RETURN TO REASON

Stephen Toulmin, Author . Harvard Univ. $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-674-00495-5

Indictments of contemporary culture often blame its demise on an overdependence on rationality. Since at least the early 17th century, mathematical reasoning has reigned as a model of cultural inquiry, even infiltrating literary criticism in the guise of deconstruction. Yet the natural disasters and human atrocities of the late 20th century call into question reason's efficacy as a beacon for cultural well-being. In elegant prose, Toulmin (Cosmopolis), Henry R. Luce Professor at USC, contends that advocates of pure reason have forgotten "the complementary concept of reasonableness," a model of intellectual practice focused on values and experience rather than facts and theories. His rich conceptual history outlines the ways in which early modern science and philosophy separated reasonableness from rationality, and the resulting imbalance in all academic disciplines. Toulmin uses medical ethics to illustrate how an intellectual commitment to a single moral theory inadequately addresses the practical experiences, limits and values of a given patient and physician. Drawing on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, William James, Wittgenstein and William Gass, Toulmin argues for redressing the balance between the Ideal (Reason) and the Actual (Reasonableness) in order to respect "the manual skills and practical experiences" of those who have the "right to be the intellectual equals of any system of theory." Although Toulmin is not as thoroughgoing in his denial of reason as Richard Rorty, who once claimed that reading novels best prepares one to do philosophy, he pleads eloquently for a new pragmatism that recovers the values of shared experience and practice for reflecting on the nature of truth. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/30/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-674-04442-5
Paperback - 243 pages - 978-0-674-01235-6
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