chapter
PRE-MODERN AND MODERN IDEAS ABOUT NATURE AND SCIENCE
Pages 44

Technocentrism has constituted the official, dominant set of attitudes towards nature and environmental issues in modern Western society. It has not only coloured the outlook of the most powerful social groups, but has also underlain what seems to most of us to be ‘common sense’. Basic to its view that environmental problems must be approached and managed scientifically, objectively and rationally is a conception of nature as machine-like and fundamentally separate from humans, and open to control and manipulation once it is understood. The roots of this perspective are surprisingly recent, and spatially restricted to the West. They lie in the scientific revolution of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, which was concurrent with the beginnings of industrial capitalism. This period, from Renaissance (fourteenth to sixteenth century) to eighteenth-century Enlightenment, laid the grounds for the ‘modern’ period, from the mideighteenth to twentieth century (such dates may be rather arbitrary, and not undisputed, so they should be regarded as indicative only). This latter was dominated by faith in linear reasoning and progress in science and technology to achieve material progress, and in the sorts of values associated with liberalism and the French Revolution. Modernism, said Whitehead critically (1926, 5) is a mentality which searches after ‘irreducible and stubborn facts’ and abstract principles; it has a ‘distinctive faith that there is an order of nature which can be traced in every detailed occurrence’.