Return to Reason by Stephen Toulmin (Harvard University Press) The turmoil and brutality of the twentieth century have made it increasingly difficult to maintain faith in the ability of reason to fashion a stable and peaceful world. After the ravages of global conflict and a Cold War that divided the world's loyalties, how are we to master our doubts and face the twenty-first century with hope?
In Return to Reason, Toulmin argues that the potential for reason to improve our lives has been hampered by a serious imbalance in our pursuit of knowledge. The centuries-old dominance of rationality, a mathematical form of reasoning modeled on scientific method and the quest for absolute certainties, has diminished the value of reasonableness, a system of humane judgments based on personal experience and practice. To this day, academic disciplines such as economics and professions such as law and medicine often value expert knowledge and theoretical constructs above the testimony of diverse communities and the practical experience of individuals.
Now, at the beginning of a new century, Toulmin sums up a lifetime of distinguished work and issues a powerful call to redress the balance between rationality and reasonableness. His vision does not reject the valuable fruits of social science and its methods, but requires awareness of the human consequences of our discoveries. Toulmin argues for the need to confront the challenge of an uncertain and unpredictable world, not with inflexible ideologies and abstract theories, but by returning to a more humane and compassionate form of reason, one that accepts the variability and complexity that is human nature as an essential beginning for all intellectual inquiry.
A century and a half ago, Alfred Tennyson expressed anxiety at the impermanence of species; and in the 1920s, W. R. Inge, the Dean of St. Paul's, saw the Second Law of Thermodynamics as evidence of long-term decay in Humanity and Nature alike. Grounds for either optimism or pessimism can be quarried from the results of natural science, and will no doubt continue to be. But the determinism that was a feature of physics for so long was, from the beginning, the result of a misunderstanding of the Newtonian Philosophy. So those scientists who work on Chaos and Complexity today develop scenarios applicable not just to international politics or the running of businesses, but to the future of the Earth, the planetary system, and the rest of Nature. Having escaped the compulsions imposed on us by physicalistic ideas in Economics, we no longer have any reason to let our ideas about the Social World be governed by seemingly "ineluctable" influences, whether political, economic, or cultural.
Like Mrs. Dalloway, we can take things as we find them. Without the optimism of the extrapolators who claim to figure out the future from the progress of the Stock Markets or other economic statistics, or the pessimism of those doomsayers who see the effects of Technology as defeating even our best policies, we can map the range of possible futures open to us-either as individuals or as political and social collaborators-and do our best to create conditions that will help us move in better instead of worse directions. At the very least, we can join Aristotle in steering between the rocks that might otherwise stop us from doing the best we could, for ourselves or for our fellows. Once again, that is, we can follow Candide's maxim: rather than worry our heads with Panglossian theories, we can cultivate our gardens.
When all is said and done, then, the best in Philosophy and Natural Science alone can take us only a little way: the World of Actuality is also shaped by our ideals. Our lives are not entirely guided by Rationality and Reasonableness: our dreams also project us into activities that we previously only imagined. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world," Margaret Mead exhorted us; "it is the only thing that ever has."' But groups of social agents succeed on the basis of their dreams as much as on their calculations, and the choices we make in working toward productive futures are informed by those ideals. This tension between the Ideal and the Actual is kept alive by great poets, but their failure to examine carefully enough the relations between these two things carries its own perils. Here, the history of poetry in the Modem period is a source of warnings as well as achievements. The creative sentiments of early nineteenth-century Romantics, for instance, were followed by a reaction: the dreams to which these gave rise proved so impossible to achieve that the pedestrian realities of human life often appeared, by contrast, catastrophic. In Hyperions Schicksalslied (later set for chorus and orchestra by Brahms), Holderlin depicts the lives of the Blessed Spirits-"touched by divine breaths"-as so far out of the reach of human beings that our own lives-"like water flung blindly from cliff to cliff'-are exposed only to fresh injuries every hour.'
