The Measure of Things: Humanism, Humility, and Mystery

Paperback | December 27, 2007

byDavid E. Cooper

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Philosophers, both western and eastern, have long been divided between 'humanists', for whom 'man is the measure of things', and their opponents, who claim that there is a way, in principle knowable and describable, that the world anyway is, independent of human perspectives and interests. The early chapters of The Measure of Things chart the development of humanism from medieval times, through the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Romantic periods, to its most sophisticated, twentieth-century form, 'existential humanism'. Cooper does not identify this final position with that of anyparticular philosopher, though it is closely related to those of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and the later Wittgenstein. Among the earlier figures discussed are William of Ockham, Kant, Herder, Nietzsche and William James.Having rejected attempts by contemporary advocates of modest or non-metaphysical realism to dissolve the opposition between humanism and its 'absolutist' rival, Cooper moves on to an adjudication of that rivality. Prompted by the pervasive rhetoric of hubris that the rivals direct against oneanother, he argues, in an original manner, that the rival positions are indeed guilty of lack of humility. Absolutists - whether defenders of 'The Given' or scientific realists - exaggerate our capacity to ascend out of our 'engaged' perspectives to an objective account of the world. Humanists,conversely, exaggerate our capacity to live without a sense of our subjection to a measure independent of our own perspectives.The only escape, Cooper maintains, from the impasse reached when humanism and absolutism are both rejected, lies in a doctrine of mystery. There is a reality independent of 'the human contribution', but it is necessarily ineffable. Drawing in a novel way upon the Buddhist conception of 'emptiness'and Heidegger's later writings, the final chapters defend the notion of mystery, distinguish the doctrine advanced from that of transcendental idealism, and propose that it is only through appreciation of mystery that measure and warrant may be provided for our beliefs and conduct.

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Philosophers, both western and eastern, have long been divided between 'humanists', for whom 'man is the measure of things', and their opponents, who claim that there is a way, in principle knowable and describable, that the world anyway is, independent of human perspectives and interests. The early chapters of The Measure of Things ch...

David Cooper is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durham in the UK.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:380 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.88 inPublished:December 27, 2007Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199235988

ISBN - 13:9780199235988

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Table of Contents

Preface1. Introduction2. Self-assertion: from 'Ockhamism' to the Renaissance3. Reason and Agency: Enlightenment, Kant and Romanticism4. Prometheanism Unbound: from Marx and Nietzsche to Pragmatism5. Existential Humanism6. Interlude: Rival Humanisms7. Belief, Posture and Humility8. The Hubris of Absolutism9. The Hubris of Humanism (1)10. The Hubris of Humanism (2)11. Mystery12. Emptiness and Mystery13. Mystery and MeasureIndex

Editorial Reviews

`... remarkable ... an unusual and courageous book. Most striking, perhaps, is the originality and ambition of its overall conception, persuasively linking up a range of important questions not standardly seen as germane to each other ... The overall position presented in this book isskilfully woven from these different strands of inquiry and the sheer range of philosophical learning exhibited in the course of it is genuinely impressive. In his generous, searching, and imaginative interpretations and reconstructions of a wide array of heterogeneous but, he argues, oftenconverging sources, Cooper succeeds in presenting and exemplifying an attractive and humane vision of things. It is not the least of the significant merits of his book that it reminds us in the process that the quality of a philosophy lies as much in the questions it has the courage to ask as in theanswers it ventures.'Peter Poellner, Mind