The Metaphysics of Modernity: What Makes Societies Thrive

Does the modern age have a specific attitude to the world, a way to make sense of the myriad stimuli that impinge on human organisms or, as I call it, a metaphysics? This book claims it has. It shows that what crucially changed Europe from the 16th century on was the spreading idea that things are best done for their own sake, for goals inherent in an activity, such as the goal of telling a good story or having a lively chat, inheres in the telling or chatting itself. The Renaissance took this idea from the ancients who also preferred intrinsic goals to extrinsic ones; but the moderns discovered that the pursuit of intrinsic goals follows an immanent rationality that sets perfection standards to the activity. Thus, they could and did perfect activities that in antiquity had remained on the level of dabbling leisure-time activities, and transformed them into professions that we know today as theology, science, political theory, the arts, sports, or journalism. The European bourgeoisie, though, performed the most revolutionary yet also suicidal change. They made traditional trade, the pursuit of the extrinsic goal of acquiring money, into an activity done for its own sake and enforced autonomy for its sphere, just as the religious had enforced autonomy for their religious activities already in the 11th century. They were so successful that they could take over the command of production in the industrial revolution and impose on all other spheres of society their goal of private profitability. This was the historical end of the metaphysics of modernity. But this book also argues that its principle, the preference of intrinsic to extrinsic goals, is still the best attitude to the world we can choose and that it is the best starting point for solving many problems of contemporary societies.