The Grandiose Myths of Rationality

Reading Simon Blackburn on Hume and Truth as I was just a couple of weeks ago, I highlighted, that effectively we need clearer understanding of our working definitions of reason and rationality themselves, before we even get to reasonable agreement on any other topics under investigation. I say working definitions, since expecting ultimate once-and-for-all definitive understanding is a stretch too far and we will always encounter contexts when broader and/or narrower definitions are most appropriate.

Or thick and thin definitions, as Julian Baggini says in his introduction to “The Edge of Reason – A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World“. Hat tip to Nick Spencer for bringing Baggini’s latest to my attention, and highlighting Baggini’s own attention to respecting positions that many of the more scientistic rationalists would dismiss or mock as religious irrationality. Talking past an interlocutor is no dialogue; no value.

Baggini’s position is pretty much my own, being on the side of rational reason for sure, but recognising that it is we therefore who must be most scrupulous in keeping ourselves honest, because:

“If we do not debunk
the grandiose myths of reason
then its enemies will do so
far more destructively.”

“Reason has only been knocked off its pedestal
because it was raised up too high.”

So whilst defending better definition of rational reason we are explicitly starting with the acknowledgment that rationality is beset with its own problematic myths:

[Myth #1]
That rationality is purely objective
and requires no subjective judgement.

[Myth #2]
That [rationality] can and should
take the role of our chief guide.

[Myth #3]
That [rationality] can furnish us with
the fundamental reasons for action.

[Myth #4]
That we can build society
on perfectly rational principles.

Hallelujah, I say.

If the more scientistic rationalist cannot appreciate those myths for what they are, then reading Baggini’s latest is highly recommended. If like me, you have a philosophical bent that already takes these starting points as givens, then we will find and recognise resources to progress the necessary understanding. Recommended either way.


[Post Note(2017): Conclusion of excellent detailed review by Massimo Pigliucci. And here his glowing summary review at Amazon. Also an excellent review there from Pat Churchland.]

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