The long reach of reason

A cool TED cartoon video of Rebecca Goldstein and Steven Pinker discussing reason and its effects on history.

I’ve said it before, but just because reason is a means to an end, as they note Hume observed, doesn’t take away its value.  Acknowledging it only gives us a healthy, and reasonable, awareness of its limitations.

Not sure why Pinker is drawn with a Rudolf nose.

4 thoughts on “The long reach of reason

  1. I lasted about 5 minutes before getting annoyed with the animation – Pinker is hideously freaky and Goldstein just plain dorky looking. But today something prompted me to see if there was a transcript and lo and behold:

    … and was glad I did. Anyway, on the content:

    “… reason is a better angel that deserves the greatest credit …”

    Perhaps, but it’s the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, the feeling that results from contradiction as Goldstein notes our aversion to, that sets the wheels of reason in motion.

    And even as interminably slow as progress seems at times, I wonder if reason, having to overcome belief as it does, acts as a brake on social and cultural change for the sake of stability.

    Great exchange, though, the kind of I probably need to hear/read more often as I do have a tendency to overly downplay our reasoning abilities on occasion.


    1. Actually, your thoughts mirror mine somewhat. I haven’t investigated it carefully, but I suspect at least some of the philosophical conclusions Goldstein credits with instigating major changes were actually post hoc rationalizations of emotional or pragmatic zeitgeist conclusions that society had already made.

      For example, I know that Francis Bacon’s philosophical description of the scientific method were after people like Galileo and many others were already using the methods he describes, and had been for several decades.

      That said, you could argue that their writings made those conclusions more enduring. And I don’t doubt that there are cases where the philosophical reasoning happened first.


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