A similar shadow lies across a poem that has always been one of my favorites, Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach. Matthew's father, Thomas Arnold, was far from a pessimist: as Headmaster of Rugby School, he made it the prototypical boarding school, training boys for public service to the British Empire and the Anglican Church. Matthew himself pursued a middle way between two styles of culture, which he called Hebraism and Hellenism-outward conformity to a system of rules, and "sweetness and light"-but his preference for Hellenism ended elegiacally.' Listening on a moonlit night to "the grating roar of the pebbles" drawn back by the waves in the Straits of Dover, only to be flung high up the strand, he heard in this repeated sound "the eternal note of sadness":
Sophocles, long ago, heard it on the Aegean, a and it brought into his mind the turbid ebb and flow of human misery ...Where formerly "the sea of faith [had cast] a bright girdle" around the Earth, we no longer have reasons for hope: "the world which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams/ Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain,"
and we are here as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.
As rational attitudes, optimism and pessimism cancel each other out. In the end, we can set aside dreams of eternal clarity, return to the World of Where and When, get back in touch with the experience of everyday life, and manage our lives and affairs a day at a time. The activists and practitioners who work with Amnesty International and Medecins sans Frontieres, manage our water and forests, monitor the practices of political and industrial organizations, and undertake all the other pedestrian tasks of our common affairs-all of these workers live in the present and handle such problems without recourse to shouted slogans or acts of violence: they "cultivate their gardens." These practices begin with intelligent analyses of the factual soil from which our problems spring, but such actions bear fruit only when they are guided by ideals that make rational assessments stepping stones to reasonable decisions. In these terms, a doctor skilled in molecular biochemistry alone is not the kind of professional the future calls for, any more than an engineer who knows only how to compute the size of girders capable of providing a given strength, or an economist who knows only how to calculate the rates of interest needed to maintain a desired return on investments.
So, more and more, emphasis on formal rigor is being supplanted today by a different kind of balance: one between stubborn facts, shared values, and rival interests. The need to keep these varied considerations in harmony may lead in unforeseen directions. Recall Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank: its activities broaden every year, and it now builds brick houses for its poor clients to live in, sets up health services-sick borrowers cannot be expected to continue repaying their loans-markets the fabrics made by Bangladeshi women via in-flight catalogues of international airlines, and inspires imitations in every continent.
Nor is it only in technical disciplines like medicine, engineering, and economics that the best practitioners are learning to strike this new balance. Even some philosophers are responding to problems that require the kind of reflective study that leads-like Aristotle's "practical" syllogism-not to opinions but to actions. As a philosopher, Howard Adelman brings his grasp of the history of ideas to bear on the current problems of ethnic violence, by way of his Center for the Study of Refugees, and in doing so acts both as a social agent and as an academic. As a social agent, he focuses attention on the failure of outside governments to handle the
conflicts in, for example, Rwanda and Bosnia, sets out to devise early warning procedures for anticipating future civil wars, and plays a part behind the scenes in the Middle Eastern peace process; meanwhile, he writes in academic terms about ethical theories of humanitarian intervention in the affairs of distant peoples. But he would deny that these two kinds of issue are separable. Both of them are concerns for the "practical" philosopher, who sees philosophical theories as relevant to our problems not because they provide formal solutions to abstract queries, but because they confer practical and concrete meaning on the lives of individuals, and families, and political communities.'
Thus, the discipline of Philosophy becomes less a way of life in Pierre Hadoty;s sense, like those by which the Stoics and Epicureans in late Antiquity comforted intellectuals in a world in decay, than a calling to put reflective analysis to work as an instrument in handling moral, medical, and political issues." Clinical medical ethics is not-in the classic sense-"applied" philosophy, nor in the broad field of public policy need we think of the activity of Amnesty International or Medecins sans Frontieres as an "application" of rational calculations; rather, they represent the responses of the untutored heart to its perceptions of neglect, indifference, cruelty, and other wickednesses. Not for nothing did Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, present "cruelty" as something we can recognize for what it is, with the same confidence that we identify a triangle; nor does one need to be an Athenian, or even a Hellene, to share in such human perceptions. We recognize these things in our hearts, and only perversity or corruption can blind us to them.Our first intellectual obligation is to abandon the Myth of Stability that played so large a part in the Modem age: only thus can we heal the wounds inflicted on the Reason by the seventeenth-century obsession with Rationality, and give back to Reasonableness the equal treatment of which it was for so long deprived. The future belongs not so much to the pure thinkers who are content-at best-with optimistic or pessimistic slogans; it is a province, rather, for reflective practitioners who are ready to act on their ideals. Warm hearts allied with cool heads seek a middle way between the extremes of abstract theory and personal impulse. The ideals of practical thinkers are more realistic than the optimistic daydreams of simple-minded calculators, who ignore the complexities of real life, or the pessimistic nightmares of their critics, who find these complexities a source of despair."
