The book is divided into six parts, of which the first and last anticipate and recapitulate, leaving the main substance divided among four.
It is a kind of analytic utopian philosophy, in which therefore, the primary concern is the future, and how it might possibly be made better than the present. The basis for the ideas presented about the future is a certain perception of the past (much of it distant) and of the present (broadly construed as extending over a century or so). The past is presented as the evolution, first of human intelligence (part II), and then of knowledge, or more generally, of culture (part III). Part IV, on the present (or recent past) is then a taking of stock, in which some opportunities for improvement are noted. At last (in part V) we consider the future.
In considering future ``improvements'' I am concerned not only with how what we do now might be done better, but also with the challenges and opportunities presented by certain developments which are now in progress and to which they may lead. Notable among these are, on the one hand, cognitive machines, sewn, together with natural minds, into global networks, which will transform the evolution of knowledge and culture and on the other genetic engineering which will likewise transform the evolution of life on earth, including the human genome.
The challenge of anticipating and responding to such developments is great. Calling this essay utopian invites the expectation of detailed blueprint and a totalitarian outcome. This is not that kind of utopianism, it is a focussed consideration of how some of the things we do might be done better. The contribution I seek to make is narrowly focussed, and concerns ``rationality''. The manner of the contribution is analytic, it consists in analysis (broadly conceived) of rationality as it has been, how it now is, and how it might possibly be.
Though presented as a historical narrative, this is not historical scholarship. The history is a way of making intelligible a perception of how matters now stand and of the dynamics of change. To that end the historical perspective is contemporary, historical ideas are positioned in a development understood with hindsight. This prologue provides a contemporary framework in the context of which the terms of the historical analysis should be understood.
The framework is a skeletal description of the kind of philosophical analysis of which the work is intended to be an example. The culmination of the book will be, in the epilogue (part ), a new conception of analysis.