magazine reporter 6news hound a round-up from the world of philosophy, including straw poll and mediawatch
11word of mouse the perils of groupthink in cyberspace
12celebration day? portentousness ruled at UNESCO’s second philosophy day in Paris
14out & about Tim LeBon on coping in Copenhagen
15city of philosophy will a US town rise to the challenge to become a thinking city?
thoughts 18easy universities Richard Double on the ethics of second-rate colleges
19sci-phiHowthe rational person can turn into an ass
20everyday ethics Emrys Westacott argues that ethics is not just about the big issues
22provocationswhyshouldn’t a couple choose the sex of their baby?
23bioethics myths Leigh Turner questions the routine use of four principles in medical ethics issue 26 • 2nd quarter 2004
contents forum 28A C Grayling talks about reason, rationality and his strong anti- religion stance
31on not being rational Alfred Mele argues that some irrationality may be a good thing
33coherence & co. Susan Haack on consistency, cogency and their cognates
36rational desires Nicholas Rescher on being rational about both ends and means
38perils of irrationality Michael Clark on the trouble with sloppy thinking and slippery statistics
41must we argue? Mark T Nelson on when reason doesn’t mean offering an argument
43bad thoughts Jamie Whyte on the bad thinking that plagues public debate discussion 46open debate Stephen Burwood cuts through the rhetoric on spin, lies and honourable deceptions
49a novel idea Dan Lloyd discusses his ground-breaking neuro- phenomenological novel the lowdown 51the directory listings for UK and US philosophy organisations
52snapshotsthelowdown on Jeremy Bentham and R G Collingwood
54theory of knowledge a new series on understanding epistemology
56conceptual carvery when to be a realist and when not to review 57What Is Good? by A C Grayling
58Defending Science by Susan Haack
59Walking the Tightrope of Reason by Robert Fogelin
60The Death of God and the Meaning of Life by Julian Young
61Thinking After Heidegger by David Wood last words 62Bertrand’s break fun and games
66the skeptic drugs and sport subscriptions page 10
The Philosophers' Magazine/2nd quarter 2004 For all our time-poor readers, I can save you the bother of having to read the fascinating but, let’s face it, lengthy forum on rationality at the heart of this issue. If you want to know the nature and value of rationality, here are the short answers. Rational is what I am, and the value of this is that it means I am right more often than not.
Crucially, however, these answers have to be read in the first person. When you read them, “I” is you, not me. We are optimally rational, not other people.
Think about it and I’m sure that most of you will agree. You may well know people who are “cleverer” than you. But all that means, surely, is that their brains work faster and they are better at solving intellectual puzzles. It doesn’t mean that, taken in the round, they are really more rational than you. Their rationality is superior in only one or two narrow senses. On balance, it’s you who is the paradigm of rationality.
Or take other people who are ultra-rational. Don’t you think they are, in fact, too rational? Remember what Aristotle said about virtue lying on a mean: just as you can be too irrational, so you can be too rational. Alfred Mele’s article in this issue (p32) can add grist to this particular mill.
If you are one of these ultra-clever people, you will be unimpressed by these lines of reasoning. You will see that you are actually the most rational person. People who talk about “all-round intelligence” are really just “rationalising” their own weaknesses. So you see again, whoever the “I” is in my answers really is the embodiment of rationality.
If you need any further proof that you are, in fact, optimally rational, just consider your own beliefs. After all, you are right about them, and others are wrong, surely? If you are anti the war in Iraq, then those otherwise intelligent people who think differently have made a mistake. How could they have done this? They just can’t be as rational as you. Perhaps they haven’t thought it through properly, or maybe they are blinded by prejudice or propaganda. Whatever the reason, the fact that you have taken the right stance and they haven’t is testimony to your superior intellect. The same would seem to be the case for the person who is for the war. Chomsky may be a brilliant linguist, but when it comes to international relations, he’s not even competent.
This isn’t just about your beliefs on one issue. Across the board, you believe things because they are true, and your ability to have a set of beliefs which is more true than those who disagree with you is astounding. After all, if there were good reasons to believe what you don’t believe, you would believe it, right? So the fact that you don’t means there are no good enough reasons. Ergo, you only believe what there are good reasons to believe; others believe differently; so you are more rational than they are.
Of course, all this can’t be otherwise. If you thought there was someone who had a better grasp of rationality than you, then surely the sensible thing to do would be to believe what they do. So, you may not understand why it is rational to believe in God, but if someone more rational than you thinks it is, you should just go along with their view. You don’t think you know better than the doctor about medicine. Why think you know better about what is rational to believe than people who are more rational than you? But, of course, you don’t defer to others in this way. Why? Because no one more rational than you exists.
Think about it. If you look at what we hold to be true, how we behave and how we select what we believe and don’t believe, the only explanation is that we each of us thinks that our grasp of what is rational is superior to all others.
But of course, few of us say this is what we think. Who would be so arrogant to make such a claim! Unless, of course, we are not quite rational enough to realise that this is, in fact, what we really think...
98 Mulgrave Road, Sutton, Surrey SM2 6LZ, United Kingdom Tel: 020 8643 1504 Fax: 0709 237 6412 email@example.com www.philosophers.co.uk Editors Julian Baggini (print edition) Jeremy Stangroom (new media)
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Contributors Notes Contact the editor to submit proposals. Please do not send unsolicited manuscripts.
Contributors Ophelia Benson, Charles Booth, Joseph Chandler, Michael Clark, Jonathan Derbyshire, Richard Double, Peter S Fosl, Giles Fraser, Wendy Grossman, Susan Haack, Brad Hooker, Mathew Iredale, Sue Johnson, Michael LaBossiere, Tim LeBon, Alfred Mele, Mark T Nelson, Duncan Pritchard, Nicholas Rescher, Jonathan Salem-Wiseman, Bart Schultz, Leigh Turner, Emrys Westacott, Jamie Whyte.
With Thanks to George Leaman, The Rainnies, Pam Swope.
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© 2004, The Philosophers’ Magazine and contributors ISSN 1354-814X
All views expressed in The Philosophers’ Magazine represent those of the authors of each article and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or publishers.
The Philosophers' Magazine/2nd quarter 2004