Smith, Nicholas H.
Modernity, crisis and critique: an examination of rival philosophical conceptions in the work of Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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In this thesis, I examine the rival conceptions of modernity, crisis and critique developed in the work of Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor. Since the publication of Habermas's highly influential The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity in the mid-1980s, scholarship on the conceptions of modernity and critique contained therein has gained its keenest focus in the context of the 'modernity vs. postmodernity' controversy. Meanwhile, in Sources of the Self; the Making of the Modern Identity - a book of comparable range and philosophical ambition to Habermas's study - Taylor has made his own distinctive contribution to what Habermas calls the philosophical discourse of modernity. But as yet, there has been no sustained investigation into the internal consistency and mutual challenge of the conceptions of modernity, crisis and critique defended by Habermas and Taylor. Taylor himself has recently proposed that a debate begin between what he terms cultural theory of modernity (to which his own work contributes), and acultural theory (to which Habermas owes allegiance). My thesis takes this invitation for debate as its point of departure for examining the competing claims of these two important philosophers.
The problem which organizes my contribution to a debate of the kind called for by Taylor is how, within the constraints of a philosophical conception of modernity, the claim to normativity can be brought to clarification. In chapter two, the sense in which the category of normativity is rendered problematic under conditions of modernity is explored. If the success of modern science shows that a moral order is no fit object of cognition, it can seem that the only rational action-orientation is instrumental in kind.
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