Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Streetwise: Paul Ricoeur on modernity

"[Science and technology may serve and ideological function, rather than simply eclipsing the sacred.] That scientific ideal that earlier had served as an absolute measure for evaluating the overall progress of modernity has itself become problematic.

"We might cite as an example the arguments advanced by [Jurgen] Habermas that seek to tie empirical knowledge and the exploitation of nature to one limited interest, the interest in theoretically and practically controlling the human environment. Modernity then appears as the inordinate inflation of one interest at the expense of all others, especially of our interests for communication and emancipation. This leveling of the hierarchy of interests, and the one-dimensional person that results from it, are ideological phenomena to the extent that they serve to make every social agent accept the autonomous, devouring, and cancerous functioning of the industrial system given over to growth without limit or end beyond itself. Here is a consideration that may chill the zealots of modernity. And this same consideration ought to lead us to call into question the judgement modernity passes on what it makes appear as an archaism [i.e. 'the sacred']. This judgement in its turns has already begun to be judged itself. Modernity is neither a fact nor our destiny. It is henceforth an open question."

Paul Ricoeur, "Manifestation and Proclamation", in Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995. p. 63

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