make or that interferes with the (second order) choices people make in response to others' (first order) choices. Abuses and manipulations do occur, of course, but not pervasively. More interestingly, modem societies do not rely on personal character to prevent such abuses. They do not rely on what the Romans called the bona fides of the politician or the broadcaster. They do not rely on ethical norms, whether of a pagan or a religious kind. Even the unscrupulous and aggrandisers can play by the "rules of the game" (most of the time at least). Once, to be a Christian, you needed to act charitably, faithfully; to be a citizen, you had to act liberally (by giving to the public purse, giving your time to serve in public capacities, etc.) or courageously in public. You were what you were via the continuous observance of norms. The Christian, the citizen had to deliberate, to choose how and when to observe norms. They had a "freedom of conscience" but choice (freedom) was not the centre of their existence. They did not pursue the goods of freedom (free inquiry, free market, democratic choice) but rather choices were made in the course of being a good citizen or a good (charitable, caring, concerned) person. Modernity offers a choice-centred. freedom-centred form of existence. Its culture is a culture of contingency.

Item ID: 23415
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1989-4651
Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2013 00:29
FoR Codes: 22 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 2203 Philosophy > 220319 Social Philosophy @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 100%
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