The Architecture of Reason: The Structure and Substance of Rationality by Robert Audi (Oxford University Press) Rationality in belief and action is essential for a good life. But what is it rational to believe, and what is it rational to do? The first question is central for theoretical reason, the second for practical reason. As different as these questions are, addressing either one apart from the other has major limitations that have not been widely recognized. This book seeks to overcome these limitations. In a lucid style with concrete illustrations of every major point, it sets out a full‑scale comprehensive theory of rationality applicable to belief, action, desire, intention, and value.
Part One is an account of theoretical reason. It presents a theory of rational belief, connects rationality with justification and knowledge, and clarifies the role of experience as basic for all three. Part Two constructs a theory of practical reason that exhibits previously unexplored parallels between the two realms. In both realms, Audi reveals the role of experience in grounding rationality; he describes the structure and variety of reasons particularly reasons for belief, desire, intention, and action; and he attacks egocentrism as a basis of rationality in general and instrumentalism as an account of rationality in action. He defends the rationality of altruism and, on that basis, certain moral principles. The third and final part describes the pluralism and the elements of relativity in his conception of rationality and, in that light, constructs a theory of global rationality‑the overall rationality of persons.
The Architecture of Reason takes account of‑and sometimes criticizes‑views as different as those of Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Reid, Kant, Mill, Moore, Ross, Wittgenstein, and Quine. In doing this, it ranges over topics in ethical theory, moral psychology, and philosophy of mind. These include motivation, rationalization, reasonableness, objectivity, autonomy, coherence, practical reasoning, intention, pleasure and pain, valuation, emotion, virtue, and many others.
Robert Audi is Charles J. Mach Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His books include Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character (Oxford University Press, 1997), The Structure of Justification (Cambridge University Press, 1993), Action, Intention, and Reason (Cornell University Press, 1993), and Practical Reasoning (Routledge, 1989).
What are the sources of justified beliefs? How are such beliefs grounded? How does their justification vary from one context to another? How may their justification be defeated by, say, counter‑evidence? What is the role of coherence or incoherence in this grounding or defeat? And is such defeat itself based on the same kinds of grounds as the justification it vanquishes?
Assuming we have justified beliefs, how can other beliefs be justified on the basis of them? This is a central question pursued in Chapter 2, which explores how justification is transmitted from one belief to another, as where one acquires justification for believing a proposition by inferring it from something else that one already justifiably believes. An account of theoretical reason must also consider knowledge. Knowledge is not merely justified true belief, and its relation both to theoretical justification and to practical rationality is quite complicated.
In discussions of theoretical reason it has been standard to take knowledge and justification as the fundamental notions to be accounted for, and I do this. But in both Chapters 1 and 2 I consider the relation between justification and rationality. I do so not only because my aim is to understand rationality in relation to kindred notions but also because rationality has been more fundamental than knowledge, and even justification, in discussions of practical reason, which encompasses both moral justification and any other kind of rational consideration‑say, prudential, altruistic, or aesthetic‑that supports action. All three‑rationality, justification, and knowledge‑are based on reasons, and Chapter 2 distinguishes several kinds of reasons we must understand in order to see how they are so based.
There is still another reason to clarify the relation between justification and rationality: a major aim of a general theory of rationality should be to provide an understanding of the overall rationality of persons. Here the notion of justification must be recognized as an element in that rationality. But (I argue) it differs in application: the notion of justification as applied to persons is narrower than that of rationality applicable to them, and not precisely parallel. Justification applies to people, as opposed to their actions and attitudes, only with respect to specific matters, such as actions and beliefs; their rationality is a global property. Persons are justified only in a relative sense: in believing something or other, or in doing one or another deed. We are rational (or not) overall.
