Rationalistic Neuroses

Funny how the overly rational attracts mental (ill-)health metaphors. “Autistic” was my current favourite until I saw this passage from Nick Maxwell.

Science is indeed neurotic. It suffers, that is, from what I call “rationalistic neurosis”, a methodological condition that involves suppressing, or failing to acknowledge, real, problematic aims, and instead acknowledging an apparently unproblematic “false” aim. Rationalistic neurosis inevitably has bad consequences. The more rationally the false aim is pursued, the worse off one is from the standpoint of achieving one’s real aim. Reason seems to become counterproductive.

That last sentence is the “Catch-22” of our problem. We “seem” to be promoting “irrationality” even though, quite clearly, we are trying very hard not to. Hence its Catch-22 like qualities, something I’ve not mentioned for a while.

It’s a loopy world. So loopy that several of us, David Morey of the MoQ-Discuss forum, on the “Friends of Wisdom” mailing list, from which Nick’s words are quoted, have linked the “aim-directed-rationalisty” wisdom thread to Values and Quality in the Pirsigian sense. Strange then that Nick’s words, in an article called “Science under Attack” (The Philosopher’s Magazine Issue 31, 3rd Quarter 2005, pp. 37-41), were :-

But both sides in this “science wars” debate miss the point. Those who attack scientific rationality, and those who defend it, are actually busily attacking and defending, not scientific rationality at all, but a species of irrationality masquerading as scientific rationality. Instead of fighting over the current orthodox, and irrational conception of science, both sides ought to turn their attention to the question of what precisely needs to be done to cure science of its current damaging irrationality, so that we may develop a kind of science that is both more rational, and of greater human value.

The point I always try to get across, more generally, is that wisdom-inquiry is both more rational (more intellectually rigorous) and, potentially, of greater human value, than knowledge-inquiry.

TPM was the magazine that interviewed Pirsig recently about his “Metaphysics of Quality” and concluded there was nothing to it. What goes around comes around, and the great loopy contradictory convergence goes on.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.