Once we develop an account of theoretical reason (the task of Part I), we can assess the prospects for a parallel conception of practical reason (the task of Part II). That there should be at least some significant parallels might be expected from the applicability, in both domains, of many of the same terms of description and appraisal: 'rationality' and 'irrationality', `justified' and `unjustified', 'groundless' and 'well‑grounded', 'basic','reflective','reasoned', and others. The parallels between the theoretical and the practical are extensive. I first (in Chapter 3) consider the structural ones, such as the analogy between, on the one hand, inferential beliefs and the beliefs they are based on and, on the other hand, instrumental desires (desires for things as means) and the basic desires to which they are subordinate. Beliefs of conclusions we infer from certain premises can be justified by our beliefs of those premises. Desires with certain contents can be justified by further desires, above all when the former are desires to take means toward satisfying the latter, "premise" desires. Chapter 3 will also explicate some major substantive parallels between theoretical and practical reason. Can there be rational intrinsic ("basic") desires, as there apparently can be rational noninferential (and in that sense basic) beliefs? And is there in the theory of practical reason a contrast between foundationalist and coherentist theories, as in the theoretical case?
When the main structural parallels between theoretical and practical reason have been described, we can fruitfully consider (in Chapter 4) basic practical reasons. A central issue here, which is discussed extensively in Chapter 5 as well, is whether practical reason is substantive or only instrumental. Are basic practical reasons, as instrumentalism says, determined simply by our non‑instrumental desires, above all by what we want for its own sake? This would not entail egoism but yields a form of it on the assumption that our basic desires are self-interested. Egoism, in a normative form, is critically examined in this chapter. So is hedonism, for which pleasure and pain are the fundamental sources of practical reasons.
Chapter 4 also considers what metaphysical commitments a theory of practical rationality must make if it embraces some apparently irreducible normative notion, such as that of intrinsic value. Must a theory of practical reason take normative properties, such as the injustice of a deed, to have causal power in determining behavior, so that they may take their place among the properties of chief interest to empirical science? Or can it treat normative properties as non‑causal and take normative terms as sui generis, whether because of what they describe or because, as noncognitivists hold, normative vocabulary is not primarily descriptive at all but functions chiefly to express moral and other evaluative attitudes?
With practical reason, as with theoretical reason, there is an important difference between reasons that are in some sense basic and those based on further reasons. Beliefs, actions, and desires can all be rational on the basis of rational elements that "transmit" rationality to them. There are, for instance, beliefs justified by and hence rational on the basis of inference from premises, and there are desires rational because their fulfillment is believed to be necessary for realizing further desires. It may be quite rational to want to swim even when one is tired and dreads the prospect, because it can be quite clear that swimming will contribute to maintaining good health, which one quite rationally desires. By contrast, just as I may believe that there is, say, white paper here on the basis on my visual experience, rather than on the basis of some further belief, I may want good health on a basis other than a desire for something further, to which I take good health to be a means. What sorts of relationships hold between desires that are, for the agent, basic, as a desire to maintain good health might be, and desires based on those, such as the desire to swim? And how might desires, taken together with beliefs, justify actions? These are among the central questions explored in Chapter 5.
Such questions quickly lead us to the matter of defeasibility: a prima facie rational desire may turn out, because of the perceived unpleasant consequences of satisfying it, not to be rational on balance. It may initially be rational to want surgery, but it may cease to be so when one discovers a less risky treatment. The same holds for the action of requesting such surgery. These are cases of the defeat of the rationality of the want or the instrumentally subordinate action. There are parallels for beliefs, as where the discovery of distorting reflections defeats the justification of an incautiously formed belief about the color of a fabric. We must try to understand not only what produces rationality but also what defeats it and how the two are related.
Much of what we want, such as food and entertainment and good company, we want for our own consumption or enjoyment; but we can also want those same sorts of things for other people. Indeed, if we love other people, we must want certain kinds of things not only far them, but for their sake. If parents want success for their children only in order to bring credit on themselves, this desire, despite being directed at the children's well‑being, does not bespeak love. Does love, so conceived, imply a measure of irrationality? Can we, as egoists hold, rationally want something for others only so far as it will lead to something we want for ourselves? I think not. But it is a further question whether, given an ordinary knowledge of how others are like us, a kind of altruism is rationally demanded of us. If it is, then practical reason provides at least a limited foundation for ethics, in the sense that a rational person will, under certain conditions, have adequate reason to treat others in accordance with some basic moral principles. This is a major issue pursued in Chapter 6 once the general account of rationality is articulated.
It is obvious that rational persons disagree about some important matters and that even a high degree of rationality in persons is consistent with great diversity among them. Is there a kind of relativity built into the notion of rationality, or at least consistent with it, say, relativity to one's own experience or culture? This is a central question in Chapter 7. If many kinds of grounds may sustain rational elements in persons, there should be a plurality of rational ideals. But there are also constant elements that play a prominent role in the make‑up rational persons, least controversially a measure of simple logicality. An adequate theory of rationality must do justice both to the variability that marks different ranges of experience and diverse cultural settings and to the constancies that, because of important elements in our humanity, can be expected as recurring elements, at least in any civilized society.
As conceived in this book, rationality is not just a critical tool or a minimal standard for belief, desire, valuation, and action. It also represents an ideal to which we can aspire for our lives as a whole. If theoretical and practical rationality are the two basic kinds, we should expect a rational person to be rational in both respects, even if sometimes more in one than the other. This is surely how it is. If we have a unified, comprehensive account of rationality for both domains, we should have much of the theoretical material needed to understand the notion of a rational person. One of my aims is to provide such an understanding (this is the project of Chapter 8). But the matter is complicated. There are tradeoffs; for instance, a high degree of theoretical rationality might counterbalance some degree of practical irrationality, and no rational person need exhibit rationality all of the time. Some irrational actions, and even isolated moments of a wider irrationality, are compatible with the overall rationality of a person. Indeed, if some things, such as certain emotions, may fail to be rational without being irrational, then it is entirely consistent with being a rational person that one cultivate certain non‑rational elements in oneself and allow them to play a significant role in one's life.
The notion of a rational person has many dimensions, and the account we need will not simply fall in place when the other work is done. Even if we understand rational belief, rational desire, and all the other concepts of rationality that apply to aspects of persons or their conduct, we must still integrate our results in a way that provides an overall view of what constitutes a rational person. We need such a view. as well as a better understanding of rationality for belief, desire, action, and other notions central in characterizing persons. A major problem of our age is how to develop and express compelling ideals of rationality that respect human differences yet can also unify us in many of the endeavors common to us as civilized people. As individuals, moreover, we need standards for self-appraisal and self‑improvement. The theory of rational persons to be offered here is intended as a contribution toward these ends.
Everyday Irrationality: How Pseudo Scientists, Lunatics, and the Rest of Us Systematically Fail to Think Rationally by Robyn M. Dawes (Westview Press) analyzes irrationality. First, it specifies exactly what types of conclusions and beliefs deserve the term irrational; second, it examines the structure of irrational conclusions; third, it provides examples from everyday life, from allegedly expert opinion that is not truly rational to beliefs that most of us would immediately recognize as irrational‑such as those we associate with psychosis or lunacy. Everyday Irrationality first clearly delineates the difference between an irrational belief or conclusion and one that is simply poor. A conclusion or belief may be poor because it is ill considered, is not in accord with our purported best interests, or is simply dumb.In Everyday Irrationality, Dawes defines irrationality (irrational conclusions or beliefs) as conclusions or beliefs involving self‑contradictions. Consider the simple example from the preface. A psychotic woman believes that she is the Virgin Mary because she is a virgin. Her belief involves a clear contradiction, because this woman simultaneously acknowledges that other people are virgins, but that she herself uniquely is the Virgin Mary. (An argumentative person might claim that we have not established the self‑contradiction until we add an additional premise that the Virgin Mary cannot refer both to a unique person and to a multitude of people simultaneously; in the analyses that follow, Dawes assumes that the reader accepts such "obvious" implicit premises as valid and capable of being assumed.) At a more sophisticated level, a purported expert in court might claim that someone must be schizophrenic because she gave a typical schizophrenic response to a particular inkblot on the Rorschach test. That conclusion would be rational only if no one who wasn't schizophrenic would give such a response, just as the psychotic woman's conclusion would be rational if everyone who wasn't the Virgin Mary was not a virgin. Because of content and source, however, we are not as quick to recognize the irrationality of the expert, as we are to recognize the irrationality of the psychotic woman.
Besides considering conclusions irrational because they are self‑contradictory, we will also consider the thinking process that is "one step away" from conclusions. If the thinking process yields an irrational self-contradiction when followed to a natural conclusion, then this process is irrational as well. Consider, for example, a head of a depression unit at a major psychiatric hospital (this is a real example that I was made aware of, not a hypothetical one). He wishes to find out what depressives are like, but proudly proclaims that he has no interest in finding out what people who are not depressed are like. Well, depressives brush their teeth in the morning (admittedly an unpleasant activity that may lead to a brief moment of depression), as do most other people. Here, the self‑contradiction lies not in the conclusion itself that tooth brushing is a defining characteristic of depressives (a sufficiently absurd conclusion that few would make), but in the failure to make an obvious comparison in reaching structurally similar conclusions. That type of non-comparative reasoning can be characterized as irrational, even if it stops short of the final assertion to which it leads.
This book attempts to combine two distinct types of analyses, which are generally presented in different books. The first is an analysis of irrationality that is as specific as possible, that is, an analysis of the exact structure of self‑contradictory belief or reasoning. Thus, it might be considered a text in logic or philosophy (or, because a lot of it involves probabilistic reasoning, in statistics). Combined with this analysis, however, will be examples from everyday life, from bogus professional opinion ("junk science"), and occasionally from individual or group pathologies (e.g., belief in widespread satanic cults that not only abuse children sexually but make them eat small babies who have been specially bred for that purpose). Unfortunately, there are many irrational conclusions and beliefs in our culture from which to choose. Those analyzed at some length‑and as precisely as possible‑are those with which Dawes is most familiar. With public opinion polls indicating that more people in the United States believe in extrasensory perception than in evolution, it is not surprising that examples abound.
I use the term "irrationality" in the manner that is developed in the logical analysis of what constitutes that term. Often, in commenting on social conclusions and policies, people characterize conclusions with which they disagree as irrational. Some conclusions are. Thus, we can occasionally agree with our favorite editorial writers when they declare the opposition's views irrational. But often, conclusions can be just incorrect, or they may be poorly supported, or they may be well supported although critics (or we) may not realize that. Differing views of social conclusions and policies, however, are often not just a matter of opinion.
Sometimes, there is very little way of evaluating the validity of one view or an opposing one. But at other times certain policies really are based on irrational reasoning and conclusions. The point of Everyday Irrationality is to explain exactly what constitutes such irrationality and to show how it occurs in selected social contexts.
To summarize, the definition of irrationality that Dawes proposes here is that it involves thinking in a self‑contradictory manner. The conclusions it generates are also always false, because conclusions about the world that are self‑contradictory cannot be accurate ones. We all accept the simple idea that what is logically impossible cannot exist. But what, in turn, yields the self‑contradiction? The answer proposed in this book is that the contradiction results from a failure to specify "obvious" alternatives and consequently a failure to make a comparative judgment involving more than one alternative. In the context of reaching a statistical conclusion, we fail to compare the probability that an observation or a piece of evidence results from one possibility with the probability that it results from another. What is a "reasonable" alternative? We can never be absolutely sure that we have thought of all of them, but in the examples presented in this book, the nature of these alternatives is clear‑at least when they are specified.
Specifying as many clear alternatives as possible yields another general principle: We can generally recognize important alternatives and hence correct irrational conclusions when these alternatives are made clear.
The problem is that we ourselves often do not generate enough alternatives and hence do not reach the rational conclusion. Thus, a failure of rationality is what can be termed a performance problem, not a competence one. The analogy with grammatical language is clear. We often do not speak grammatically, but we can recognize a grammatical problem when it is pointed out to us (meaning our grammatical competence is greater than our grammatical performance).
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